“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What do you think?

Good Mideast Dictators by Robert D. Kaplan

July 25, 2012 | 0903 GMT
By Robert D. Kaplan
It is often said that the Arab Spring proves American support for Middle Eastern autocrats for more than half a century was wrong because the policy did not bring peace or stability. Nonsense. For any policy to remain relevant for so many decades in this tumultuous world is itself a sign of success. Support for moderate Arab monarchs and secular dictatorships was part of a successful Cold War strategy for which there is no need to apologize. It helped secure the sea lines of communication between the oil-rich Middle East and the West, on which the well being of Americans depended. What was the United States supposed to have done? Overthrow a slew of regimes across a vast swath of the earth for decades on end because those states did not conform with America's own historical experience and political system? Or should we not have had diplomatic relations with these regimes in the first place? No responsible American statesman would choose either of those options. What were Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and James Baker supposed to have done? Not seek Arab-Israeli troop disengagement accords and peace agreements because their Arab interlocutors were not democratically elected? Remember that thus far, Israel has only concluded peace agreements and disengagement accords with Arab dictators, men who had the luxury to throw their opponents out of power when they opposed such deals.
A basic rule of foreign policy pragmatism is that you must work with the material at hand: because it is dangerous and costly to replace regimes thousands of miles away from home when they do not correspond to your values or liking. Throughout the Cold War and the two decades following the end of communism in Europe, autocrats constituted the material at hand in the Middle East even as the technology of social media was not yet available to undermine those regimes.
But has the Arab Spring actually toppled Middle Eastern autocrats? Only partially. In North Africa, three of five regimes and their apparatuses have been replaced if you count Egypt; in the Levant, none have been replaced, though Syria's now hangs by a thread; and in the Arabian Peninsula, only Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh has fallen -- and his supporters remain influential. That adds up to a record of regime change of about a third. Of course, more will fall. In Syria, this will happen perhaps any day now, and that will trigger changes throughout the region. Moreover, the Arab Spring has led to political reform in Morocco, Oman and elsewhere. Finally, the Arab Spring has affected the overall psychology of the Middle East. Everywhere regimes are nervous about public opinion to a degree that they were not before the original revolt in Tunisia at the end of 2010.
The regimes that have fallen, and that still might, were long overdue to collapse. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was an uninspiring security thug in a society already too sophisticated for that sort. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya was a tyrant out of antiquity encased in self-delusion. Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was barely cognizant because of age and illness, and even that did not signal his fall; rather, his fall was deemed necessary by a military establishment that did not want his son, who never served in uniform, to succeed him in power. Only in Yemen was a dictator's fall not necessarily inevitable. Saleh had remained in power for a third of a century by manipulating tribal politics in a country where geography was not friendly to central control, and he still had his wits about him at the end. But generally speaking, it has only been the worst autocrats who have been overthrown. Those less noxious regimes, mainly in the Gulf, have survived until now.
Syria, of course, appears to constitute an autocracy whose base of support is melting rapidly. By the time you read these words, it may no longer exist. Though in Syria, like in Egypt, we still have to distinguish between the fall of a man, a family dynasty and a regime. Thus far in Egypt, we have merely had a coup; the military still rules as it did under Mubarak. In Syria, there are numerous possibilities, not all of which signify complete regime change, though complete regime change there is the likely outcome. The bottom line is that the Arab Spring is not synonymous with democracy. Democracy has made substantial inroads in Tunisia but fewer elsewhere. The results of Egypt's elections have been undermined by continued military control. Libya may have held elections, and it may even have elected an enlightened moderate. But there are few institutions with which to project power beyond greater Tripoli. Democracy is not only about voting. It is also about capable organizations of government.
Alas, the Arab Spring can be defined as a crisis in central authority, in which old orders in a sizable minority of countries have proved untenable even as new and freer orders are struggling to emerge. Those new and freer orders, moreover, will not always prove more edifying than what they replaced. Simply because a people can vote does not mean they will choose individuals who will govern according to the liberal values of the West. Democracy does not guarantee good government; it only guarantees the ability to register the political and emotional health of a given population at a given moment. It is famously said -- and truly said -- that Hitler was elected in a democratic election. While Chinese communist leader, Deng Xiaoping may have improved the material well being and advanced the personal freedoms of more people in a shorter space of time than any man in history. Finally, democracy may be a public good in and of itself. But democratization can be a long, tortuous and deeply destabilizing process.
The basic truth about the Arab Spring is that it has brought us not only more freedom but also more complexity. Rather than one man, one telephone number and one email address to deal with in case of international crises involving this country or that, Washington now has to take into account the sentiments of dozens of people in the political power structure of a given Arab capital. It used to be easy to determine who held real authority in order to get something specific done or to resolve a crisis. Now it can be a matter of theory, the latest rumor or a piece of intelligence.
More complexity means that it is not entirely clear that the political changes in the Middle East since early 2011 are necessarily in the interest of the United States. The United States as a mass democracy generally supports the expansion of civil society throughout the world, and the Arab Spring is for the most part in line with that. But America is at the same time a status quo power that seeks to preserve the present power arrangement because it keeps America in a position of relative dominance.
Through it all, the most interesting countries to watch may be those least in the news: the constitutionally evolving monarchies of Morocco and Oman and the sheikhdoms in the Gulf (Bahrain excepted) with oil money to spend on their small populations in order to bribe them toward quiescence. Some of them are, to varying degrees, peacefully experimenting with more liberal political orders, proving that the best kind of progress is often the most gradual kind, the kind that fails to attract headlines.

