In a post below, I said I was thinking about George W. Bush today, as Egypt explodes. I’m thinking of Jeane Kirkpatrick too. She made a famous distinction between authoritarian regimes and totalitarian ones. Authoritarian ones, they tended to crumble: to give way. The people had just enough breathing space to bring about democracy. Totalitarian regimes, that was a different ballgame: little or no breathing space, a horrible ability to hold on, for the rulers.
Much will depend on what the militaries do: Will they stick with the rulers, or will they throw in with the people? In Egypt, some policemen are ripping off their uniforms and badges (to save their own skins, in some cases, surely). Last week, the United States, in the person of Barack Obama, hosted and fêted a brutal dictatorship, which turned on the people with guns about 20 years ago. I am thinking of Tiananmen Square.
The people massed, demanding democracy. (They had been inspired by Gorbachev’s changes in the Soviet Union.) Military forces in Beijing were hesitant to fire — hesitant to kill them. The dictatorship called in reinforcements from the countryside. Those forces did the job. They simply mowed over the democratic protesters — and that was the end of the hoped-for “spring.”
In a column a few weeks ago, I quoted Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Miami Republican, born in Cuba, who retired from Congress at the end of the last term. He had a message for the Cuban armed forces. In paraphrase, it was this: “If you repudiate the Castros, anything is possible. If you stick with them, nothing is possible. And if you pull a Tiananmen Square — if you do what Chinese forces did in 1989 — the Cuban people will never forgive you.”
These are tense, perilous, opportunity-filled times.