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March 02, 2013


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Why won't John Quiggin give me any love, Doug?

I'd like to add that you're using an extremely restrictive definition of dictatorship in your debate, which biases against your argument. If you use a definition that would satisfy, say, Jim Robinson (or me) then it is almost impossible to argue that dictatorship is dying.

Not happy to be the loser on this one, either. The war seems endless though of course it will end, and still, probably, with Assad's defeat. I agree that Assad's partially successful resistance is an encouragement to others, though of course that depends on how things end up.

Coming to the broader question, I'd count Saleh's departure from Yemen, though IIRC you didn't class him as a dictator. Algeria, Burma and Fiji have all announced elections, though it remains to be seen how they will turn out. Still, I'd say that Burma at least is out of the personal dictatorship column now.

Noel, I think I replied to your last comment

Good thing we decided not to classify Algeria, Burma or Fiji as dictatorships back when, then. (Do I really need to link to the list?)

Shall I post another list of nice charities?

Doug M.

Noel, why is my definition too restrictive, and why does that bias you against my argument? Say more, tell how.

Doug M.

Oh, and it's Bashir, not Hafiz. The former is fils, the latter is pere.

This subtracts Basel and Raf'at, but there we are.

You listed all three and eventually agreed to drop Algeria and Burma, but not (AFAICT) Fiji. Admittedly, Fiji's elections look pretty dodgy but we'll see next year. Zimbabwe's also holding elections, though I don't expect much change there.

Please post your list of charities. That's the most pleasant part of these bets.

No, Fiji was never on. Borderline case.


You would reasonably expect more "churn" in that borderline group, with countries moving on and off it either in one direction or another -- and that seems to be what we're seeing.

-- FWIW, I suspect the wave of the future for at least the next couple of decades is going to be managed democracy. Russia is probably the paradigm here; Putin is not a dictator by any reasonable definition, and there are regular contested elections. But the right people always win, and Putin will stay in power for as long as he cares to.

Charities, will get them up in a day or so.

Doug M.

Hi, Doug:

Go back to the list of characteristics in your definition of a dictator. Characteristic (1) rules out a host of nations that most political scientists would consider dictatorships --- the PRC being the most obvious. Vietnam, Laos, Burma (for the time being, at least), Iran (elections are neither free nor fair), Algeria and ... of course! ... Fiji. Plus now Mali, of course. You can make a case for Russia. And others that I am certainly forgetting; I'm very short on sleep at the moment.

You and John were having a discussion about personalized tyranny, not dictatorship in general. For that purpose, the restriction made much sense. For most other purposes, it does not.

Characteristic #5 was entirely arbitrary, especially given the context of your discussion. That adds in all the Gulf monarchies, Brunei, Morocco and Jordan.

Add the Arab monarchies to the Asian bureaucratized dictatorship, and you have a long list. Democracy is gaining ... but its converse is not close to withering away as a way of organizing the state.

(Side question: Given characteristics #1 and #5, I'm not sure that I understand the reasons for including #2. Is there a solitary leader who lacks tremendous personal power, outside monarchies like Morocco or Jordan?)

Also, Doug:

I think you might have misread my comment (or made a typo). Restricting the definition of dictatorship biases against your hypothesis that the form of government is not disappearing. Biasing your data against your own argument makes it stronger.

I'm not sure where I indicated that it biased me against your argument. Did you make a typo?

I wish I had money to plonk down on Assad winning outright. I do not see a fundamental difference between what went on in Syria vs what went on in Algeria in the '90s.

No consolidated leadership? No consolidated government functions? Full of furringers doing terroristic stuff? No way any of these mooks win. Assad will just fight for his time and exhaust Syrian society's patience with the rebels, as well as foreign support for the rebels.

shah8, it's good to be reminded that not all uprisings succeed, and that the Arab world in particular has seen at least one massive, long-term, extremely destructive rebellion that ended in complete victory for the government.

That said, the situation in Syria is pretty different. The Algerian rebels never really reached the point of actual open field battles, nor did they manage to take control of large areas of the country's two biggest cities for months at a time. And the Algerians lacked a safe haven across the border (which the Syrian rebels have in Turkey and to a lesser extent Jordan) and did not have anything like the level of external funding that at least some groups among the Syrians are getting.

