Dining With Autocrats

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 14 2011 @ 8:02am


Dani Rodrik defends it:

[W]hat about a country like Ethiopia? I have had intensive economic-policy discussions with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa. I must confess to having enjoyed these talks more than most meetings I have in Washington, DC and other democratic capitals. I have no illusions about Meles’ commitment to democracy – or lack thereof. But I also believe that he is trying to develop his economy, and I offer policy advice because I believe it may benefit ordinary Ethiopians.

The conundrum that advisers to authoritarian regimes face is akin to a long-standing problem in moral philosophy known as the dilemma of “dirty hands.” A terrorist is holding several people hostage, and he asks you to deliver water and food to them. You may choose the moral high ground and say, “I will never deal with a terrorist.” But you will have passed up an opportunity to assist the hostages.

Reihan further complicates the issue.

(Photo: France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (bottomR), Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (bottom L), Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (2ndR), Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (C right), Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates (bottomL), Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (top 2ndL) share a toast before the dinner at the royal palace in Copenhagen on December 17, 2009 on the sidelines of COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. By Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)