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  • Ousting the “final 45”
  • Thomas O. Melia (bio)
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Dictators by 2025. By Mark Palmer. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. 320 pp.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the U.S. government has been transformed from a consistent defender of the international status quointo an advocate of—and potentially even a catalyst for—revolutionary change across a broad swath of the globe. In the president's own oft-repeated words, "America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East."

This is not necessarily what the invasion of Iraq was about. If things turn out well there, however, Iraq may yet become another example of democratization as a by-product of military action taken for other reasons—as was the case in Germany, Japan, and Panama after Noriega. The real policy shift lies not in the invasion, nor even in the controversial doctrine of preemption against imminent or imagined threats (this is, after all, still a fundamentally defensive notion). The dramatic change in policy is what the president and his advisors have articulated before—and with growing urgency since—the toppling of Saddam's regime: the wholesale democratization of the "Greater Middle East."

This will be difficult to do. The Greater Middle East is a region where political "pluralism" is reflected mainly in the diversity of despotisms that abound there: absolute monarchies, military strongmen, single-party autocracies, clerical theocracy, and cults of personality such as the one that Muammar Qadhafi has wrought in Libya. There are many reasons to be skeptical about whether the United States will become the revolutionary agent for change the president has declared, let alone a successful [End Page 170] one. The democratic transformation of the Middle East will require a decades-long commitment of political will, ingenuity, and resources—an even greater one, probably, than was devoted to the "long twilight struggle" of the Cold War. Few now recall that the standoff with Soviet communism was predicated much more simply on the containment, not the conversion, of the enemy.

If the United States under George W. Bush (or his successors) is to be an effective agitator for democracy worldwide, then Mark Palmer's Breaking the Real Axis of Evil must become required reading for U.S. diplomats-in-training at the Foreign Service Institute, and ought to be read at think tanks, universities, and national-security establishments throughout the democratic world. The book is an old-fashioned broadside, in the tradition and tone of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, urging upon the world a crusade against every form of dictatorship—a "plague-bearing species" that should be "driven to extinction by the palpable superiority of free democratic societies." Bolstering this impassioned plea with a learned discourse on the societal costs of autocratic rule, Palmer marshals data correlating dictatorship with illness, poverty, corruption, war, and environmental devastation. Indeed, he says, dictatorship itself "must be recognized as a crime against humanity"—an indictable offense in the courts of international justice.

"The world is really divided not between cultures, religions, or economies," Palmer claims, "but between democrats and dictators." Breaking the Real Axis of Evil is a uniquely practical guide to ousting the latter. Its list of the world's "45 Least Wanted" (based on the countries rated Not Free by Freedom House) calls the roll of the tyrants he wants to send packing over the next two decades. In what appears to be the first such published catalog of dictators, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil divides them into six categories: personalistic dictators, of which Saddam Hussein was the prime example; "monarch dictators," as in Saudi Arabia; military dictators, such as Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf; communist dictators, including Fidel Castro; dominant-party dictators, including Egypt's Hosni Mubarak; and one theocratic dictator—Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While two of the 45 Least Wanted have already been dispatched—Saddam Hussein and Liberia's Charles Taylor—the litany of these men's crimes against their peoples serves to make the whole discussion less theoretical and more tangible, and makes ousting them seem both crucial and feasible.

Throughout the book, Palmer emphasizes that democratic change needs to...


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pp. 170-173
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