January 29, 2005

Tri-Cornered Revolutions

I think that one of the less understood effects of the Bush inaugural speech will be in how it will temporarily extend the life of some tyrannies by splitting coalitions of democrats and islamists, offering the democrats hope that they no longer have to enter into a coalition with the islamist devil in order to get rid of their local tyrant. By creating hope of democracy, he has potentially turned a largely two pole political situation between tyrant, a major islamist pole, and a minor liberal (18th century definition) pole that is largely aligned with the islamists into a true triangular struggle.

In such a struggle, the tyrant will gain by the inevitable disorder implicit in any realignment of forces as well as the ability to play one side off against the other, either openly or through black operations undertaken by his secret police. The tyrant will also be able, to some extent, to "pick his poison" by fighting one force seeking to overthrow him harder than the other, essentially picking his successor.

This new option increases the chance of a Pinochet outcome, a peaceful transition to a stable democracy with extensive guarantees of immunity, instead of an Algerian one with elections followed by civil war as the army refuses to tolerate its new masters. It reduces the number of corpses while reducing the chance at any sort of meaningful justice.

The results, as with all geopolitical novelties, will be mixed. Some authoritarian regimes will play their weakening hands well. Others will blow the opportunity to live a comfortable life in retirement.

None of this makes sense absent a fundamental shift in the survival prospects of authoritarian regimes. All this stirring the pot only works if the authoritarians are doomed to be replaced by their strongest foes and we want as many of those strongest foes to be liberal champions of freedom who we can work with, not hostile islamists who ultimately seek our enslavement.

The big question, and most have scarce examined it, is whether or not something has changed in the geopolitical mix that, all over the world, makes authoritarianism a losing bet in the medium-long term.

Posted by TMLutas at January 29, 2005 03:49 PM