As always, Stephen Zunes’ writings on US policy toward the Middle East and nonviolent action are some of the most thorough and informative out there, and his articles on the situation in Libya are no exception. At the end of February, he wrote this in-depth piece on the history of US-Libyan relations, which I found very helpful, and more recently he had a great critique of the concepts of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and humanitarian intervention.
On Monday, he wrote an wonderful piece about the Western military intervention and nonviolent alternatives in Libya that reiterates many of the points I’ve been making on this site since the war began.
First, he argues that the Libyan movement’s turn to violence, and the subsequent outside military intervention, will make it much less likely that any kind of democratic government will emerge in the wake of this conflict.
…the chances of a successful transition to democracy following the ouster of an authoritarian regime are much higher if the overthrow results from a massive nonviolent movement, which requires the establishment of broad alliances of civil society organizations and the cooperation and consensus to make that possible. This contrasts with an overthrow resulting from a violent struggle – led by an elite vanguard, dominated by martial values and seeking power through force of arms rather than popular participation – which, more often than not, has simply resulted in a new dictatorship.
When massive nonviolent resistance liberated a number of key Libyan cities back in February, popular democratic committees were set up to serve as interim local governments. For example, Benghazi – a city of over a million people – established a municipal government run by an improvised organizing committee of judges, lawyers, academics, and other professionals. Since the resistance to Qaddafi turned primarily violent, however, the leadership of the movement appears to now have significant representation from top cabinet officials and military officers, who for years had been allied with the tyrant, defected only in recent weeks and whose support for democracy is rather dubious.
Writing at Foreign Policy, conservative Harvard University professor Stephen Walt recently cited a whole series of academic studies that support this argument:
A 2006 study by Jeffrey Pickering and Mark Peceny found that military intervention by liberal states (i.e., states like Britain, France and the United States) “has only very rarely played a role in democratization since 1945.” Similarly, George Downs, and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University found that U.S. interventions since World War II led to stable democracies within ten years less than 3 percent of the time, and a separate study by their NYU colleague William Easterly and several associates found that both U.S and Soviet interventions during the Cold War generally led to “significant declines in democracy.” Finally, a 2010 article by Goran Piec and Daniel Reiter examines forty-two “foreign imposed regime changes” since 1920 and finds that when interventions “damage state infrastructural power” they also increase the risk of subsequent civil war.
Other studies, like “How Freedom is Won,” which was published in 2005 by Freedom House, or Maria Stephen and Erica Chenoweth’s exhaustive “Why Civil Resistance Works,” demonstrate with extensive evidence that nonviolent movements are far more likely to lead to democratic governments after they are victorious than armed struggles.
Zunes then argues that war on Libya and the taking up of arms by rebels are only likely to empower Qaddafi and discourage further defections from within the Libyan security apparatus:
Given how their history of suffering under colonialism and foreign intervention has made Libyans notoriously xenophobic, there is a risk of a nationalist reaction from Western bombing that could strengthen Qaddafi more than the damage done to Qaddafi’s war-making machinery would weaken him.
In addition, defections by security forces – critically important in ousting a military-backed regime – are far more likely when they are ordered to gun down unarmed protesters than when they are being attacked by foreign forces.
And finally, while acknowledging the unique challenges faced by the opposition in Libya, Zunes provides numerous examples to counter the myth that Qaddafi is too ruthless for nonviolence to work in removing him from power.
In fact, he makes the case that the pro-democracy movement in Libya made its most significant gains during its nonviolent phase and that it was not successful only due to a lack of strategy and planning.
In Libya, the protests were almost exclusively nonviolent during the first week of the uprising. It was during this period that the pro-democracy movement made the most gains, taking over most of the cities in the eastern part of the country. It was also during this period when most of the resignations of cabinet members and other important aides of Qaddafi, Libyan ambassadors in foreign capitals and top military officers took place. Pilots deliberately crashed their planes, flew into exile and otherwise refused orders to bomb and strafe protesters. Thousands of soldiers defected or refused to fire on crowds, despite threats of execution.
It was when the rebellion took a more violent turn, however, that the revolution’s progress stalled and was soon reversed, which in turn led to the United States and its allies attacking Libya.
Smart strategy is key to any insurrection, whether it be armed or unarmed. The largely spontaneous Libyan uprising, in its nonviolent phase, focused almost exclusively on mass protests, making them easy targets for Qaddafi’s repression, rather than relying on more diverse tactics – including strikes (which could have been particularly effective in the oil industry), boycotts, slowdowns, and other forms of non-cooperation. In short, the failure of the nonviolent struggle was not because it was nonviolent, but because it was not well-organized strategically.
Vietnam antiwar organizer Robert Levering discusses his groundbreaking new documentary “The Movement and the ‘Madman’” airing on PBS.
By understanding how mainstream political culture co-opts elected officials, grassroots groups can help them resist.
A movement led by people with lived experience of the U.K. immigration system has sprung up to fight for more humane treatment and housing for refugees.
Thanks Eric, this is a really helpful collation.
Re: the Freedom House Report – have you seen Johnstad’s article “Nonviolent Democratization: A Sensitivity Analysis of How Transition Mode and Violence Impact the Durability of Democracy”? It (as it says on the tin) is a sensitivity analysis of the Freedom House study, using less controversial data sets, and coming up with the same findings. Source: Peace & Change, Volume 35, Number 3, July 2010 , pp. 464-482
I had intended to write up an article about it for WNV, but I’ve never found the time!
Stephen Zunes, Libya, and Seemingly Moral Imperatives
Dr. Stephen Zunes begins his recent article “Intervention in Libya: Is It Really the Only Option?” by noting that the decision of foreign countries “to intervene militarily” in Libya “may have averted a massacre, but it is fraught with serious risks of eventually costing even more lives.” But surely what Zunes really meant to write was that the decision to intervene militarily will certainly cause more deaths than those that might have occurred at the predicted massacre in Benghazi. Despite what Zunes refers to as “the seeming moral imperative that prompted” the military intervention,  bombing is not the normal tried and tested (or moral) means of averting massacres in foreign countries. Indeed, as Zunes observes, attacking Libya in this way likely “means more people getting killed…” and the “enhanced” possibility that Muammar Qaddafi’s “replacement” if he is ousted, “could end up being worse…”
On the latter point, concerning Qaddafi’s potential replacement, Zunes cites the well-known case of blowback that resulted from the US government’s support of the mujahidin in Afghanistan. But in this instance, he could just as easily have highlighted the case of the Philippines, where he might have drawn attention to the escalation of violence that followed the replacement of the US-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos with the US-backed “democracy” candidate, Cory Aquino. Zunes, however, does not care to make this comparison. Instead he saves the example of the Philippines for later in his article, when paradoxically, he wields it as a success story for people power. This is strange to say the least, as in the unfortunate case of the Philippines:
“President Aquino’s six-year term [1986-92] produced 2,696 dead from salvaging, military massacre, or disappearance, a figure comparable to the 3,257 killed during Marcos’s fourteen-year dictatorship. Beyond these troubling statistical indices of rising violence, the constabulary’s pacification campaign perpetuated the extrajudical killings and aura of terror once characteristic of Marcos’s rule.” 
Perhaps if “evil” Qaddafi had been a bona fide US-backed dictator, like Marcos or Mubarak, the US government could have exerted more influence over Qaddafi’s political choices, and encouraged him to back down and allow himself to be replaced with a suitably US friendly leader (see Egypt). However, it is precisely because Qaddafi is not a Western-backed dictator that external powers cannot force his hand so easily: this helps explain why the world’s leading imperial elites were so keen to use the humanitarian pretext to support his opponents in the civil war. Furthermore, as Zunes writes, “As mercurial and repressive as Qaddafi is, he still has a social base. It is not just foreign mercenaries that are keeping him in power.” One might say the same for the “mercurial and repressive” President of the United States of America; although given the US’s relative power and wealth, the US government has a very weak social base, and has not really looked after its notoriously xenophobic population very well. 
Let’s not mess around: imperial powers like the United States have absolutely no interest in a truly democratic movement coming to power in Libya, and they have no overriding interest in protecting human life (unarmed activists or otherwise). What the US is interested in, is coopting any genuine people’s movement attempting to promote regime change (unarmed or otherwise). By encouraging armed resistance and waging a “humanitarian” war on Libya — thereby prolonging a “bloody civil war” — imperial foreign powers are seeking to coopt the opposition forces in Libya. Indeed, as Zunes correctly points out:
“Since the resistance to Qaddafi turned primarily violent, however, the leadership of the movement appears to now have significant representation from top cabinet officials and military officers, who for years had been allied with the tyrant, defected only in recent weeks and whose support for democracy is rather dubious.”
In a similar way, Zunes draws attention to the example of “the independence struggle in Kosovo during the 1990s,” where he describes how imperial power brokers “stood by” as a nonviolent resistance movement was repressed by Milosevic; only coming to their rescue when the Kosovo Liberation Army “took the lead in the independence struggle late in the decade…” This rescue, according to Zunes, came in the form of a “11-week NATO bombing campaign…” He adds that this military intervention “temporarily” set “back the Serbian pro-democracy struggle (which eventually triumphed in ousting Milosevic in a nonviolent insurrection in October 2000.)”
Yet, critically, what Zunes forgets to mention is that the Kosovo Liberation Army were being supported by the US government. On top of this, throughout the 1990s, but especially from 1997 onwards, the US government’s “democracy promoting” apparatus (i.e., groups aligned with the National Endowment for Democracy) were transferring millions of dollars to nonviolent activists opposing Milosevic.  Thus it was the support for violence, nonviolence, and a military bombing campaign that ultimately worked in combination to dispose of (the US unfriendly) President Milosevic, ensuring that he was replaced with their favored candidate, who quickly sought to promote the West’s favored neoliberal vision for Serbia
This oversight on Zunes’ part owes much to his decision to underplay — and in some cases ignore — the influence of foreign policy elites in manipulating regime change movements. In this respect, Zunes’ approach is commendable if only for its consistency, as he discounts any external reasons for “the failure of the nonviolent struggle” in Libya, and suggests that they simply failed in their goals because they were “not well-organized strategically.” In a similar fashion, he totally discounts the significance of foreign interference in other countries, like for example Egypt. This is despite the fact that many critical writers (myself included) have written detailed articles which illustrate the manner by which the US government has interfered with (and arguably weakened) the Egyptian people power movement. Unfortunately, Zunes dismisses such evidence, and describes the Egyptian uprising writes that as being “completely indigenous and not sullied by foreign intervention.” Yet US directed “democracy promoting” elites had been openly supporting the opposition movement in Egypt for years; surely this must in some way indicate that it may have been “sullied by foreign intervention.”
Either way, despite these serious shortcomings, Zunes is still dedicated to a nonviolent solution in Libya, and he writes:
It is critical, therefore, that those of us who would like to see democracy triumph in Libya challenge the myth that a military solution is the only alternative to ending Qaddafi’s repression and tyranny.
In conclusion, I would like to reword this statement slightly. In doing so, I would argue that it is critical, therefore, that those of us who would like to see democracy triumph globally to challenge the myth that a military solution is the only alternative to ending imperial repression and tyranny. “Smart strategy is key to any insurrection,” Zunes correctly points out, “whether it be armed or unarmed.” Thus any forthcoming insurrection in the West, must be smart and ensure that capitalism is completely eradicated, and in this task, large-scale nonviolent action will definitely play a critical role.
 As Znet contributor Joe Emersberger writes, it is very likely that the US will use the “’good war’ pretext to justify criminal aggression down the road — Iran being a very likely target. Remember how the ‘good war that threw Iraq out of Kuwait was used?”
 Alfred W. McCoy, Policing Americas Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), p.443. For further details see my forthcoming article “Post-Dictatorship [Red White and] Blues Brings Low-Intensity Warfare to the Philippines.”
 Zunes uses the words “notoriously xenophobic” to describe the Libyan people. Zunes’s article also notes that Libya has “the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa…”
 Edward S. Herman, “Diana Johnstone on the Balkan Wars,” Monthly Review, February 2003; Michael Barker, “Mediating Protests: A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mass Media and Social Movements,” Refereed paper presented to the Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity conference, University of Queensland, March 25-27, 2008.
