Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You Don't Want To Die With A Full Magazine

Now that Muammar Gaddafi is dead and his Old Regime overthrown, Libya is moving on to Act Two of the classic four-act structure of revolutions, i.e., the Rule of the Moderates. You can take that from Mustafa Abdel Jalil himself.

Historically, the Rule of the Moderates has been followed by the Rise of the Radicals, and finally the cycle culminates in a Thermidorian Reaction and the consolidation of power in the hands of a new dictator. Anyway, that has been the pattern of modern revolutions.

So now is a good time for historian Andrew Robert's piece in The Daily Beast about How Dictators Die, since he points out the extremely unusual manner of Muammar Gaddafi's death and the favor he did the Libyan people by staying in the country and fighting rather than escaping into exile.

Usually dictators do not actually die on their feet, weapon in hand, as Gaddafi appears to have done. All too often they escape from the countries they brutalized, or are captured and not executed, or (most often) they die in office, full of honors, surrounded by sycophants and only loosening their grip on power when their hands go cold. For Gaddafi to have fought to the last, not escaping to Chad or Niger, but believing in his diseased mind that the silent majority of Libyans still loved him, is quite exceptional for dictators.

Quite exceptional, indeed. Maybe even unique. I had not noticed before how very, very, hard it is to find an example of a dictator who went down fighting.

Roberts notes that Hitler killed himself. Benito Mussolini and Nicolae Ceausescu both surrendered and were promptly shot to death. Josef Stalin, Francisco Franco, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Marshal Tito, Papa Doc Duvalier, Vladimir Lenin all died in power, as will, most likely, Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez. Saddam Hussein was pulled out of a hole in a bedraggled state and gave up without a fight. Idi Amin, Ferdinand Marcos, Alfred Stroessner, and Mobuto Sese Seko all died in exile. Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998 and Slobodan Milosevic died while on trial in The Hague, where Charles Taylor of Liberia is currently on trial. Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic was removed from power, imprisoned, then died in his home country. Jan Kambanda of Rwanda is serving a life sentence in Mali.

It seems that dictators, as a group, have almost no willingness to go out like James Cagney in a 'come and get me coppers!' blaze of glory.

But if, like Gaddafi, they do, then that removes a potentially destabilizing influence that could impede the new regime's normal political development.

Robert's piece concludes:

The moral of the Gaddafi story is that it is very rare for dictators to meet their end bravely, still inside the country they are fighting to recapture. It was fortunate that he chose to stay and fight, rather than destabilizing Libya from abroad, perhaps for decades to come. As he was never going to go quietly, the manner of his demise at long last gives Libyans something for which they can thank Colonel Gaddafi.

Thank you Colonel, for rendering that one last service for your country.


Federale said...

And will the Muslim Brotherhood be the Robspierres of the revolution or will they be the Bonaparte? Will they be the gravedigger of the Arab Spring?

TSB said...

They (or, more likely for Libya, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, whose leader is now the head of the rebel military), are definitely the Jacobins. They are on exactly the same wavelength as Robspierre, who said: "Terror is only justice that is swift, certain, and inflexible."

When they eventually overplay their hand, a backlash sets in, Robspierre is killed, and Bonaparte takes over. That last phase could take years or decades.

The Arab Spring doesn't amount to much more than trading nominally Islamic but effectively secular dictatorships (like the old Egypt) for actually Islamic elected governments and military rule (like the new Egypt). Or so it seems to me.