Friday, July 18th, 2008
When Jews talk dictators, we’re talking the 1930s and ’40s, the great heyday of dictators. But now the great dictator action has shifted from Europe to the African, Asian and Arab world – yes, that “world” before whom we should feel ashamed because of how we treat prisoners and conduct foreign policy.
The good news is that clarity of language is ascendant. After years in which journalists preferred to call dictators by the honorarium of “chairman” or “president,” let alone Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (Yasser Arafat), the word “dictator” is making a comeback, particularly by the antics of Zimbabwe’s Bobby Mugabe.
Slate recently asked, “Who’s Africa’s Worst Dictator?” Not Mugabe. They fingered Teodor Obiang of Equitorial Guinea.
Then (June 30) Times columnist Nicholas Kristof blogged, “Who’s The World’s Worst Dictator?”. He nominates North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, and Than Shwe of Burma. Kudos to Kristof for calling Burma by it’s rightful name – Burma – not Myanmar.
Myanmar is only used by progressives so progressive they live in fear that somebody, somewhere, might say Barack Hashem Obama’s ineffable middle name. Burma’s name was changed to Myanmar by its military dictatorship. To call Burma “Myanmar” is like calling Patty Hearst “Tania,” her nom de guerre while kidnapped.
Earlier this year, Parade, the Sunday newspaper supplement, ran what has become an annual list, “The World’s Worst Dictators,” a nice interactive feature. (Alert: Parade calls Burma…)
1: Kim Jong-il, North Korea
2: Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan
3: Than Shwe, Myanmar
4: King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
5: Hu Jintao, China
6: Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
7: Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran
8: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan
9: Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan
10: Isayas Afewerki, Eritrea
11: Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya;
12: Bashar al-Assad, Syria;
13: Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea;
14: King Mswati III, Swaziland;
15: Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia;
16: Aleksandr Lukashenka, Belarus;
17: Hosni Mubarak, Egypt;
18: Raul Castro, Cuba;
19: Choummaly Sayasone, Laos;
20: Idriss Deby, Chad.
Next time you ask, “What would the world say?” look over that list. That’s what the world looks like.
Unlike Slate, Parade has Obiang only at number 13. Israel is doing all it can to sign a treaty with number 12. The Bush administration really likes number 4, and the recipient of the most American foreign aid (after Israel) is number 17. Meanwhile, I’m constantly getting e-mails offering me banking transactions from the land of number 20.
Of course, “it can’t happen here.” But on a Sunday in 1917, with our boys fighting “over there,” you could have read this headline in The New York Times Sunday magazine with your morning coffee: “NEED OF DICTATOR URGED BY HARDING; Republican Senator from Ohio Favors Absolute Power for President, Even If He Is a Democrat.” (Read it here)
The article begins: “What the United States needs and what it must have if it is to win the war is a supreme dictator with sole control of and sole responsibility for every phase of war activity, and this today means practically every phase of Government.”
Only until the war is over, added Harding.
“My own conviction,” said the senator, “is that the world is aflame and we have a republic to save.”
In fairness to Harding, he was talking in 1917, the dead ball era, before the great sluggers of the 1930s redefined the genre. But it is nevertheless remarkable that Harding’s calling for a dictatorship did not stop the American public from electing him chief executive in 1920.
I would have voted for him, after Wilson got us into that horrific, wasteful war, with its thousands of dead soldiers, and his delusion of “making the world safe for democracy,” that solved nothing except creating more terrorists, like Germany’s Corporal Hitler.
What really would have been important to me in 1920 was that Harding was “good for the Jews.” When he was running for president, he condemned the “barbarity” of European pogroms and anti-Semitism “in many lands, even sometimes in our own.” The Jews, said Harding, have “commanded my admiration by their genius, industry, endurance, patience and persistence, the virtue and devotion…”
Okay, you can stop, I’m flattered! I can hear the Jewish leaders saying, Harding really is a friend of the Jews!
And he supported Zionism! Harding said he hoped that Jews “will be restored to their historic national home,” surely he must have been thinking of Hebron and a united Jerusalem, “and there enter into a new and yet greater phase of their contribution to the advance of humanity.”
Teapot Dome? What’s Shabbos without a teapot?
So what if he had a middle name? He was the best friend Israel ever had.