- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
The Axis of Evil may never be the same. A changing of the guard is looming for the James Bond villains of the world, and the bedtime stories with which we scare our children are going to have to go searching for new bogeymen.
2011 is proving to be a bad year for bad men. First, Osama was gunned down in his night clothes while padding around his suburban Pakistani split-level. Now, this week, we have news that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be on his last legs politically, caught up in political intrigue that has brought down his powerful chief of staff and has papers like Britain’s Independent speculating that the little Holocaust denier in the homely beige windbreaker has only weeks remaining in his tenure. Maybe less.
At the same time, we have the Chavista version of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? starring Mahmoud’s hug-buddy and Venezuela’s favorite talk-show host, 56-year-old Hugo Chávez. Chávez went missing a few weeks ago to seek medical treatment in Cuba for what was described as a "pelvic abscess" and since then has been surprisingly silent for a guy who is known to talk for hours on his radio show Aló Presidente about nothing at all (making him, I suppose, the Andean Jerry Seinfeld.)
Rumors in Venezuela abound. There is speculation Chávez is in critical condition, that he has prostate cancer, that he has had liposuction that has gone terribly wrong. In a country without a clear succession plan, his big brother Adán has already made statements that socialists should not use the military to remain in power. Should the Venezuelan jefe die or be incapacitated, that appears to be their only hope of staying in power given that Team Chávez has bench depth akin to those other favorites of the voluble Bolivarian, the New York Mets.
Elsewhere, D-list bad guy Ratko Mladic got arrested, Kim Jong Il continues to be subject to speculation about his deteriorating health (not to mention his ability to control the weather with his thoughts), Bashar al-Assad is under siege, Robert Mugabe is 87, and both Muammar al-Qaddafi and Omar Hassan al-Bashir have ICC arrest warrants out for them. Of these last two, the one the clock seems to be ticking for is Qaddafi, given that while he was dodging NATO bombs, his Sudanese counterpart was basking in a red-carpet reception from those friends of bad guys everywhere, the Chinese. (Who needs values when you have Wall Street touting your growth rate?)
So maybe that’s it, the silver lining of 2011. While the world economy continues to be beset by the mismanagement and corruption of its stewards and violence continues to take its toll on a wide swath of the planet, at least we have this not-so-stately procession of some of our most ignominious notables toward the exit. No one will shed a tear for any of them. But it does make you wonder what the class picture is going to look like at the next meeting of SPECTRE.