Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Know Your Dictator


As the United Nations General Assembly convenes this week, a high-level parade of actual and aspiring dictators arrives in New York City. This is a good time for people of conscience to reflect on how to deal with dictators.

The U.S. government appears to have found a way that works for it: Libya is a case in point. Having long treated it as a pariah high on the terrorist list, the United States began to rehabilitate Colonel Muammar Qaddafi after 2003, when Libya agreed not to seek nuclear weapons and to pay compensation for its implication in such crimes as Lockerbie.

The world will be seeing a lot of Libya this week. It was elected to hold the presidency of this year’s General Assembly and will preside over the high-level meetings. Qaddafi will participate in the historic Security Council summit chaired by Barack Obama. Yet there are few perceptible reforms within Libya itself as he celebrates his 40th year in power.

Many of us may find it difficult to know what’s right and what’s wrong in such situations. How far should human rights advocates push their governments? Who decides when to protect a population, how, and at what cost? In the month leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many well-intentioned people, even those who expressed doubts about the Bush war objectives, said, “Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator; we owe it to the Iraqis to do something.”

Those who still think so should probably take a moment to read the eloquent statement by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at Bush and who was just released from prison. Iraqis were well aware of the oppression they lived under, he said, but the invasion and occupation has “divided one brother from another …. It turned our homes into never-ending funeral tents. And our graveyards spread into parks and roadsides. It is a plague.”

Clearly, invasion and occupation are not the way to deal with dictatorship. So what can ordinary citizens do?

Well, first, define your dictator. Respectable human rights organizations — ones that are not seen as Western-funded or guided — should come together to compile a citizen’s Good Government Index and rank governments accordingly. There are, of course, “freedom indices” that rank states based on some civil and political rights. The GGI would be broader and cover issues like corruption as well as progress in achieving development goals.

No country would score full marks. For example, accusations of fraud in elections would apply not just to Iran and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but also to the United States and George W. Bush. Similarly, the Arab world is not the only region where leaders pass power on to sons while people remain fairly powerless.

A state would not be allowed to claim the mantle of democracy if it privileges some ethnic or religious groups or is responsible for prolonged violations of human rights through occupation, as is the case of Israel. Acts of rendition and torture would count for something too.

Second, narrow the dictator’s reach. States that do not score above 60 per cent on the GGI should not be considered for election to the Human Rights Council or to lead other world bodies. Concerned citizens would need to lobby to ensure that their countries vote only for states that rank higher on the index.

States really value international recognition. For example, in the heated race to head UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific, and cultural organization, Egypt is bringing its full weight to bear behind its former minister of culture. Arab press reports even claim that Egypt is promising to be “neutral” on settlements just to get Israel to withdraw its reservations.

Third, do business, but not as usual. No amount of internal repression will stop governments and corporations from doing business with non-democratic regimes. What concerned citizens should do is limit normal business dealings partly through citizen boycotts and partly by lobbying and media outreach. At a minimum, there should be a push for an arms boycott against repressive states.

For the GGI to work, citizens need to be better informed about foreign policy on an ongoing basis, not just when their country launches an invasion in their name. While there is more information available than ever, the realities of daily life intrude. That’s where a well-designed index produced by respected organizations would help. There have been some attempts to produce such an index. Since the number of dictators is growing, these attempts are worth pursuing.

NADIA HIJAB is an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future