Read more: Good Mideast Dictators by Robert D. Kaplan | Stratfor 


  1. Bahrain is the pivotal point, interesting that Mr Kaplan exempts it from his commentary about the "interesting to watch".

    By Associated Press, Published: July 20

    MANAMA, Bahrain — Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain clashed Friday with riot police firing tear gas during demonstrations against plans to limit political marches.

    Street battles took place in several places around the strategic Gulf island kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

    The last time things got "interesting" in Bahrain, the Saudis sent in troops.

  2. I think the man is a good writer, and a master of the obvious.

    My insight into his character is that when some tinhorn sheik shares some of the oil wealth with the rightful owners (the people of the country) it's a "bribe."

    It could only be a "bribe" if the oil belonged to the monarch, and the citizens were somehow disconnected from ownership.

  3. In short, Kaplan really does believe that the monarchs are the rightful owners of their respective countries, and the oil wealth the countries possess.

    Most right-wingers are like that.

    1. Okay, okay, before the peanut gallery erupts, "Many" right-wingers are like that.

    2. Peanut gallery eruption: "many left-wingers" are like that too.

    3. It's okay to be a partisan, Rufus, but don't be a blind one.

    4. .

      I tend to agree with Kaplan; although as been pointed out, he merely states the obvious.

      With regard to the 'bribes' issue, it's not a bribe if the head of state accepts the premise that the people are the rightful owners of the oil and decides as an act of justice to offer them a piece of the pie; however, if it is offered to them to keep them pacified and quiet then it's a bribe.

      I think, given the context, that Kaplan was correct in his use of the word. Also, I saw nothing in the text that would give any clue as to Kaplan's feelings as to who was the rightful owner(s) of those resources.


    5. How do you "bribe" someone by giving them what is rightfully theirs?

      And, I have seen this exact language on many right-wing websites. I can only deduce that they identify with the "King."

    6. .

      You can talk about rights and justice but in fact most of these countries are kingdoms with political systems little different from those of fuedal times. The de facto reality is that the assets are the kings unless he is forced from office in a coup or he chooses to give those assets to the people either as a present or a bribe.

      Since I don't visit many right wing websites, I leave that part up to you; however, your initial comment included Kaplan and I see nothing in the text that would lead me to believe he 'identifies' with the King.


    7. Did you miss this?

      " with oil money to spend on their small populations in order to bribe them toward quiescence."

