This recent headline brought back memories of my early days on the desk, working as a copy editor and assistant wire editor at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. This was the heyday of Manuel Noriega, de facto leader of Panama and thorn in the side of the first Bush administration.
Just about every wire story on Noriega called him a “strongman” — one of those words common in wire copy and headlines but seemingly never used in everyday conversation. It was a useful label for an autocratic leader who was not the formal head of state, but it became a cliche. The United States, of course, ousted the Panamanian strongman in a 1989 invasion, and he was captured and tried on drug charges. The word seemed to fall out of favor as Noriega faded from the headlines.
But “strongman” lives on. Chechnya is unfortunate enough to have a strongman in charge. Here are some other strongmen in the news now and in the past: