Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Failing States and Despots: Interesting Reading
My favorite magazine edition of the year just came out: Foreign Policy's Failed State Index.. As always it is full of interesting data points that help one understand how and why state's fail. But this year there is also a ranking of the worst leaders in the world.

What is striking, from my perspective, is that only two Latin American leaders are named: Hugo Chávez, weighing at number 17 of the 23 worst listed, and Raúl Castro at number 21. What is also striking is that their three primary allies outside of Latin America are also among the world's worst: Mahmoud Ajmadinejad of Iran at number 8; Basher al-Assad of Syria (recently jointly bashing Israel and calling for an end to the empire, meaning the United States) at number 12; and China's Hu Jintao, busying buying up all the natural resources he can, at number 10.

Sub-Saharan Africa, of course, has the most of the worst, including my personal favorite, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang (number 14), who has hired Lanny Davis and other prominent and once respectable people as lobbyists. Obiang deposed and killed his uncle before assuming power in 1979, and was well-loved for continuing his uncle's heart-warming custom of having his political enemies beaten to death with metal bars in the main stadium while the band played "Happy Days are Here Again."

But back to Latin America: One can tell a great deal about leaders by the company they keep and the alliances they build. Chávez, rather than embracing any government with a liberal democratic form of government, has gone for the most repressive. Not coincidentally, both Syria and Iran are among the world's foremost sponsors of terrorism. Cuba, toying with modest internal reforms, remains a formidably repressive state, and has been busy helping the Bolivarian states implant state of the art internal security apparatuses that are sure to improve their respective repressive capacities.

There is nothing subtle about the aims of the Venezuela-Iran-Syria axis. As Chávez stated while hosting al-Assad stated on his first trip to Latin America earlier this week, after declaring the "Syria-Venezuela axis" to be of "strategic importance":

Arab civilization and our civilization, the Latin American one, are being summoned in this new century to play the fundamental role of liberating the world, saving the world from the imperialism and capitalist hegemony that threaten the human species. Syria and Venezuela are at the vanguard of this struggle.

It would, of course, be interesting to see how many Syrians would stay "liberated" in Syria if they could freely leave, and how many other people acquainted with the regime would choose that sort of emancipation.

In return Al-Assad praised Chavez for standing up to the United States.

"There are few politicians who are courageous to speak out when it’s necessary," he said. "Chavez has projected the image of a resistant Venezuela."

Both Chavez and al-Assad defended Iran's right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

'We believe that all countries have this right,' said al-Assad. 'It's part of our basic principles that all states have the same rights.'

It is easy to believe this is all theater with few real ramifications for the rest of the world. But all three countries (Venezuela, Syria and Iran) are going for nuclear technology. Syria has already tried to build a North Korean-style reactor, only to have it obliterated by Israel, and did so outside the world's nuclear regulatory framework. Iran has now been sanctioned four times by the United Nations for its lack of transparency. Chávez has vowed to build a "nuclear village" with the help of the major nations in violation of international agreements.

When you add oil money to the mix, and the presence of the FARC and Hezbollah as primary non-state actors at the disposal of the world's worst leaders, the danger should be self-evident.
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