    8. I know this isn't a "big deal;" it's just that I'm really down on "right-wingers" right now. :)

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. .

      Did you miss this?

      Nope. I saw it. But evidently, I'm missing something. I don't see how accusing someone of having to bribe his people in order to keep them quiet is some kind of endorsement of or "identifying with" that someone.

      I guess it resolves around what "identifying with" means. I took it to mean 'to view positively' in some manner; however, I read the opposite into

      ..."with oil money to spend on their small populations in order to bribe them toward quiescence."

      As you said, not a big deal.


  4. Damn Democrats in the Senate are going to kill the Ron Paul audit the Fed bill, just passed overwhelmingly in the Republican controlled House. Them Democrats, always wanting the American people to live in darkness, ignorance and stupidity. It's the only why they can continue to get any votes. You'd have to be a blind old partisan fool to vote for the Democrats.

    1. Really, now Ron Paul's prescriptions are accepted parts of bob's doctrine?

      What a differences a few months make.

  5. .

    Could attitudes in D.C. finally be changing on the FED, the Banks, Glass-Steagall, and 'Too Big To Fail'?

    In addition to Ron Paul's bill to audit the FED passing overwhelmingly in the House, we have Congress talking about the return of Glass-Steagall, and even Sandy Weill coming down hard on Geitner and Bernanke.

    Can we start over?


  6. John Bolton was just telling me via the miracle of radio that the Obama administration is talking out both sides of its mouth on Syria. Who would have thought that, it is so out of character. Anyway, his view is we are not taking the possibility of those chemical and biological weapons falling into the wrong hands seriously enough, and also before we go arming anyone we ought to have a grip on whose is in charge of the opposition, and we don't know that, and we should get some kind of iron clad guarantee that if the rebs should win they turn all that mass destruction stuff over to us or some international body. Says it is a serious situation and the Russians seem to be digging in. And if there is a slaughter of Alawites and Christians do we really want our weapons to be used in this?

    I can't see we really have any 'policy' in the mid-east. We just kind of react to stuff.

    The policy should be, weaken any islamic state, and islam as a whole. Only question is about the best method. They mean us no good.

  7. What do you think? We're often taken in for a big ride:

    Tenet One. The leader should always wear a mask.

    Tenet Two: The prince must be prepared to act against charity, humanity, and religion.

    Tenet Three: The prince should always mask his acts and intentions concerning his basic morality

    Tenet Four: The prince should avoid being despised or hated.

    Tenet Five: The prince should acquire esteem through the accomplishment of great undertakings and examples of his great talents . . . he should strive in all his deeds to give the impression of a great man of superior intelligence.

    Tenet Six: The prince should avoid inconsistency.

    Machiavelli's contribution in this arena was to demonstrate, through an analysis of history, that behind a veneer of pretended morality, honesty, integrity, and Christian practices and virtues there dwelt another sphere of action, a dark world, dominated by greed, ruthlessness, hypocrisy, lies, intrigue, deception, and even murder. This vicious, manipulative world described by Machiavelli still exists, as it did in his day, hidden behind a curtain of disguise and pretense. This ugly world, a product of the past but ongoing and virtually universal, still functions but is screened from view by naïve delusions and beliefs shared by most people about life and politics and continues to affect worldly outcomes.

    Anybody know anyone that resembles in character those elements described here?

    His book did not provide a pretty picture -- he is blunt -- but it was largely a correct one. Machiavelli, ultimately, was unseated from his diplomatic position through a reversal in fortune, and he wrote The Prince to ingratiate himself with those currently in power in order to obtain a new office. He failed in this endeavor, but his book, nonetheless, has cast a spell on powerful men ever since.

    Of course Shakespeare knew all this and said it with more concentration and beauty.

  8. .

