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What to do with dictators

A few days ago I started thinking about what happens to old dictators. I don't know why I started thinking about this, and I don't think it was just because Wednesday was Live Ammo Day in pistol class.

It seems that people have moved against big dictators a lot in the past couple of years, yet after all this experience, we still haven't figured out how to remove the demonic tyrants from our lives in a clean and humanitarian way. I'm not just talking about the United States -- other nations have had their share of successes and failures in overthrowing their own dictators. Since there are so many ways to accomplish this house cleaning, I think I'll explain them in convenient study guide manner.

1. Get CIA spooks to paste el presidente. The stuff movies are made of -- clever, crafty, quiet. Sadly, this little strategy never works. Not only is it logistically difficult and inhumane, but it can produce a whole lot of bad press if discovered. According to State Department sources, US policy does not include assassinating foreign dignitaries, no matter how unlikable. Maybe so, but we tried anyway. I hear American tourists wearing sunglasses and dark suits are no longer permitted in Chile or Argentina.

2. Revolution. Need I say more? Just make sure the army is on your side -- where the army goes the nation goes.

3. Vote the dictator out by mass referendum. This is my personal favorite, and the newly liberated Eastern European states have certainly done a great job in pulling it off. It's clean, no one gets killed, it's legally justifiable, and it looks great on TV. Unfortunately, if the leader refuses to relinquish power, and has a hard-core group of fanatics to support him, this strategy can get a lot of people killed. The soldiers don't have to be very good as long as they are insane and are willing to fire on civilians -- Gorbachev has his Black Berets, Romanian dictator Ceausescu had his special forces, and Saddam has his Republican Guard (snicker, snicker). If the bullets start flying, the people had better get army support, if they haven't won it already.

4. Overthrow the dictator and exile him permanently. Once you've cashed in on your coup d'etat, you'll probably be left with an unreformable dictator. The Philippines, Iran, and many other nations have booted their tyrant out of the country. This strategy may put some distance between him and new government, but it won't put him out of the picture. Still a cause for embarassment, this dictator could conceivably sneak back into the country, find some of the loonies from #2 and stir up trouble.

5. Overthrow dictator and let him stay in the country. Politically Correct, sweet and oh, so kind . . . but a Big Mistake. He or she will have an even easier time maneuvering back into power. Violeta Chamorro managed to win the national elections in Nicaragua and toss out the communist Sandinista rule of Daniel Ortega, but Ortega is still in country, extending his influence over the army and the police.

6. Overthrow the dictator and find a country to extradite him. Very hip, very pro-law enforcement, very anti-narcotics. Drawbacks: Two years after his removal, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is still awaiting an expensive trial in Florida. Extradition law can be tough, anyway, especially if you seized the subject with an anti-tank helicopter instead of a search warrant.

7. Overthrow the dictator and kill him immediately (with or without speedy trial). A popular but barbaric solution. Doing the nasty will solve your big problem, but create a host of others. Opening a new government with executions is politically damaging and establishes some bad precedents. The execution of Ceausescu made for some gruesome TV, and probably only scared Ceausescu sympathizers underground.

8. Wait for the dictator to anger enough nations to get smashed. The Kurds' dream plan. This option, too, can be pretty effective, depending on the way in which it is carried out. In addition, in such a war, participating nations can easily try or exile the tyrant once captured. In World War II, the Allies eliminated Adolf Hitler's regime, and took the sting out of Japan's. Allied forces filled the power vacuum left by Germany and Japan until the nations were rehabilitated, after which they became valuable members of the world community. Unfortunately, if such an invasion is not fought to completion, the dictator will often remain to create further trouble. After 100 hours of Operation Desert Storm, US forces had seized the airbase outside Baghdad and were massing on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital. President Bush pulled them back, and terminated ground fighting to allow Republican Guard units to retreat into safe areas, General Schwarzkopf indicated in a TV interview. Bush wanted to make sure Iraq could maintain a defensive capability to prevent a power vacuum after the war. Instead, the United States saved Saddam and his loonies from total destruction.


Matthew H. Hersch, a freshman, is associate opinion editor of The Tech.