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Wednesday, December 13, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I have never been as impressed with Mark Steyn as have many in the Rightward side of the ‘Sphere. Recently, I have found him to be rather outrageous (for example, here and here–and, in fairness, the one time I quoted him approvingly, it ends up he was quite wrong).

In surfing about (I found this via LGM) I found yet another nail in the Steyn coffin (in terms of my being able to take him seriously at all).  Via Steyn’s web site (Ave atque vale) comes his praise for Augusto Pinochet and this rather remarkable paragraph from a piece he wrote for The Sunday Telegraph on November 29th 1998:

As for General Pinochet, if there’s a lesson in all of this it’s that dictators should kill more people rather than fewer. His was a benign enough regime to permit thousands of Left-wing opponents to flee the country and form a vocal international opposition that made him, in the UN General Assembly and elsewhere, the poster boy for Right-wing bastards and a cause celebre in the drawing rooms of the West.

So let me get this straight:  one should encourage the slaughter of ideological opponents because if they are left to live they might say mean things about you in exile?  And Steyn quotes himself in this regard in a post that is allegedly supposed to be in praise of Pinochet?  Amazing.

Even if we assume that all of this is hyperbole to makes some clever point about international law (which was the major point of the column), that’s a pretty hideous thing to say.

It makes Steyn’s alleged desire for the spread of democracy in the Middle East seem a bit hollow, now doesn’t it?  Further, it puts an especially nasty edge on anything that he writes about fighting the war on terror.  It also calls into question whether he knows what he is talking about in general, given that he clearly is/was clueless about Chilean political history.

(I would remind the readers that part of what happened to some of those “Left-wing opponents” who went into exile is that they were assassinated–included one via car bomb in Washington, D.C.).

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Filed under: Latin America | |

11 Comments

  1. I’m almost speechless.

    I had never heard of Steyn till now, and I wish I still never had.

    He and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appear to have a lot in common. Ahmadinejad no doubt has a point, after all. If only Hitler had been less benign, none of his “opponents” would have escaped and thus there would never have been that lobby at the UN that resulted in Res. 181.

    And, yes, I am pretty sure that Godwin’s Law had to be invoked in this instance, because Steyn is clearly a fascist.

    Comment by zed — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 10:07 am

  2. Man, you are uptight about the whole Pinochet thing.

    Steyn’s purpose was to use a little hyperbola to put Pinochet in perspective. Pinochet’s killing and disappearing of 3,000 people makes him a relative piker in the despot hall of fame. The numbers that the WSJ had yesterday were that his forces killed or disappeared roughly 3,200 souls, 2,800 of which happened in the first months of running gun battles with Allende’s supporters. That makes him a relative gnat in the annals of despotism.

    But Steyn’s larger point, and this is a very serious one, is that Pinochet has long been held to a very different standard than other strongmen. This is particularly true of the South American variety, a species that flourished in the 60’s and 70’s. Pinochet is a minor leaguer when compared to the mayhem created by Ortega(Nicaragua), Castro(Cuba), or Videla (Argentina). Killing for nationalistic reasons or to support socialist principals seems to be much more acceptable than killing socialists to bring an open, wealthy democracy.

    Ortega, Castro, or nasty African generals would never be indicted by various European busybodies. However it’s hard to argue that they ruled gentler or achieved better results than Pinochet.

    The cold war was filled with various nasty types that were embraced by half the world becaused they played rough with the other side. Pinochet was one of that list. However his real crime was that he left (relatively) voluntarily with a functioning democracy and and an economy that showed that the way to economic prosperity was not through socialist principals.

    “INSUPPORTABLE” as the French would say.

    Comment by Buckland — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 10:55 am

  3. Buckland,

    What I am “uptight” about is that many who are supposedly democrats (note the small “d”) seem more than willing to simply excuse Pinochet because as of right now the Chilean economy is in good shape.