    Some contend that the fact that Mr. Holder, Mr. Corzine and Associate Attorney General Tony West all previously served as fundraising “bundlers” for President Obama’s presidential campaign is enough to warrant Mr. Holder’s recusal and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Indeed, a letter signed by 65 members of Congress cites Mr. Corzine’s $500,000 in fundraising for Mr. Obama as one of the reasons a special counsel is needed. A subsequent report by Bloomberg revealed that MF Global had written clauses into bond offerings indicating that Mr. Corzine, a former Democratic U.S. senator and governor of New Jersey, might join a future Obama administration as a Cabinet officer, a revelation that surprised even experienced Wall Street executives...

    Holder and Cronyism in the Corzine Case

    Holder has got to go.



  9. After already generating a massive 26 percent of its energy requirements from wind power, Denmark is increasing its commitment to a greener future by planning to produce 50 percent of its electricity generation from wind power by 2020.

    This comes as part of the country’s plans to phase out total use of fossil fuels by 2050, and will work alongside a second target to increase carbon dioxide cuts to 40 percent by 2020.

    Clean Technica (

    Fossil Fuels? We don't need no stinkin' fossil fuels

  10. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), offshore wind power in the Atlantic has the potential to generate 1,000 GW of power. The US does not have any commercial offshore wind power farms currently, though.

    The fact that the US is such a wealthy and technologically advanced country with some environmental awareness and regulations but has such a glaring absence of offshore wind power is beyond shocking.

    Meanwhile, it has been estimated the European offshore wind capacity could grow to 150 GW by 2030, in just eighteen years. (Where will the US be by then?) From the first of half of 2011 through the first half of 2012, Europeans have experienced a fifty percent increase in offshore wind.

    Clean Technica (

  11. .

    One has been approved thus overcoming the NIMBY issue.

    Quite the Deal


    1. That stuff is expensive, isn't it?

      It's probably good to get a little experience with it, but I doubt that very much will be built with that type of price spread.

    2. Interesting thing, Mass and Denmark are pretty similar in population, and GDP.

    3. .

      Here is the the project site.

      Cape Winds Site

      I recall in 2010 after federal approval, they were having problems getting financing. I haven't seen anything more recent on that aspect.


    4. .

      However, there are dozens of stories by both proponents and opponents of the project and invariably each says the exact opposite of the other regardless of the issue.

      We have the same thing going right now in MI on a political fight over building another bridge to Canada. Both sides of the argument have financial concerns that skew their opinions; but take it to the bank, whichever side wins, the MI taxpayer will still end up taking it in the shorts.


    5. There is so much political risk right now that only the biggest, strongest players can even think about such a project.

      That's one reason why the price/kwhr is coming in so high (offshore is expensive, but not That expensive.)

  12. Vehicle Miles Traveled rose 2.3% in May. This is, I think, the third monthly increase. What makes this interesting to me, is that gasoline was (and, still is) runnig about 4% below the previous year during this period (both sets of numbers are YOY.)

    If I'm figuring it right, that means the "fleet" is averaging somewhere around 6 to 7 Percent more fuel efficient than a year ago.

    That's quite a move. If that type of progress were to continue for, say, 5 more years it would make a pretty large dent in our "energy insecurity."

    Vehicle Miles Driven

    1. A 6-7 % yearly increase in fuel efficiency would be HUGE. I am guessing you are not figuring it right.

    2. You are guessing right. Ruf's drinking ethanol again.

    3. Hint: It's not the "fleet that's owned," but the "Fleet That's On The Road."

    4. Gas mileage on New Vehicles was up 4.8% YOY in the first half of 2012.


      But, it's not just that; it's also the difference between the mileage of the New vehicle vs. the mileage of the Tradein. For instance, a couple of years ago when my son wrecked my Expedition, I bought a flexfuel Impala with approx Twice the gas mileage (100% increas in fuel efficiency.)

      Now, figure that cars 6 yrs old, or less, account for slightly over Half the "Miles Driven" and the picture starts to come into focus.

  13. We need to get to the bottom of all this Muppet gayness --

    “Miss Piggy’s performance of diva femininity mixed with her aggression and physical prowess might put the viewer in mind not so much of a 1970s feminist but of an old fashioned drag queen,” Schildcrout writes. “And in a certain sense Miss Piggy is a drag queen. Initially played by Richard Hunt and then by Frank Oz, Miss Piggy has always been the creation of a male puppeteer. She regularly uses drag queen shtick, such as comically switching from a high-pitched coo to a basso profundo masculine growl.

    I want to know if I'm eating a fag burger.

    Serious academic issues are at stake here too --

    Jordan Schildcrout, a theater professor at Purchase College SUNY, offers a similar reading of Miss Piggy in his academic paper, The Performance of Noncomfority on The Muppet Show—or, How Kermit Made Me Queer.

    Do you wish to have your children exposed to this kind of influence?

    But the queerest Muppet of all is Gonzo. “More often Gonzo is the lone ‘weirdo’ with ambiguous gender/sexual/species status,” writes Schildcrout. And traditions be damned, Gonzo is in love with his chicken Camilla. When Gene Kelly visits the show, Gonzo replaces Miss Piggy during a serenade, having Kelly sing him the romantic song, “You Wonderful You.” “I don’t think it will be the same,” Kelly says, before performing the tune anyway.

    This Gonzo creep is the bastard weird too strange off spring of the infamous Dr. Gonzo who got in trouble in Vegas:

    Dr. Gonzo: But we have a problem. That bastard cashed a bad cheque downstairs and gave you as a reference. They'll be looking for both of you. Yeah I know. You can't judge a book by it's cover... some people are just basically rotten. Well the last thing in the world you want to do is call this hotel again. They'll trace the call and put you straight behind bars. Yeah I'm moving to the tropicana right away... when I get a room I'll let you know which one it is... I gotta get off. They probably have this phone tapped baby... Yeah I know it's horrible but it's all over now.

    It all gives me the willies and I get really scared over nothing.

    What is happening, what is happening?

    "Quirk, you sexy beast, you", said Miss Piggy, as she let her hair down. "I'm going to get to the bottom of you."

  14. When will all this non-sense end? When Ragnarok? When the Big Rip? When will Rufus finally shut up about ethanol?

    These guys pants the Teutonic pretensions of Chevallier-Polarski-Linder parameterization because w will diverge when the redshift parameter approaches -1 and opt for the Asian divergence-free Ma-Zhang parameterization to foretell the Apocalypse. After doing a Monte Carlo analysis (spare me - if you read this far there is no point in noting the flaws of doing a Monte Carlo) they came up with a 95.4% confidence level of having the Big Rip at...16.7 billion years.

    Relief may finally be in sight.

    1. I haven't said a fucking word to you, or about Ethanol.


    2. Chill dude, was just a joke.

      We all know you've never ever talked about ethanol.


  15. President Obama's spokesman unable to name the capital of Israel -

  16. The 2012 APEAL Study finds that 27% of new-vehicle buyers who replaced a vehicle downsized—i.e., purchased a new vehicle in a smaller segment than the vehicle they replaced. In contrast, only 13% of buyers upsized, while 60% purchased a new vehicle in the same segment as their previous vehicle.

    Two Downsize for every One that Upsizes

    Also, keep in mind that even those that stay in the same class will probably see a significant mileage gain (ex: F-150 Ecoboost vs Older V-8 Pickup)

  17. What do you think?

    But have you considered, I ask, that you might be wrong about Islam? What if it is not, at root, a religion of peace? He has thought about this but doesn’t accept it. He makes a comparison with Christianity. ''At Mass, at the end of the Bible readings, we say 'This is the word of the Lord’. We now take it as the spirit of Biblical teaching. We don’t take every element of it as literal. That process took us a long time.’’ Islam is wrestling with the same process today.

    Here's what Tony Blair thinks -

    While thinking we are asleep on the issue of islamic extremism, he seems to think given time......

    oh well, Tony is a confused man.

    Good article though.

  18. During the first half of 2012, the share of renewable energy sources in the electricity supply has risen significantly in Germany, rising to a sensational 25.97%. That’s a massive increase compared to 20.56%, the percentage during the same period in 2011, and 18.3% in H1 2010.

