Three of the world’s major leaders, two of whom are dictators and one ‘merely’ authoritarian, rule by stoking ethnic conflict on their respective borders. These conflicts with ethnic groups or states that border their countries unite their national constituencies through fear and hate. These military conflicts, which they deliberately provoke, enable them to maintain their grip on power. That is why, as long as they are in power, war will be a permanent state policy.
The three leaders are Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bibi Netanyahu. All three are nominally elected leaders of countries with nominal democracies (at least they all have elections). Putin is without doubt the absolute dictator of the bunch. Though there are elections in Russia and political parties, this is a sham. Absolute power rests in one man. And he manipulates that power at will.
Erdogan began his political career as a democrat and Islamist, a then-refreshing and daring combination of qualities. But as his rein progresses he becomes more and more a dictator in the Putin mold. The latest blow is the violent state takeover of the nation’s largest circulation paper and a strident opponent of the governing AKP regime, Zaman. Remarkably, the day after the police takeover, the newspaper’s editorial slant miraculously become pro-Erdogan.
Netanyahu is the most beholden to the title “democrat.” He is the most restrained from exercising the full weight of his power. That being said, Netanyahu is clearly moving in the direction of Putin and Erdogan day by day. The last piece to document this trend is Neve Gordon’s new Al Jazeera English story on the continuing assault of Israeli democracy, Israel’s War on Liberal Democracy.
One characteristic that unites each of these authoritarians is their nursing of decades and centuries-old ethnic strife to both provoke violence and unite the nation behind them. In Putin’s case, he has stoked such conflict in Chechnya, the Ukraine, and Georgia. In Erdogan’s case, he recently violated a lengthy ceasefire with the Kurdish movement which led to the current massive round of bloody conflict in southern Turkey.
Netanyahu has waged continual war against Gaza and the Islamist group, Hamas. Using the pretext of supposed Palestinian rocket and terror attacks, the Israeli leader has fought two wars against Gaza which rallied the nation around his banner, but did little or nothing to suppress the violence against Israeli civilians they were meant to stop. Netanyahu has also intervened repeatedly, despite claims to the contrary by much of the mainstream world media, in the Syrian civil war against its Pres. Bashar al Assad. The Israeli goal has been to combat the regional influence of the Iranian arch-enemy, which is one of Assad’s two main allies (the other being Putin).
Israeli ultra-nationalists, led by Netanyahu, have cast the Arab and Muslim world as villainous haters of the Jewish state. In doing so, they’ve inflamed a streak of strident Islamophobia and racism which had previously only simmered within Israeli society.
At heart, each of these dictators know that if left to their own devices, without the aid of regional conflicts, they would be tossed out on their ears by their countrymen and women. Unlike truly democratic leaders, or even benevolent authoritarian leaders who accept limits to their power, they are not seeking peace, security and prosperity for their followers. They are not thinking in the long-term best interest of their nation. They think in terms of protecting their power and building personal/family dynasties. Dynasties cannot survive when societies are at peace. They need enemies. They need fear. Each of these men has done their best to create a continual state of war with their neighbors.
These conflicts imperil regional stability and destroy efforts to promote economic development. But the world, in each of these cases, stands helplessly by while these neighbors are pummeled to within an inch of their lives.