So, just from a military-strategic POV, the differences are pretty large.

Doug M.

Doug beat me to the punch. Shah8, I ran your question past my friend in the Lebanese army, and his answer was similar to Doug's, with a different emphasis. The Free Syrian Army may be operationally incoherent -- "If they had a Giap, they'd have already won" -- but they are capable of fixed-piece battles. Neither the MIA nor the GIA ever reached that level in the Algerian Civil War.

More importantly, the Syrian government faces serious logistical problems that the Algerians never faced. Government forces in Algeria had near unlimited access to both foreign supplies, Algeria's industrial base, and fuel. Syrian government forces are facing serious problems on all three of those fronts.

In other words, Doug is completely correct about the advantages possessed by the Syrian rebels compared to their Algerian equivalents -- but the relative disadvantages of the Syrian government forces are at least as important.

I'll add that the Lebanese are entirely freaked out by the fact that the obvious line of retreat by "Alawite" forces from Damascus to the coast runs right through the Bekaa valley. I would like to ask Doug and Luke whether they think those fears are justified.

Okay, three charities. As you know, Bob, I like to choose charities with solid reputations that get generally high scores from the various charity-raters. The first two of these fit that description; the third is a bit of a flyer, too new to have a reputation but it looks interesting.

1) The International Rescue Committee (IRC). The only NGO founded by Albert Einstein! You can find them at rescue.org. They've been around since 1933 and do all kinds of good work in all sorts of horrible places. The donation button is on the front page.

2) Charity: water. Pretty much what it says on the tin. You think water's important? Of course you do. Well, these guys do water projects, mostly at the household and village level. http://www.charitywater.org/

3) catapult (http://www.catapult.org/) is a crowdfunding site that helps organizations raise funds for projects to advance gender equality. It's new -- founded in 2012. Donors get updates on how their funds are spent. Take a minute to click around on their site; there's some interesting stuff.

Pick one. (Or more, if you like.) Other readers are encouraged to click through and check 'em out as well.

Doug M.

Noel, I know a lot less about Lebanon than about the rest of the region. So I'm probably not the right person to ask.

Interesting that once again you and I seem to have grabbed opposite ends of the same stick. The rebels are in a better position than in Algeria, /and/ the regime is worse off.

Mind, "Assad loses" doesn't mean anyone actually wins.

Re Giap: normally a protracted struggle like this tends to bring the more competent military leaders to the fore over time. However, the current version of the conflict is selecting for "able to wheedle cash and ammunition out of foreign backers" more than for "effective military leader"

Doug M.

Feels very bad to know that now Assad is still going to lose, it’s still going to take a long time, and a lot of people are going to be killed, maimed, impoverished or otherwise immiserated first.

BTW, Noel, just read your post about Venezuelan army reform - the reserve/territorial distinction is basically British practice. People who served in the regular army stay on the regular reserve for some years; the territorial army is made up of volunteers who train one night a week and a month's camp a year (in theory).

as it happened, the call-out of regular reservists for Iraq didn't work as too many of them were out of touch with the mobilisation command and/or unwilling, and the army relied much more heavily than it expected on the territorials - just like it did in the world wars.

And I've received an invoice from Charity Water showing that John Quiggin paid them $50. Thanks, John.

Doug M.

Alex: The U.S. system isn't entirely unlike the British one as you describe it, but there are two wrinkles. The first is the active/inactive reserve distinction: almost everyone who leaves the regular service goes into the inactive reserve. Active reserves -- which can be the Reserve or the National Guard -- drill one weekend a month and two weeks every year. (Also in theory.)

The second wrinkle is that in the U.S. people can (and do!) enlist directly into the federal Reserve or the National Guard. Training is the same as the regular active-duty military. The difference between the federal reserve and the Guard is that state governors partially fund and can activate the Guard, whereas the federal reserves are only under Washington's control.

I'm very curious to learn more about the Iraqi call-up bollix in the U.K., because that doesn't have a U.S. parallel. Do the territorials receive the same initial and advanced training as the regular British military? (Related: are the territorials only in the Army, or is there an Air Force equivalent as well?)

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