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Never Let a Good War Go to Waste

In chapter 6 of The Dictator's Handbook, we discuss how having a neighboring country that is a historical enemy can be a godsend for a dictator (buy the book to read our take on it). It's a political gift that keeps giving, affording autocrats a scapegoat, an excuse, an ever-present distraction. It's also an excellent well of opportunity, particularly in wartime, and in the aftermath of a revolution. Sound familiar? To those of us who remember the Iranian revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war, it should.  Continue reading "Never Let a Good War Go to Waste"

Endgame Watch: Foreign Interventions


A recent post on our forum gets right to it: When beset by internal unrest, civil war, and international condemnation, the worst that can happen for any dictator is the arrival of a foreign military force. For Assad's Syria, the growing involvement of Turkey in the long, bloody struggle between his regime and the opposition can only hasten the end. True, he appeared to be tottering before, and each time he has clawed back to a bloody stalemate. But is there any doubt that Assad does not want to tangle with the Turks? Or that the specter of full-scale war with internal and external enemies is a bad sign for Assad?


Cornered

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Dictatorial Temptations

If democratically elected leaders have a secret poetic love, then it must be Sylvia Plath. They must identify closely with the speaker in the poem 'Daddy,' particularly during this famous verse:

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.


How else to explain the remarkable ease with which many democrats take to the slippery slope toward autocracy? For this is what seems to be happening in Georgia. Read on.

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On Significant Others


A recent post on our forum shows that even a dictator's spouse may have legacy problems; if you thought that being married to the supreme leader meant your fabulous shoe collection would last forever, you thought wrong, Imelda Marcos.


We discuss spouses and significant others in chapter 2 of The Dictator's Handbook; generally most autocrats wisely keep their loved ones in check, realizing that someone that close to you can easily be the cause of embarrassment or loss of prestige. There are however exceptions. 

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On The Benefits of Natural Disasters

The sight of Hurricane Isaac bearing down on the Republican Convention in Tampa brings to mind the devastation of Katrina 7 years ago, which was both a human tragedy and a political disaster for then President George W. Bush. It's tempting to think what a dictator might have made of the situation; certainly the more ambitious or cunning among them would have leveraged the event into political capital. They would have responded forcefully, mobilizing all the power of the State. They certainly would not have let themselves be pictured looking down on the destruction from a safe vantage point, aloof and awkward. That being said, what opportunities can the tyrant expect after the winds die down? Continue reading "On The Benefits of Natural Disasters"

On Trashing Your Surrogate

One of the perennial challenges faced by dictators is remaining in power. This is particularly true in the modern age when for the most part it is necessary to show an affection for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. How does the modern autocrat respond to these pressures when jack-booted authoritarianism won't do? As we point out in chapter 12 of The Dictator's Handbook, adopting a strategy where you alternate in power with a chosen successor is one way to have your cake and eat it; pay lip service to electoral law but remain the power behind the president. No problem, right? Particularly if your surrogate owes you his political life?  Continue reading "On Trashing Your Surrogate"

The Far Enemy (Scapegoating)

A recent post in our forum takes note of the anti-US rhetoric of Bolivian president Evo Morales, and suggests that its virulence might be harming that country's relationship with important neighbors like Brazil. My partner in crime is the resident Bolivia expert and I defer any deeper analysis to him, but I think it's safe to note that the persistent use of anti-US language and imagery by Morales is a classic dictator tactic: find a safe, distant enemy to blame for economic and other ills, preferably an enemy that your supporters are primed to hate, and deflect and distract attention from your own nefarious actions. Read on.  Continue reading "The Far Enemy (Scapegoating)"

The Language of Dictators


In his famous essay 'Politics and the English Language' (available for free here), George Orwell noted that political speech and writing was largely a defense of indefensible, and offered up an example of an English Don defending Soviet atrocities through an impenetrable slog of meaningless words.


A related phenomenon is the warping of language to relabel an idea or movement to obscure its true meaning and suit your own purposes. Dictators know this art intimately, and we've written about the political tactic of smear and label in our book. Call a protestor a terrorist or criminal and you have a figure ready to be demonized in the media; label a peace movement a collection of vicious thugs and you have probably already swayed the credulous, or those not paying attention. Beset by an international election-monitoring committee? Transform them into 'junket-riding crotch-cheese eaters' and let the fun begin. 

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On Legislative Jujitsu

In an earlier post we noted the recently passed Russian law cracking down on NGOs, but as it happens this was part of a larger cascade of legislation enacted by the Duma that appears to serve a larger purpose. If you've read our book you probably can guess where this is going; faced with the diminishing returns of outright violence, it can't hurt to try and sneak in a flurry of laws that limit, defuse, or otherwise undercut resistance to your regime. It's better than doing nothing and it keeps the bloodletting from making the rounds on the internet. Read on.  Continue reading "On Legislative Jujitsu"

Rumors, Endgame, and Just Deserts

One of the richest veins we mined in the writing of this book was the various ways in which a one-man regime can crumble, prolong itself, or pass a legacy on to its successors. The clearest preference for any tyrant would be to die peacefully and cede power to a natural dauphin, and thus ensure that his legacy lasts at least as long as the flowers on his grave. But we all know life isn't often that clean. For dictators, who are generally weaker than they look, abrupt, violent endings are commonplace, and they are usually followed by a period of chaos during which any legacy is torn to shreds by power blocks competing for ascendency. What do you do to avoid this kind of unpleasant scenario? Read chapter 13 of The Dictator's Handbook for a complete guide to the autocrat's options, but recent headlines from Damascus suggest that at least one bit of advice can be gleaned. Read on.  Continue reading "Rumors, Endgame, and Just Deserts "