A Thug’s Primer

How to win liberal friends and oppress your people.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

How strange that our rather nondescript, sober friends abroad do not garner attention from the current administration, yet overt enemies in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Venezuela, and the West Bank most certainly do. Is there some covert code of conduct known to these dictators that allows them to win a pass from supposedly liberal Americans, who profess to value human rights, religious tolerance, and consensual government?

Here’s a tutorial for up-and-coming thugs abroad, who wish to ingratiate themselves with Western elites, not worry about “legitimacy,” and not have someone meddle in their affairs.

Dress Matters

Remember: Wear anything but a suit and tie. (Look at the drab Western wannabes Maliki and Netanyahu, and see what their suits got them.) The Iranian no-tie look impresses a lot of Americans, as it “makes a statement” that you are not part of a global conformist class, but instead deliberately challenge the norms of bourgeois dress.

The full-length robe works too, given the Western image of the Gandhian Holy Man (the one-bare-shoulder look is preferable to the Saudi trailing style). Better still is the Mao-style wardrobe that allows you to appear as if you just left an organizing rally on the shop floor.

If you must go the touchy military route, please avoid the four-star-general look, with gold braid, sunglasses, and high-crested, bronze-starred hat. Remember, you are still a private in spirit. If you insist on braid and medals, then no higher than a colonel’s: a man of the barracks who leads the rank-and-file in a global war against capitalism.

Best of all are camouflage, boots, and a baseball-type cap, in the manner of Castro and Chávez. The olive-drab jump suit of Kim Jong Il doesn’t cut it. If one insists on the caudillo persona, then do it with wacky flair, as did Qaddafi — that is, be more a goofy, braided Michael Jackson moonwalker than a grim-peacock shah or Pinochet.

Don’t Forget Grooming

Try the perpetual three-day beard, Arafat-style, as if you’re always shaving in the field with your comrades. Next best is mangy facial hair, à la Ahmadinejad, which suggests you once were an artist, novelist, or dissident of some sort. Castro’s bushy beard and curls also convey an admirable defiance of the man in the gray flannel suit. In South America and the Middle East, the black moustache alone will do. Che-style hair and beard do well for the revolutionary phase, but they should be tamed to the Daniel Ortega half-bad look once you’ve taken over the government.

Again, watch the sunglasses: They evoke a Greek colonel or South American strongman. Go instead with the nerd look of a 1950s intellectual: plastic rims on top, bare glass on the bottom. The more studious, the more bookish — the more you can jail. Think Allende or Trotsky, not Somoza.

Speech Codes

Don’t use the hobgoblin word Communism: It’s always socialism when you nationalize, steal property, take over businesses, shoot protestors, and shut down newspapers. Stay on message: The enemy is “globalization,” capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism, and always the United States. Be sure to use the buzz words “democracy” or “republic” in all your briefings, as in “The People’s Republic of . . . ” or “The Democratic Federation of . . . ” Throw in “rule of law” and “constitution” anytime you shoot more than 100; evoke an Egyptian novelist, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela when you send out the tanks. Abu Ghraib cannot be overused.

If in doubt about what resonates in the West, pick up a course catalogue online from UC Santa Cruz or Vassar, and just cut and paste some course descriptions into your next communiqué. Always play offense: It is Mossadeq, Bay of Pigs, United Fruit, Exxon, Vietnam, and Guantanamo all the time.

Don’t be afraid to dig up any fossil you can. One stale My Lai reference still gets you a pass for 1,000 jailed; an Abu Ghraib is worth 5,000 in your gulag. Play full-court press until the U.S. cracks and turns it over with, “I’m sorry for slavery, the Native American genocide, the A-bomb, Dresden, ethnically profiled airport security, the Klan, the Greek coup . . . ” Once the Americans start blabbering, they won’t stop — and you can step up the killing, jailing, and torturing without much worry.

Milk the U.N.

Get on as many U.N. committees as possible. The more slots you have on the Human Rights Commission and its appendages, the more you can imprison. Send a few goons to serve on a U.N. peacekeeping force. They’ll like the money and sex, and it wins you cover later on. (Who knows: When the shooting starts at home, they may send some of your own blue-hats to patrol your streets.)

Anything with the word “High,” as in High Commission, or a phrase containing the word “Refugees,” earns exemption. Israel is always a winning slur (but watch Holocaust denial; it works three or four times, but gets old quickly). In general, avoid the overt “Jews” and just keep it to “Zionists.” Most people will know what you mean.

Jew-hating is always a win-win situation: The Euros love the rarified anti-Israel shtick (Israel has no oil, no terrorists, no mobs, and few people), and you can sprinkle in “apartheid,” “racist,” and “colonialist” as cover to liven it up if anyone objects. Don’t laugh: “The Jews did it” still works. Ask Ahmadinejad about last week.

Don’t Forget Race

Race is a good grenade. If you’re going to kill people here and there, at least start with any white males you can dredge up — a colonial remnant, a poor attaché, a wandering journalist. Follow the Mugabe mode. You can destroy an entire country, loot it, send it back to the stone age, ruin a generation of Africans — but only if you start and finish with a few white post-colonialist farmers. Don’t forget the Lulu trope: White people (e.g., Jews on Wall Street) caused the meltdown. Remember too the Morales/Chávez angle: Colonialists did all this to us mestizos.

The Right Religion

Don’t shy away from the Arafat reinvention: The most devotedly atheistic Communist can still become a Muslim fundamentalist, if it’s a matter of galvanizing anti-U.S. mobs. If you must kill a few hundred in Africa, make sure they are Christians. That way some nutty evangelical group from the U.S. will rally to their cause — and ensure that you win an exemption from the New York Times and NPR, which will talk more about Billy Graham and Rick Warren than about the mountain of corpses piling up. Islam is a win-win situation: You can play a victim of Islamophobia, or seem unhinged at perceived slights and whip up a Danish cartoon-like reaction.


Invest in a few Pakistani or North Korean centrifuges. About every six months, go loony and talk about nuking Israel, Hawaii — almost anywhere there are Jews or at least a few white males. Don’t worry about getting to the enrichment stage; just bluster and strut: You’ll either get bribe money to stop or increased international stature.

Trot out one of your poor lackies educated at the Kennedy School and let him ramble about how unfair it is that Israel has a bomb and you don’t. Under no circumstances, however, try this with the occasional wild-card American president like George W. Bush. You might end up like Saddam, or at least have to give up the game, as Qaddafi did.

Free Money

Buy Chinese and Russian arms. They’re cheaper, lend a revolutionary patina to your army, and may earn American bribe money later on. Egypt got $70 billion and American tanks not to repeat 1973. A few RPGs and suicide belts won the Palestinians billions of U.S. dollars. Arm to the teeth, talk up war — and then take cash to “stand down.” One AK-47 with a big RPG attached shown on CNN is worth ten M-16s on Fox.


Under no circumstances fight drug cartels or talk tough about ending the marijuana, cocaine, or opium trade. These are legitimate sources of income for indigenous peoples, and their products often end up on American college campuses anyway. What did all that DEA cooperation do for President Uribe in Colombia?

If you use your ports and planes to smuggle drugs into the U.S., you could win three ways: The money is excellent, you are destroying bourgeois capitalist society, and the U.S. may give you a weird sort of pass out of respect for your act of revolutionary defiance and provocation. As a general rule neither Islamists nor Communists can be tagged as drug dealers, so it’s pretty much a growth industry.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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