Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Who Will Shoot First ?

Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem.

Joseph Stalin.

The usually prescient Ian Bremmer, author of the very interesting The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, has written an interesting column about the approaching end of dictator Robert "Bad Bob" Mugabe in Zimbabwe. This particular sawdust Caesar cannot get the chop soon enough, but it's too early to order champagne.
To begin with, Mr. Bremmer pretty accurately sums-up where things sit, but in predicting the dictator's fall, I wonder if he takes into account the dictator's foreign help quite enough ? He mentions that it exists, but as long as there are foreigners willing to bankroll Mr. Mugabe, he can probably stay in power. Assuming, that is, that he has killed, jailed or exiled all possible rivals in his own party and security services. . .

Saddam was good at that -- that's one reason we have so much trouble in Iraq: there was no logical person in country to succeed him, so the whole system collapsed and had to be rebuilt from scratch. Saddam knew his Stalin (most successful of all modern dictators) intimately well (he was a big admirer and had read all the biographies of him). As Edvard Radzinsky points out in his very readable biography of Stalin, the unsafest place in the Soviet Union was near Stalin -- dangerous, dangerous to know anything about the man, or his plans, or be known to him. Although ruthless, I'm not sure Mugabe is as effective at getting rid of potential opponents as Saddam and Josef Vissarionovich -- and that will be the determining issue in Zimbabwe. A big weakness of some dictators is the desire to have stability in terms of persons you deal with daily.

Trouble is, as Stalin understood, you have to weed out the overmighty subjects who know too much and control too much every so often. Mind you: this is not a moral judgment, it's simply the nature of personal dictatorship. When you choose to rule by decree: to ride the white horse, and put your own face on the money; you also choose to have a secret police, dungeons, prison camps and all the rest -- or you have chosen to be very dead, very soon.
Mr. Bremmer correctly sees an internal challenge from ZANU-PF as the main threat to Mr. Mugabe. The question is -- who will shoot first ? Bad Bob via a purge of his government and security services of potential successors and troublemakers ? Or maybe the would-be purgees -- ZANU people who want, along with their families -- to live ? No way to tell, but I think, perhaps, Mr. Mugabe has left the purge a little late.

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