Dictators and failed states. Say what you like about the most barbarous regimes on the planet, they make good filler for publications with acres of space but no budget beyond covering an internet connection. The latest to go down this route is Foreign Policy magazine, a sort of New Scientist for the Washington Beltway and international relations geeks. Because it is an American publication its outlook is very much representative of the middle ground of US foreign policy debates. So it came as no surprise its June issue's list of the world's worst 23 dictators broadly reflects American geopolitical interests. It was hardly shocking to see the likes of Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, Raul Castro and Hu Jintao getting name checked.
Here's the list compiled by George B.N. Ayittey, president of the Beltway-based Free Africa Foundation:
1. Kim Jong Il (North Korea)A couple of quibbles. Strictly speaking, I don't think Ahmadinejad can be described as a dictator. Yes, he's an unpleasant demagogue who's overseen the brutal crushing of dissent after last year's disputed Iranian elections. But real power resides in the theocratic apparatus headed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khameni. Ahmadinejad's government is merely "democratic" window dressing, not unlike the constitutional set up in Imperial Germany.
2. Rober Mugabe (Zimbabwe)
3. General Than Shwe (Burma)
4. Omar Hassan Al-Bashir (Sudan)
5. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan)
6. Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea)
7. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)
8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran)
9. Melez Zenawi (Ethiopia)
10. Hu Jintao (China)
11. Muammar Al-Qaddafi (Libya)
12. Bashar Al-Assad (Syria)
13. Idriss Deby (Chad)
14. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equitorial Guinea)
15. Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)
16. Yahya Jammeh (Gambia)
17. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)
18. Blaise Compaore (Burkina Faso)
19. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda)
20. Paul Kagame (Rwanda)
21. Raul Castro (Cuba)
22. Aleksandr Lukashenko (Belarus)
23. Paul Biya (Cameroon)
I can't say the inclusion of Hugo Chavez in a list of dictators came like a bolt out of the blue. I suppose someone has to be Washington's favourite new Latin American bogeyman now Fidel Castro has retired. Yes, the Bolivarian revolution is manifesting authoritarian features (paraphrasing Engels, there is nothing more authoritarian than a revolution) but facts are stubborn things: Chavez and his movement have won more elections than any serving leader of a liberal democratic government.
But what is interesting is the omission of a barbaric dictatorship vital to US strategic interests. Can anyone identify the regime that wasn't invited to the Foreign Policy dictators' party?