I don’t have a dog in the fight over whether he’s a good guy or not, but past experience should at least have instilled in us a sense of caution before lionizing foreign political figures. When I was in college, Jonas Savimbi was feted by the Right as a heroic free-marketeer holding the Soviet empire at bay — at least until Radek Sikorski’s 1989 article in NR that exposed the man for the lying gangster that he is. During the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, conservatives could be seen aping the Mujaheddin by wearing Afghan Chitrali hats on campus and some even made their way to Central Asia, as though it were Spain in the 1930s for the Left. And the folly of those who glorified the head of the Chinese Nationalists was nicely summed up by his nickname: Generalissimo Cash-My-Check this. Best not even to mention “Uncle Joe” Stalin.
The same is true for many foreign political figures we’ve demonized. Woodrow Wilson started the bad habit of not recognizing governments headed by people we didn’t like when Gen. Tinoco took power in Costa Rica in 1917, as though he were any different from any other Latin gangster in uniform. And how about Assad of Syria or Khadafi in Libya — they’re our enemies, sure, but are those governments really all that different from those of Egypt or “Saudi” Arabia?
My point is not that we shouldn’t support bad guys in some cases and oppose them in others, but rather that foreign affairs are a dirty business, best approached with a certain emotional detachment. Our democratic — naive? — tendency to international politics has gotten us into trouble before, and will probably do so again.