The Compass

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A Warning?

The imminent collapse of Qaddafi’s regime is a major milestone not simply for the long-suffering Libyan people, but for the broader Arab uprising of 2011. Qaddafi’s ability to cling to power through brutality and slaughter had cast a dark shadow over the region for the better part of six months. In stark counterpoint to the relatively peaceful and rapid departures of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi hoped to establish a much different model for the region’s dictators: Rather than succumb to the overwhelming will of the people for political change . . . crush them by whatever means necessary. The example was certainly not lost on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad when confronted with its own popular upheaval just weeks after Qaddafi first unleashed his killing machine.

Now, with Qaddafi’s demise at hand, a major psychological blow has been struck against the region’s other tyrants who have sought to follow in his foot steps. The message has gone out: The effort to stand athwart history, and through blood and bullets deny the just demand of your people for a more decent, accountable government will, sooner or later, fail. The reverberations in Damascus will be loud and unsettling. You can bet that Assad’s head lies much uneasier today. - John Hannah

I'm not a psychologist so I can't offer any confident predictions about how various dictators thousands of miles away may feel. That said, we do have recent experience here. When Saddam Hussein fell we heard similar boasts and indeed there were some beneficial ripples - the Iranians sent feelers to the Bush administration about nuclear negotiations (which were ignored) and Gaddafi went ahead with his decision to surrender his nuclear weapons (although the work on that particular policy victory predated Saddam's overthrow). So it may indeed be the case that for the next few weeks Syria's dictator may be increasingly on edge. But then what?

In his article telling non-interventionists to shut up, Commentary's Jonathan Tobin assures us that the overthrow of Gaddafi is of course not a license to apply the same template to other dictators, but this is precisely what his fellow neoconservatives - such as Hannah - are implying when they talk about a possible demonstration effect.