The Times has an amazingly ridiculous op-ed today. (Okay, I could write that sentence every day and twice on Sunday, but this one is really striking.) Erica Chenoweth, Wesleyan professor and author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, essentially argues that Libyans were wrong to take up arms against the maniacal thug who rules over them because “we found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.” And this:
What’s more, oppressive regimes need the loyalty of their personnel to carry out their orders. Violent resistance tends to reinforce that loyalty, while civil resistance undermines it. When security forces refuse orders to, say, fire on peaceful protesters, regimes must accommodate the opposition or give up power — precisely what happened in Egypt.
This is why the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, took such great pains to use armed thugs to try to provoke the Egyptian demonstrators into using violence, after which he could have rallied the military behind him.
But where Mr. Mubarak failed, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi succeeded: what began as peaceful movement became, after a few days of brutal crackdown by his corps of foreign militiamen, an armed but disorganized rebel fighting force. A widely supported popular revolution has been reduced to a smaller group of armed rebels attempting to overthrow a brutal dictator. These rebels are at a major disadvantage, and are unlikely to succeed without direct foreign intervention.
If the other uprisings across the Middle East remain nonviolent, however, we should be optimistic about the prospects for democracy there. That’s because, with a few exceptions — most notably Iran — nonviolent revolutions tend to lead to democracy.
The moral obtuseness here is amazing. She clearly is assuming that all non-democratic regimes are morally equivalent, that Mubarak’s regime was the same as Qaddafi’s. But, as a I pointed out in an earlier post on the immorality of pacificism, non-violent resistance can indeed work, but only against regimes that have some inhibitions on their behavior. To say that “with a few exceptions — most notably Iran — nonviolent revolutions tend to lead to democracy” is kind of like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play, with the notable exception of her husband’s assassination. Regimes like those of Libya, Iran, and Syria aren’t “notable exceptions,” they’re regimes less suited, to put it mildly, to non-violent resistance because the people in charge are willing to use unlimited force to retain power.
In the comments on my prior post several readers pointed me to a short story by Harry Turtledove entitled “The Last Article,” set in a world where the Nazis won WWII and took over British India. Gandhi continued the independence campaign he’d started against the British (and which was beginning to succeed), but this time against a very different opponent. As you can imagine, his ahimsa strategy didn’t last long. And not because that case was an exception to a general rule, but rather it was subject to a different general rule — non-violent resistance doesn’t work against Nazis.
I’m firmly in the George Will camp on Libya — who rules there is not a vital American interest. But faulting the Libyans for taking up arms to defend themselves, instead of holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome,” is disgusting.