August 20, 2019

A Golden Age for Strongmen

“The year 2018 was springtime for strongmen everywhere. It was the year Xi Jinping put an end to collective leadership in China, made himself president for life, and put a final nail in the coffin of U.S. Sinologists’ credibility as predictors of Chinese behavior. (They’ve been prophesying liberalization for decades.)

Elsewhere in Asia, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un won the admiration of U.S. President Donald Trump because of the high quality of his dictatorial control. Poland’s dubiously democratic government became a favorite of Trump’s, as did Hungary’s proudly illiberal prime minister, Viktor Orban. Orban even got a hero’s welcome in Israel, where the prime minister’s son Yair Netanyahu called him the “best leader in Europe.” In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega solidified his position as the new Anastasio Somoza, whom he overthrew in the name of the people four decades ago.

In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro managed to hang on, despite being the only dictator in the world the Trump administration seemed not to like. And in the Middle East, the year’s best drama came when one autocrat, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, exposed another, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for apparently ordering an assassination worthy of Goodfellas.

Mohammed bin Salman will probably be just fine—the easily distracted U.S. media is already forgetting about the grisly killing of Jamal Khashoggi and so will Congress, just as it overlooked for years Saudi brutality in Yemen. U.S. newspapers and television scarcely even cover the equally murderous Egyptian military dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who gets the red-carpet treatment whenever he visits the United States. The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, sees Middle Eastern dictators as essential bulwarks at a time when both administrations sought to reduce the United States’ involvement in the Middle East as much as possible.”

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