Monday, November 12, 2007

Give a dictator an even break

In a recent column Greg Sheridan pleads, “If only Pervez were more like Suharto.”

Sometimes the word dictator can prevent clear thinking in the Western liberal mind, as often does the word war. But, as George Orwell observed, wars have results, and different wars have different results, depending who wins.

So it is with dictators. There are more and less ruthless, bloodthirsty, legitimate and effective dictators. The quality of the dictator influences profoundly the quality of the nation.

Ooh, Sheridan has my head spinning with all this ‘realist’ talk of mach politik... but I will persevere and take the plunge with him.

Sheridan denounces Musharraf as “a weak, ineffective and foolish dictator” because, for instance, he has failed to stem the rising tide of Islamist extremism in his country. Apparently such extremism in Indonesia is not an issue for Sheridan, forgetting that it’s almost certainly an issue for the victims of the Bali bombings and their families.

By contrast, Suharto was presumably a strong, effective and astute dictator, a veritable pin-up boy of dictatorhood by Sheridan’s lights.

Suharto was a dictator and there were many bad things about his rule, especially his human rights record. But here’s the complex bit: he built a modern Indonesia that was capable of sustaining democracy.

It may not occur to Sheridan, but it may be the case that Indonesian democracy survived despite Suharto, thanks to the aspirations and dedication of millions of his countrymen.

But okay, giving the much-maligned Suharto the benefit of the doubt, surely Sheridan doesn’t need it pointed out to him that Suharto had over two decades, not to mention thousands upon thousands of bloody corpses, head-start on Musharraf.

It’s early days yet, so Musharraf may yet earn his place in Sheridan’s pantheon of benevolent despots. Give a dictator an even break!

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