    And I am tired of the “well, other get a pass”–well, not from me, thanks.

    And as I noted in another post: 3,000 is more than died on 9/11–shall we dismiss those events as well because there are other events that were more devastating?

    It is a dangerous notion that we should excuse evil because some of the results were fine. I don’t understand the willingness of so many to do so.

    Are you only willing to decry a dictator if at the end of the day the economy is a wreck?

    Do I think that neoliberal reforms have been, on balance, good for Chile. Yes? Do I have to praise Augusto Pinochet because of that fact? No.

    And to reiterate something I mentioned in a response to your other post: Pinochet did not leave Chile with a perfect democratic state, unless one thinks that the military should have special political privileges enshrined in a democratic constitution.

    Pinochet thought he would win the 1988 referendum, and as another commenter noted, it is unclear that we was going to respect the results when he lost until another member of the government announced the result.

    Remember, too, he remained in power in the military until 1998. He didn’t just fade away and allow democracy to grow sans his influence.

    If the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US foments a coup tomorrow, and the Air Force bombs the White House and the Secret Service abandons the President, and if the Chairman takes control of the United States for 17 years,killing thousands of US citizens in the process, yet when he leaves power, the US economy is in good shape, would that absolve him of his crimes?

    I am “uptight” about this because I take democracy seriously and cannot abide by a white washing of what this man did in office.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 11:33 am

  4. Buckland hits the nail on the head.

    People like Steyn and the folks at NRO are asking for perspective when assessing Pinochet and his rule. Pinochet’s crimes do not rise the levels set by his predecessors or those that have followed throughout the world. They are still crimes however.

    I would also disagree with the excuse for Godwin’s law. Steyn is no facist and there are no excuses for comparing anyone to Hitler or his regime. Falling back on Nazi comparisons is just that, a fall back position when more appropriate arguments cannot be made.

    Really, does anyone even know what a true facist is these days?

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 11:41 am

  5. No, what Steyn and others are doing is saying “since the Left doesn’t decry the Leftist dictators enough, we shouldn’t have to decry Pinochet because he liked Milton Friedman”.

    Why can’t we say that while we like some of the policies, we decry Pinochet’s human right’s record? Why can’t we decry coups and torture and disappearances, and so forth?

    Why do we have to be flippant about a government killing its own people?

    Why not be offended by the notion that people who have the wrong ideas are to be considered enemies of the state?

    How can we say we value democracy and freedom and not have those thougts even if we happen to like market reforms.

    And anyone who thinks that Pinochet brought democracy to Chile doesn’t know Chilean history or politics.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 11:48 am

  6. […] My postings on Augusto Pinochet has results in a regular commenter accusing me of being “uptight” on the topic. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Uptight about Democracy — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

  7. I have to admit to being just as “uptight” as Steven is on this subject. Perhaps because I too have had some prolonged exposure to Latin America, but more likely because he and I sense a flippant attitude that seems to be getting worse and worse.

    Case in point:

    Today I was discussing Pinochet on another blog and the author of that blog (a very bright, right-of-center latino) stated quite matter-of-factly that Allende would almost certainly have killed as many people as Pinochet had he been left in power.

    Allende would almost certainly have killed as many innocent people as Pinochet! I won’t even bother to respond.

    That’s the kind of thought process that’s making me “uptight”.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

  8. I’ll wade in once more.

    I’m not whitewashing what Pinochet did in office, nor are many others as best as I can see. My point is that there has been a decade bout of teeth gnashing when it comes to AP. His record was as a light handed despot –compared to other South American despots — with the redeeming quality of stepping aside after the creating an environment where the next general will have a hard time overthrowing the elected government. That just doesn’t consign him to the same circle of hell as many of his classmates. Indeed it’s hard to think of a South American country (although it probably exists) where the generals didn’t take bloody control at least once in the last 60 years. Yet most Americans can’t name a single one of the others (Juan Peron of Argentina being the possible exception, and then only because he had a knockout wife).

