MODERN DICTATORS: Third World Rulers, Strongmen, and Coupmakers by Barry Rubin

MODERN DICTATORS: Third World Rulers, Strongmen, and Coupmakers

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The crowds cheering the Ayatollah Khomeini as successor to the Shah of Iran in 1979 dramatized the triumph not of a traditional dictator over a ""modern"" one, but the reverse. So argues foreign affairs analyst Rubin in this ambitious book. Khomeini, Castro, and Qaddafi are but a few of the expanding breed of ""modern"" dictators. Unlike their more traditional counterparts, these leaders seek broad popular support for their modernizing and nationalistic (often stridently anti-US) programs. Presiding over one-party states, they adopt the latest in Western technology to update their economies and to institutionalize popular participation from below and repression from above. What should the US do in the face of entrenched militaristic, sometimes terrorist, dictatorships? Rubin eschews Jeane Kirkpatrick's distinction between leftist ""totalitarian"" and right-wing ""authoritarian"" regimes; he does, though, uphold her questionable assumption that the US has the right to apply the carrot and the stick to regimes it warns to mold into its own image. Rubin's arguments suffer from the same weakness that would compromise any attempt to link such diverse figures as Uganda's crazed Idi Amin, the fundamentalist-terrorist Khomeini, and Nicaragua's democratically elected Daniel Ortega. In order to prove his theory, Rubin stretches some facts, and nearly ignores others. How, for instance, does one categorize South Africa's parliamentary despotism? Or if, as Rubin points out in quoting the words of Mao, ""political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,"" how can the US transform dictators into democrats while giving them arms under the table? One hopes that the US arms sale to the Ayatollah figures prominently in Rubin's next book.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1987
Publisher: McGraw-Hill