Restating the Obvious About Dictatorships

At a time when the current administration considers it appropriate to cozy up to enemies, it seems appropriate to understand why we have enemies. Moreover, rather than assume these enemies are victims of American colonial ambitions or historical misdeeds, these regimes should be evaluated on one simple criterion: how they treat their own people.

When we remove the blinders of ideological myopia, what is revealed does not square with Obama’s apologies or the belief that all the wrongs, or most of the wrongs, in the world can be attributed to the United States.

Yoani Sanchez is a dissident blogger in Cuba who has pointed out the dictatorial control of the Castro brothers and the police state environment they have fostered in the island nation. On October 6, she was walking down a Havana street with three friends when Cuban agents in civilian clothes forced her into an unmarked car and proceeded to beat her relentlessly. They screamed at the same time that she had better stop criticizing the government.

Despite the elite American celebrities who travel to Cuba and return to sing the praises of Fidel, this assault highlights how little has changed in the country’s record of repression. According to the American Press Association, a watchdog group, there are currently 26 journalists in jail and 102 incidents against Cuban bloggers and writers, including arbitrary arrests, death threats, and beatings.

Some contend that the attack against Ms. Sanchez was not personal, but rather a state campaign against the blogger phenomenon that has the potential to undermine the existing government.

Apparently Ms. Sanchez's poignant vignettes of daily aggravations and humiliations can't be easily silenced. Earlier this year, she won a journalism prize from Columbia University but was barred by the Cuban government from accepting the award. Her courage and drive will assuredly be tested again by a government that cannot tolerate dissent.

On another front, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has formed a new organization to quell internal dissent. Shaken by the scale of street protests that followed the presidential elections in June, the mullahs are intent on repressive measures to thwart the dissidents -- suggesting, in effect, that the existing intelligence units cannot be relied on. State media named Hassan Taeb, commander of the Basij paramilitary organization known for its brutal methods, as the new head of the intelligence operations.

In doing so, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is being targeted. This is the same organization that exposed Iran’s covert nuclear enrichment activity in 2002 and the Qum facility in 2005, a claim later confirmed by the U.S. and Tehran officials. As Mohammed Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, noted, “Our enemy has changed face. We face the threat of a soft overthrow instead of military invasion, so the Guard must also transform accordingly.”

When unrest surfaced after the June election, the Basij were unleashed to crack down on opposition supporters. And crack down they did. High profile dissidents were detained inside Tehran’s Evin Prison, where torture, beating, and rape are customary. So secret is this facility operated by the Revolutionary Guards that the ward is off-limits to prison guards, the judiciary, and even the intelligence ministry. Journalists were told that if arrested for sympathizing with the protestors, their contacts in the government wouldn’t be able to locate them or assist with their release.

That these incidents occur and could be duplicated in dozens of places across the globe should not come as a surprise. The Obama administration has been unable to legislate against evil, and its accommodating stance to dictators hasn’t yet yielded reciprocal liberalization. As I see it, Americans need a reminder that the world hasn’t changed in the Obama era even if we deny the war we are in, rationalize terrorist activity, or assume we can persuade totalitarians to act gently with their own people.

To survive we must remain vigilant. That means being able to tell the truth and avoid illusions and wishful thinking. We may hope for the best in Cuba and Iran, to cite the examples I employed, but realism tells us these regimes deny basic human rights and use abusive and exploitive tactics to maintain power. Any other conclusion, even if advocated by the president, is clearly delusional.