    You’ve said in a number of other threads that economic liberalization could have come to Chile without crushing democracy. I don’t see a lot of evidence of that. Prior to Chile’s marriage with Miltonomics attempts at economic liberalization was used as an insult before crowds of rabid socialist supports. Peron in Argentina made a career of railing against such bad ideas. Only when faced with a strong economic competitor on their own continent did the rest of the neighborhood get on board.

    Using 1970 economic performance numbers it’s hard to make a case that Chile would be the country to lead South America to prosperity and democratic stability. Not giving Pinochet the bulk of the credit for that result is shortchanging the man.

    Getting perspective is not whitewashing. Pinochet was a bloody dictator in a time and place of bloodier dictators. Yet he alone has received the worldwide condemnation for those acts. That’s the perspective that many on the right are trying to bring.

    Comment by Buckland — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

  9. His record was as a light handed despot –compared to other South American despots — with the redeeming quality of stepping aside after the creating an environment where the next general will have a hard time overthrowing the elected government.

    This is simply inaccurate. From 1990-2005 the military had a number of expressed constitutional prerogatives that included the ability to veto policies that they deemed “not in the national interest” via the aegis of their National Security Council.

    Indeed, in the first years of the civilian government the military frequently had unplanned “exercises” to remind the civilians that they were there. Additionally, with Pinochet still in charge of the Army, it wasn’t if the threat of a return wasn’t present.

    Your interpretation is far too benign.

    Further, this is not correct either: His record was as a light handed despot –compared to other South American despots

    He essentially shut down political activity in the country for over a decade and those who opposed him had to deal with the DINA. It may not have been the worst dictatorship in the region during that period, but it was far from the best, either.

    You’ve said in a number of other threads that economic liberalization could have come to Chile without crushing democracy. I don’t see a lot of evidence of that.

    Given that neoliberal reform came to much of the region in the 80s and 90s sans a reforming dictator, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that such reforms are possible sans a brutal coup. Beyond that, however, the reforms could have been put into place without disappearing and torturing leftists, without stealing tens of millions, without Operation Condor and without statying in power 17 years and then staying on at Army commander until ‘98.

    Even if one gives credit for the economic reforms, one has to deal with all of that.

    Peron was, by the way, of a wholly different era–the 40s. (unless you are talking about his brief return to power in the 70s). Ironically, neoliberal reforms came to Argentina via the Peronist party in the 1990s. As such, I am not sure what your point is in evoking him.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 1:59 pm

  10. One more thing: Getting perspective is not whitewashing. Pinochet was a bloody dictator in a time and place of bloodier dictators. Yet he alone has received the worldwide condemnation for those acts. That’s the perspective that many on the right are trying to bring.

    No, it seems that many on the right want to ignore the bad because of the economic policies.

    And even if the goal is just perspective, why not simply treat all despots as despots? Why try to say “the left is too easy on the other guys and too hard on Pinochet, so let’s be easy on Pinochet”?

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

  11. Indeed it’s hard to think of a South American country (although it probably exists) where the generals didn’t take bloody control at least once in the last 60 years. Yet most Americans can’t name a single one of the others (Juan Peron of Argentina being the possible exception, and then only because he had a knockout wife).

    I skimmed over this the first time I read your comment.

    Longevity is part of the answer on Pinochet. Only Castro and Stroessner of Paraguay had longer tenures in office.

    The Brazilian military regime was longer, but they rotated their presidents.

    Countries without a coup and a brutal dictatorship in LA in the last roughly 60 years: Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela come to mind. Nicaragua had a revolution during that period, as did Cuba, not military coups. Mexico has avoided military coups as well in the time period in question.

    Colombia had only a brief period of military rule in the 20th Century: 1953-1957. Although it has had its fair share of violence.

    Peron’s name recognition is helped, of course, by a Broadway musical and a movie.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, December 13, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

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