The Corner

How Best to End Things

Joshua Muravchik makes a good case for a Libyan no-fly zone. But I particularly liked his discussion about how we should hope for different ends for weak dictators than we do for strong ones. Weak dictators tend not to be as cruel and bloodthirsty as strong ones. So when revolutions force out weak ones there should be a reward for giving up without too much bloodshed. But since strong dictators, like Gaddafi, will stop at nothing to cling to power, it would be best if they paid the ultimate price for their greed. Here’s Muravchik:

The Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq did not cavil about mowing down tens of thousands to fend off challenges.Gadhafi is cut from similar cloth. Nonetheless, he totters, and his fall, if it happens, will be consequential out of all proportion to the importance of his small country.

The lesson will inevitably be factored into the thinking of other dictatorships and their populations. Such regimes always rest on a calculus of fear (even though some may be popular at the outset). People who are groaning under autocraticrule are nonetheless unlikely to risk death or harm in a hopeless cause. They are more likely to take risks if they believe that their side will triumph. While a victory by the Libyan people over Gadhafi would embolden the oppressed elsewhere, at the same time, it will make rulers think twice before resorting to extreme brutality, knowing it may fail and only fan the hatred for themselves.

For this reason, it would be best if Gadhafi ends as the “martyr” he claims he wishes to be — although he would be a martyr not to Allah but to his own megalomania — with his body dragged through the streets or hung by the ankles like Mussolini’s. Conversely, although it is easy to understand Egyptians’ desires for a settling of accounts with Mubarak, it will be best if he is allowed to live out his days unmolested in Sharm el Sheikh. Then, the message would go forth to dictators everywhere: step down without a fight and you will be allowed a gentle retirement; shed blood and you will die ignominiously.


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