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Friday, February 28, 2003

We Don't Need Your Stinking War

Monkey Media Report has a very interesting post up about the alternative to war:

Not sure why I haven't seen more discussion of this one in the blog world: With Weapons of the Will: How to Topple Hussein Nonviolently by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall. It's a 'must-refute' for those in favor of a costly U.S. invasion/occupation. Originally published in Sojourners magazine last September (and linked approvingly in a fascinating 3-part analysis at One Hand Clapping), the article points out that civilian populations have risen up a number of times to overthrow dictators who were at least as willing to engage in mass murder as Saddam:

"It's essential to understand that unless a regime wants to murder the entire population, its ability repressively to compel a population's compliance is not infinitely elastic."

According to the authors, the key to sparking the kind of resistance that overthrew Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in Romania and Augusto Pinochet in Chile is breaking the stranglehold of fear that keeps the people in check. Once that happens - look out, dictator:

"No one doubted the willingness of Pinochet's regime, in the 1970s and early 1980s, to use terror as an instrument of repression in order to assure the regime's control: Disappearances, brutal killings of dissidents, and arbitrary arrests had silenced most dissenters. But once that silence was broken in 1983 in a way that the regime could not immediately suppress -- through a one-day nationwide slow-down, followed by a nighttime city-wide banging of pots and pans in Santiago -- the regime was no longer able to re-establish the same degree of fear in the population, and mammoth monthly protests were soon under way."

In the case of Romania in 1989, it was the population of Timisoara that lit the bonfire:

"[Shoot to kill orders] arrive in Timisoara that afternoon. At 17:00 water cannons and tear gas are used against the people, tanks and APD's enter the streets and the shooting begins at about 18:00. They fire indiscriminately into the crowd. This was the watershed of the Revolution - differentiating it from previous demonstrations such as strikes in the Jiu valley and the 1987 riots in Brasov. News spreads quickly, especially by foreign TV and radio transmissions from neighbouring countries. The scale of the massacre becomes more and more exaggerated with reports of up to 60,000 dead in Timisoara...That same night there are sporadic anti-Ceausescu riots in other towns..."

Yep, that's how successful popular revolt usually works. It's interesting that when President Bush went to Romania last November, he called upon the memory of Ceausescu to drum up support for invading Iraq. "From that balcony, the dictator heard your voices and faltered," Bush said, while failing to mention that no foreign army had been necessary. (It should be added that Soviet hands were probably pulling strings behind the scenes in 1989, just as U.S. hands would pull them in Iraq today).

Ackerman and DuVall also note a key point about Saddam's rule that may make it easier to bring down than the regime of someone like Pinochet:

["Saddam's] hold on power is even more reliant on personal loyalties and their reinforcement by material rewards and mortal penalties. As such, the frequent reports of his repression should be seen not only as a sign of his brutality, but as evidence of the disaffection that his capricious, personal style continues to breed: He would not have to crack down if there were no one who might be disloyal."

In other words, if Hussein started ordering mass executions of crowds in broad daylight - a likely move - a military mutiny like the ones that took place in Romania and Chile would be an even more likely countermove. And it turns out there's also a strategic advantage from the perspective of a hawk like Rumsfeld:

"[If a campaign began with] civilian-based incidents of disruption that were dispersed around the country and that did not offer convenient targets to shoot at, any attempt to crack down would have to depend on the outermost, least reliable members of Saddam's repressive apparatus".

Why is this not the plan on the table in the White House? Why are we spending billions of dollars and endangering the lives of, for instance, my roommate's brother-in-law? The authors' final paragraph says it all:

"Regimes have been overthrown that had no compunction about brutalizing their opponents and denying them the right to speak their minds. How? By first demonstrating that opposition is possible, peeling away the regime's residual public and outside support, quashing its legitimacy, driving up the costs of maintaining control, and overextending its repressive apparatus. Strategic nonviolent action is not about being nice to your oppressor, much less having to rely on his niceness. It's about dissolving the foundations of his power and forcing him out. It is possible in Iraq."

Sound like pie in the sky?

Tell it to Nikolae and Elena

This would have worked. With modern media and a concerted effort in other countries in the region, it would have worked. But, it would not effectively establish our reputation as the meanest muthafuggahs on the planet and that, after all, is what this is all about.

"You Will be democratic, and I mean now" is an interesting, if completely incoherant, concept.

Read the entire post. He has many great links to the subject. This, it seems to me, was the real alternative to war.