Caution on hopes over the Middle East uprisings

| February 21, 2011

Even as news circulates that Gaddafi may have fled Libya for Venezuela — and I frankly can’t think of two world leaders who more deserve each other than Chavez and Gaddafi, except possibly Kim Jong-il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad —  I find my hopes for these various “street revolutions” tempered by history.

We, as Americans, have a wonderful story to tell of rebellion, freedom, and democracy. Because of that, we are instinctively heartened whenever we see similar uprisings elsewhere. What history teaches us, however, is that ‘popular’ revolutions tend to turn our more like the French Revolution than the American one: bloodshed, intolerance, rule by self-consuming cliques, and the rise of yet another dictator, this one wearing a different disguise. This is particularly true in countries that have no history of democracy and the rule of law (vs. the rule of man). We forget that two of the worst, most violent (towards its own people) tyrannies in history — the Soviet Union and Communist China — both started with popular revolutions. Likewise, Hitler came to power by manipulating an existing democracy.

Note that in all this I am not advocating a US policy of realpolitik, wherein we cheerfully support dictators because we don’t like what might replace them. But I think that it’s important that we realize that a new choice isn’t always a better choice — that uprisings such as those in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East often replace one set of rulers with a different — and not necessarily better — set of rulers.  As usual, Jerry Pournelle’s insights on the subject are worth reading.  ..bruce w..

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Category: Geopolitics, Main, You Say You Want a Revolution?

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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