- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

END IS NIGH

Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabewill “cling to power” for as long as possible, and a popular revolt against him would result in a bloodbath, according to a former U.S. ambassador to the southern African nation that Mr. Mugabe has ruined through disastrous economic and racial policies since 1980.

“He will not go quietly, nor without a fight. He will cling to power at all costs, and the costs be damned,” Ambassador Christopher Dell wrote to the State Department in a confidential cable in 2007 that has been released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Mr. Dell, now U.S. ambassador in Kosovo, was so convinced that Mr. Mugabe’s days were numbered that he titled his cable, “The End is Nigh.” Three years later, Mr. Mugabe remains president, but he has to share power with a political, pro-Western rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

By promoting democracy and free markets, Mr. Dell frequently clashed with Mr. Mugabe during his term as ambassador from 2004 to 2007. Mr. Mugabe once summoned Mr. Dell to his office to tell the U.S. envoy to “go to hell.”

In the cable, Mr. Dell said the most peaceful way to get rid of Mr. Mugabe was through a free and fair election. However, Zimbabwe has never had one that met international democratic standards since Mr. Mugabe rose to power in 1980.

“The other scenarios are all less attractive,” Mr. Dell added. “A popular uprising would inevitably entail a bloodbath, even if it were ultimately successful; Mugabe’s sudden, unexpected death would set off a stampede for power among [political cronies]; a palace coup … in which Mugabe is removed, killed, exiled or otherwise disposed of could well devolve into open conflict between the contending successors.”

As for U.S. policy, he recommended that Washington continue applying pressure for democratic reform.

Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe,” Mr. Dell said.

“But he is running out of options, and — in the swirling gases of the new Zimbabwean constellation that is starting to form — the economic, political and international pressures are concentrating on Mugabe, himself.”

FELINE ASSASSIN

The authoritarian president of Turkmenistan is so paranoid about assassination attempts that even a cat crossing his path can set off alarms in the Central Asian nation, where human rights are regularly abused.

A classified U.S. Embassy cable related the story about the suspicious cat, explaining that a member of the presidential security detail was fired in November 2009 after the animal ran in front of a car transporting President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to a mountain retreat about six miles from the capital, Ashgabat.

The “incident … was feared to be an assassination attempt. It was committed by a cat,” said Sylvia Reed Curran, the U.S. charge d’affaires at the embassy at the time.

Why the cat crossed the road and what became of it are not addressed in the cable released by WikiLeaks. However, an accidental encounter with a presidential motorcade in December resulted in serious consequences for a driver in Ashgabat and for police officers blamed for a breach of security.

“A motorist allegedly drove through a blocked-off intersection in front of the president’s cortege,” Ms. Curran reported. “It is not known how the car managed to bypass the police and Ministry of National Security officers that cordon off the streets where the president’s motorcade is going to pass.”

Mr. Berdimuhamedov apparently was enraged. He ordered the dismissal of the chief of the traffic police and two deputies, and another police officer was thrown in jail.

The errant driver was “reportedly beaten black and blue” and locked up, Ms. Curran added.

Mr. Berdimuhamedov replaced President-for-life Saparmyrat Niyazov, who died in December 2006.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.