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Atlee/Schutt notes on Nonviolent Regime Change



March 7, 2003


Dear friends,

I've recently received from several sources the Christian Science Monitor op ed "If antiwar protesters succeed." The writer is a former Iraqi, now a US citizen, with an extended family in Baghdad. He or she (anonymous to protect the family) is in favor of a US invasion.

The article starts "Since Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, started warning that a US invasion of Iraq would 'open the gates of hell,' the retort that has been flying around Iraqi exiles' websites is, 'Good! We'd like to get out!' Understandably, they want to get out of the oppressive hell of Saddam Hussein's regime. But they are also playing dangerously with words. The kind of hell that would be unleashed by a unilateral (possibly nuclear) "shock and awe" attack -- and the resulting international diplomatic chaos, concentration of elite power, and terrorist repraisals (to say nothing of the law of unintended consequences) -- promises to be far worse than what these oppressed Iraqis are living under now. And that Iraqi hell would be much less if the U.S. had not been pushing such pointlessly destructive sanctions for so long.

I will set aside for the moment the double-standard of the U.S., which has a long track record of supporting any dictator (including Saddam Hussein) who will serve its (or corporate) interests. I will set aside the question of what right the U.S. has to invade countries to remove the dictators who WON'T serve their interests.

And I will set aside the danger of undermining the international taboo against one sovereign country attacking another. Although some of us may believe nationalism is problematic, we have to face the fact that it helps maintain some kind of global order until we in the global grassroots can build some more life-affirming forms of order to demonstrably make sovereign nation-states unnecessary.

These are vital points. But I'm going to leave them behind now because there is a far more important dimension of this crisis -- a seldom-commented on reality that those of us who want a peaceful, sustainable world need to reflect on and act on. This important reality was pointed out to me by my friend Randy Schutt in the note below. It can be summarized as:

The foreign policies and citizen diplomacy of
democratic nations can nurture the conditions
for the growth of democracy in oppressed nations.
Nurturing an educated middle class and exposing
them to the tactics and strategies of nonviolent
revolution are FAR more effective strategies of
"regime change" and "democracy building" than
supporting dictators, impoverishing their populations,
and invading them with "shock and awe" devastation.

Nurturing nonviolent grassroots democratic revolutions is something we can be FOR. All of us can play a role in that, including

And, most importantly (because it helps us to do the things above),

For an inspiring story about how nonviolent regime change can take place through a domestic resistence movement with international cooperation from both activists and governments, watch the PBS video "Bringing Down a Dictator" about the movement against Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.



PS: At the edges of all this, we might even explore what an effective nonviolent invasion force would involve. If people are willing to die to kill people, what if they were willing to die to free people. What would nonviolent "special forces" be like, who "invaded" disguised as tourists and suddenly did -- what? -- to stimulate a nonviolent revolution that had been prepared (how?) in advance...? Or 300,000 peace soldiers amassed in the desert whose primary job was to love and reach out to the oppressor's army even as they, the peace soldiers, were slaughtered. Would the oppressor's army continue forever? What would happen to global opinion? What would happen to opinion in the oppressed country as word inevitably spread (even in oppressed countries, word spreads).

Just thoughts....

_ _ _ _

Randy Schutt writes:

I've recently received two excellent articles that point toward alternative ways to deal with repressive regimes.

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The first, an opinion column published last Sunday in the San Francisco Chronicle, summarizes how the US supported and armed Iraq in the 1980s and has continued to arm other unsavory regimes around the world. Clearly, one good way to stop repressive regimes would be for the US to stop supporting and arming them.

"Who Armed Iraq?" by Paul Rockwell, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, March 2, 2003

An excerpt:

"Iraq's Weapons Declaration underscores a tragic irony: The United States, the world's leading arms supplier, is taking the world to war to stop arms proliferation in the very country to which it shipped chemicals, biological seed stock and weapons for more than 10 years...

"The inspection process is spawning a host of questions about U.S. policy. Why aren't U.S. and European scientists, who invented and produced lethal materials for Saddam Hussein, subject to interrogations like their counterparts in Iraq? Are U.S. companies sending their deadly material to other dictators? Why are there no congressional hearings on the U.S. role in arms proliferation? And how many senators (like the voice of Connecticut's arms industry, Sen. Joe Lieberman) are taking contributions from the world's arms dealers?

"The United States exports more weapons than all other countries combined, and Hussein is only one of many human rights abusers who purchased the means of terror from the West."

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The second piece, by University of San Francisco professor Stephen Zunes also describes how the US supported and armed Iraq. It then goes on to suggest nonviolent means for bringing down a despotic regime, pointing at the success in toppling the much more brutal Suharto regime in Indonesia.

"Addressing Iraqi Repression and the Need for a Change of Regime" by Stephen Zunes

An excerpt:

"How has the downfall of scores of such autocratic regimes in the past twenty years been accomplished? In no case was it done through foreign invasion. In only a handful of cases was it done through internal armed revolution. In the vast majority of cases, dictatorships were toppled through massive nonviolent action, "people power" movements that faced down the tanks and guns and swept these regimes aside. Some succeeded in a dramatic contestation of public space that toppled dictators in a matter of days or weeks, such as those that brought down the Communist regimes in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, overthrew Southeast Asian strongmen like Marcos and Suharto, and ousted military juntas from Bangladesh to Bolivia. Other pro-democracy movements engaged in more protracted struggles that eventually forced dramatic democratic reforms in such countries as Poland, South Korea, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, and Chile. In the fall of 2000, nonviolent action by the people of Serbia did in a matter of days what eleven weeks of NATO bombing a year and half earlier could not: oust the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

"Why hasn't this been successful in the case of Iraq? Most of these successful nonviolent pro-democracy movements have been centered in the urban middle class. In Iraq, however, thanks to the devastation to the country's civilian infrastructure during the U.S. bombing campaign twelve years ago and the resulting sanctions, the once-burgeoning middle class has been reduced to penury or forced to emigrate. It has been replaced by a new class of black marketeers who have a stake in preserving the status quo. Furthermore, with sanctions forcing the Iraqi people to become dependent on the regime for rations of badly needed food, medicine, and other necessities, people are even less likely to take the already extraordinary risks of challenging it.

"Many Iraqis believe that if United States had pursued a more rational policy over the past two decades, regime change would have taken place years ago as a result of initiatives of the Iraqi people themselves. The sanctions have not only had serious humanitarian consequences --resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children from malnutrition and preventable diseases -- but have actually strengthened Saddam Hussein's grip on power.

"The key to regime change without the horrific consequences of war, then, rests in the United States allowing the United Nations to lift the economic sanctions that primarily impact ordinary Iraqis while maintaining military sanctions and strict monitoring of dual-use technologies that strengthen the hand of the regime."

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Randy Schutt
Author of Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society

The Vernal Education Project: Working to increase the skills and support of progressive activists