Politically, a word "strongman" has been used by many foreign media, referring to a leader who rules a country by forces or military strength. And most of strongmen have a common sentiment of nationalism. Fidel Castro of Cuba, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Muamar Qaddafi of Libya are just few leaders who were well known as the strongmen and nationalists. At the same time, Hun Sen is also flagrant as a strongman in many foreign media, but most Cambodian people are not familiar to use a word "strongman" to describe Hun Sen since the word strongman if it translates into Khmer, it doesn't mean correctly as a word dictator to name Hun Sen though the two words dictator and strongman are interchangeable in English.
Hun Sen has shared most common ruling style with those strongmen, but what he is so different from them is he has lost sense of nationalism. Most strongmen from the past to present no matter what style of rule they have chosen--Communism, socialism, fascism, authoritarianism, and junta--they have a strong bond to nationalism such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and so on. Castro, who had ruled Cuba from 1959 revolution until his retirement 2008, has brought Communism to practice in Cuba until today without bending to foreign pressure though Communism has brought miserable lives and poverty to his country, Cuba still stands as a full sovereign and independent nation. in 1961, Castro defeated a U.S backed military invasion to overthrow his Communist regime, and he has stood firm against the U.S. domination in the region.
Castro's friend Hugo Chavez had ruled Venezuela from 1999 to 2013 by election fraud as a famous strongman in South America. He was a vocal critic of U.S. supported- neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism around the world. He liked to use undiplomatic language as Hun Sen has done; he compared President Bush to a donkey and called him a devil when he was standing on the U.S soil. Chavez chose his own socialism style to rule the country without fallowing Marxism. He persistently challenged American policy in Central and South America, allying himself with Castro, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador as the leftist group in the region.
Saddam Hussein is probably the most flagrant strongman in this group; after military coup in 1968 to oust the monarchy, Saddam had gradually prepared himself from vice president to a top job as the president of Iraq in 1979. less than a year in power, Saddam Hussein boldly ordered his troops to invade Iran to seize a chunk of land that he had claimed as a rightful part of Iraq. But the war with Iran ended in 1988 without a winner. After 8 year-war with Iran, Saddam exhausted his financial resources and asked Kuwait to forgive his 30 billion debt, but Kuwait rejected. In 1990, Saddam again sent his larger and powerful troops to invade a small weak Kuwait, claiming that it is a historic part of Iraq. However, Iraqi troops were repelled by the US-led coalition forces in 1991. After the first gulf war, Iraq was punished by economic embargo and no fly-zones until a final day of US invasion in 2003. Saddam Hussein chose to die in his homeland even though he was given immunity to live in exile in Africa.
Another famous strongman is Muamar Qaddafi--an Arab nationalist and socialist. He ruled the country based on his own ideology and tribal law. He came to power as a young military coup leader in 1969; he had built Libya to be a powerful country in North Africa. During the Cold War, he took no alliance; he rejected Marxism and Maoism. In 1986, his country was raided by the US air power, but he showed no sign of budging to the US intimidation until internal uprisings against his 42 year-rule galvanized by Arab Spring in 2011 which led to his demise. Hosni Mubarak is another strongman in Arab world, who was toppled during Arab Spring 2011; he was a former air chief marshal of the Egyptian Air Forces. He had become president in 1981 and ruled the country until 2011. During his rule, he had built the most powerful Egyptian army and air forces in the region by making a strategic alliance with the US to face with a growing power of Iran.
To call Hun Sen a strongman doesn't sound right since he lacks a common view of nationalism and courage that most strongmen in the world have adhered to, and some of them even turned more radical: Mao invaded Tibet, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and Kuwait, Castro allowed the Soviet to install nuclear warheads against the US in 1962, even Pol Pot ordered his troops to raid Koh Tral only one month after he took over the country. All strongmen in the world though they ruled their countries with iron fists, they also have strongly and bravely defended their nations with all costs even losing their lives. In contrast, Hun Sen is only strong in killing and intimidating his political opponents and his own people. He has bowed down to all foreign powers especially Vietnam which has groomed him with power, titles, and luxury life in exchange for his collaboration to conquer and to destroy Khmer nation as all Khmer are currently witnessing. Does Hun Sen deserve to be called a strongman?