Advancing a Free Society

A Dictator’s Handbook for the President

Thursday, September 15, 2011
Open Book
Image credit: 
amanaimagesRF, Thinkstock

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

Barack Obama can't get away from talking about dictators. Four years ago, candidate Obamacontroversially asserted that his administration would be open to negotiations with autocratic governments like Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Today, responding to Republican criticisms that he has been weak or hesitant on foreign policy, the U.S. president's supporters are more likely to trot out the fact that three longtime dictatorships have fallen under his watch.

How much credit the president deserves for this is certainly open to debate. And in any case, the 2012 election is more likely to hinge on the high U.S. unemployment rate and the United States' sluggish economic growth than the state of Arab democracy or whether such democracy is advantageous for Americans. But it might still benefit the president to take a closer look at the factors that brought down Middle Eastern autocrats this year. And because "leading from behind" is no way to win an election, Obama might want to learn from their mistakes to help him in his own bid to retain power.

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