The United States seems increasingly involved in the affairs of other nations; often deciding who should (or more specifically, who should not) govern. I have serious reservations about some of these meddlings, but if a decision is made to remove a dictator it seems to me that one should employ those means which have some likelihood of success. So far as I can tell, that approach has not yet been tried.

We seem to think that imposing blanket economic sanctions and sporadic bombing of “military” targets will force the population to overcome its fear and stage a popular uprising, thus removing the offending dictator. There are some serious flaws in this reasoning. It is entirely possible that the general population thinks that the dictator is a fine fellow (especially in countries without a well educated population), notwithstanding the occasional TV interview with some obscure dissident. If this is the case, sanctions and bombing are more likely to engender an intense and very long lasting hatred of the U.S. than to topple the offending leader. Assuming that at least half the population hates the dictator’s guts, that does not mean that they are likely to engage in a popular uprising. Any dictator worth his salt has spies and informants in every neighborhood listening for the first signs of trouble. Most of the population is going to be painfully aware of this and not be interested in martyrdom. They will secretly hope that somehow the U.S. will solve the problem for them (so that they can later teach school children about how the nasty old U.S. intervenes in the affairs of other countries), but they are not likely to risk harm to their persons. Does this mean that there is no hope of toppling a dictator? No, it just means that it is difficult. It is very difficult. In fact, it is difficult enough that in most cases we should mind our own business and leave the dictator to plunder in peace. If however, there is a legitimately vital interest of the United States involved, then we should proceed by some means likely to achieve success.

Dictators do not maintain themselves in power by fear alone. Fear is the tool used on nobodies. For the elite without whom the dictator could not rule, loyalty is obtained by means of a little fear and a lot of economic incentive. Loyalty is bought. The senior members of the government and military organizations will live very well in a dictatorship. They will have a luxurious lifestyle and, more importantly, a very large income; much larger than the government could provide them. They own lucrative businesses which supply the nation’s needs. When it is time to intervene in a country, one needs to find out who owns the shipyards, the explosives plants, the arms factories, and other major government contractors. The targets for our intervention must be the property of the nation’s elite, upon whom the dictator relies. As little by little the elite are impoverished they will turn against the dictator and eventually he will be overthrown. We may not like the new government any more than the old, but that is a problem we can deal with later. We will have achieved our goal of toppling the dictator.