Right-Wing Dictatorships

In my post on Charlie Wilson’s War, I said the following about Joanne Herring, the right-wing Texas socialite who urged Charlie Wilson to support the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan:

“The political right has always been concerned about human rights abuses under Communist regimes, and rightfully so. But what about the atrocities that Saddam Hussein committed while we were supporting him? Or the innocents killed by the El Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan contras? Was Joanne Herring concerned about them too, or did she tend to focus on Communist atrocities, since anti-Communism was an integral part of her ideology?”

This is a good question, since I read here that Joanne Herring hob-nobbed with Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain who was aided by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during the Spanish Civil War.

Herring may have felt that Franco was better than Communism. I’m sure she hob-nobbed with him long after the time of Hitler and Mussolini, since she wasn’t all that old in the late 1970’s, the time that Charlie Wilson’s War depicts. In her day, perhaps she thought that Franco was a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.

Leftists have often accused the Right of supporting tyrannical regimes in its opposition to Communism. And, indeed, America has backed some pretty sordid characters, such as Chiang Kaishek, Ferdinand Marcos, and Pinochet.

But was the Right hypocritical? Maybe it was in some sense, but one should remember a crucial distinction between right-wing dictators and Communism: right-wing dictators weren’t trying to establish an empire (or at least they weren’t after the time of Hitler). But Communism engulfed a lot of countries, gaining power and resources for expansion in the process. And, while Communist countries may have disliked each other, they were perfectly willing to join forces in pursuit of world revolution. What would have happened had the U.S. been next on their list?

So were we correct to support the right-wing dictators? Some on the Right may have liked their brutality, feeling that they had to resort to brutal measures to fight the Communists. Others denied that innocents were being killed under those despots. And still others thought that the U.S. should work with nations that had right-wing dictators, enabling them to become more democratic.

My overall impression is that the Reagan Administration tried the latter approach. Sure, Reagan and Bush I were pretty naive when they said that Ferdinand Marcos adhered to democratic processes, or when they claimed that South Africa had totally dismantled Apartheid. But the CIA under the Reagan Administration supported the moderates in El Salvador in its elections, not the right-wing death squads.

And many of those right-wing dictatorships became democracies in the early years of Bush I’s Presidency. Chile became more democratic. The Philippines elected Corazon Aquino, whose husband was a casualty of Marcos. And South Africa dismantled Apartheid.

The Carter approach was often to alienate right-wing dictatorships in the name of human rights, and the results were not always pretty. Look at Iran, which replaced the Shah with the Ayatollah Khomenei! But Communism was not the only tyrannical system that fell under Reagan and Bush I. So did a lot of right-wing dictatorships!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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