    PV-Solar Contribution Increases 47%

    In total, renewable energy sources produced 67.9 TWh (billion kWh). While all renewables have increased their share, there has been a significant change in the ranking of the different technologies, with PV-Solar(!) coming in 3rd, ahead of hydropower and right behind biomass (1% behind it).

    Here’s a breakdown of the 26% between the different technologies and the changes compared to 1H 2011:

    Clean Technica (

  19. Two women were sitting next to each other in a bar.
    After a while, one looks at the other and says, 'I can't
    help but think, from listening to you, that you're from
    Ireland ....'

    The other woman responds proudly, 'Yes, I sure am!'

    The first one says, 'So am I! And whereabouts in
    Ireland are ya from?'

    The other woman answers, 'I'm from Dublin , I am.'

    The first one responds, 'So, am I!! And what street
    did you live on in Dublin ?'

    The other woman says, 'A lovely little area. It was in
    the west end. I lived on Warbury Street in the old
    central part of town.'

    The first one says, 'Faith, and it's a small world. So
    did I! So did I! And what school did ya go to?'

    The other woman answers, 'Well now, I went to Holy
    Heart of Mary, of course..'

    The first one gets really excited and says, 'And so
    did I! Tell me, what year did you graduate?' The other
    woman answers, 'Well, now, let's see. I graduated in 1964.'

    The first woman exclaims, 'The Good Lord must be
    smiling down upon us! I can hardly believe our good
    luck at winding up in the same pub tonight! Can you
    believe it? I graduated from Holy Heart of Mary in
    1964 meself!'

    About this time, Michael walks into the bar, sits down,
    and orders a beer.

    Brian, the bartender, walks over to Michael shaking
    his head and mutters, 'It's going to be a long night tonight.'

    Michael asks, 'Why do you say that, Brian?'

    Brian answers, 'The Murphy twins are pissed again'.

  20. In the Pub the other day I was telling that old joke about what do you do if you see an epileptic having a fit in the bath?
    Answer. Throw in your washing.

    We were all having a good old laugh about this when this big bastard tapped me on the shoulder and said
    ''I don’t find that very funny. My brother was an epileptic and he died in the bath during one of his fits''.

    I said '' Sorry mate did he drown?''

    No he said '' he choked on a sock ''.

  21. On this day in 1788, New York was the 11th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

  22. A little old lady, well into her eighties, slowly enters the front door of a sex shop.

    Obviously very unstable on her feet, she wobbles the few feet across the store to the counter. Finally arriving at the counter and grabbing it for support, stuttering she asks the sales clerk, "Doo youuuu have dilllldosss?"

    The clerk, politely trying not to burst out laughing, replies, "Yes we do have dildos.
    Actually we carry many different models."

    The old woman then asks: "Doooo youuuu carrryy aaa pppinkk onnee, tttenn inchessss lllong aaandd aabboutt ttwoo inchesss ththiickk...aaand rrunns by bbaatteries ?"

    The clerk responds, "Yes we do.."

    "Ddddooo yyoooouuuu kknnnoooww hhhowww tttooo ttturrrnnn iittt offfff?"

  23. A trucker came into a Truck Stop Cafe' and placed his order. He said I want three flat tires,
    a pair of headlights and a pair of running boards.' The brand new blonde waitress,
    not wanting to appear stupid, went to the kitchen and said to the cook,

    'This guy out there just ordered three flat tires, a pair of headlights and a pair of running boards... What does he think this place is an auto parts store?'

    'No,' the cook said. 'Three flat tires mean three pancakes; a pair of headlights is two eggs sunny side up; and a pair of running boards... Are 2 slices of crisp bacon!

    'Oh... OK!' said the blonde. She thought about it for a moment and then spooned up a bowl of beans and gave it to the customer.

    The trucker asked, 'What are the beans for, Blondie?'

    'She replied, 'I thought while you were waiting for the flat tires, headlights and running boards,
    you might as well gas up!