Michael Barker, ever unable to avoid the temptation of criticizing Stephen Zunes, one of America’s leading academics in teaching nonviolence, now seems to have fallen prey to a serious dilemma — if you carefully read his comments posted on this site — which undermines his various past allegations that Zunes and his colleagues are focused on promoting “regime change” against governments reviled by the U.S.
First some background for readers to understand what kind of analysis Barker typically brings to discussion of the use of nonviolence, and to his serial jeremiad against Stephen Zunes. Beginning three or four years ago, Barker began an intermittent series of critical articles about Zunes and other scholars in this field (which you can easily find on the internet) by alleging that they were abetting U.S. imperialism through spreading information about how to engage in nonviolent struggle to people living under dictators disliked by the U.S., such as in Serbia, Iran, Zimbabwe and other countries. Barker argued that because colleagues of Zunes had sat on nonprofit boards and committees with other people who had had grants from the National Endowment for Democracy or who had been in the same room with someone who’d worked for the CIA, they had become involved in U.S. conspiracies to use nonviolence to topple such governments, even though there was no empirical proof of how these nonviolence conspiracies were thought to have operated, and which people supposedly did what and how.
I recall that a few years ago when Zunes refuted Barker’s charges of aiding U.S. imperialism, by noting his and his colleagues’ teaching of nonviolence to those involved in the many struggles against U.S.-supported governments — for example, by West Papuans against Indonesia, by Sahrawis against the Moroccan regime, and by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation — Barker sidestepped those inconvenient facts and kept repeating his charges that Zunes and his colleagues promote nonviolence when it serves imperialism.
But now something far more than inconvenient has happened that flouts the narratives of those like Barker who spread disinformation about nonviolence: It prevailed in Egypt, taking down a dictator directly supported by more than a billion dollars a year from the U.S. government. The world media was galvanized by the millions in Tahrir Square, and we saw a nonviolent revolution depose one of the Americans’ favorite clients before our very eyes. Moreover, nonviolence was pivotal in Egypt after many of those involved in the revolution said they had learned about nonviolent struggle from books and films of the same people whom Barker has denounced as serving U.S. imperialism, such as Gene Sharp, Peter Ackerman, Stephen Zunes, and others. Suddenly the claim that these scholars were involved in a U.S. government conspiracy, which was never believable in the first place to anyone who knew these individuals and their actual views, was rendered ridiculous, because why would the U.S. conspire to bring down a dictator it had conspicuously supported and extravagantly subsidized for three decades?
To avoid being hoisted on the petard of that contradiction, some longtime providers of disinformation about the promotion of nonviolence have been silent about Egypt and the other Arab uprisings. But Barker has soldiered on, recently inventing an even more convoluted theory, based on a 25-year old case: He has professed to have found — regrettably without any actual evidence — that the Philippines’ people power revolution in 1986 was masterminded by the U.S. government, because the dictator that the U.S. supported (Ferdinand Marcos) was becoming unpopular and so it substituted another puppet in the presidential palace in Manila (Corazon Aquino). To believe this, one would have to imagine that the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who risked their lives blocking Marcos’s loyal troops were involved in some sort of Kabuki street theatre, and that they were pawns in dislodging one of the most corrupt dictators of his era, who happened to be a personal friend of the then-president of the United States.
By way of analogy from this rewriting of Filipino history, we are now presumably supposed to believe that, decades later, Hosni Mubarak was yanked from the scene in Cairo in a similar scenario, and that in fact there really hasn’t been a genuine indigenous political change in Egypt, but instead a phony, externally manipulated regime shuffle of some kind.
Barker hasn’t bothered to appraise the effect of what millions of Egyptians were doing of their own accord to resist their dictator or to notice that they had ample motivation and ultimately sufficient ability to do so, without the need for mysteriously powerful Western academics — benefitting from having been passed notes by nefarious fellow nonprofit board members five or ten years earlier — to parachute in and coach Egyptian protesters from the sidewalks. Instead, Barker wants us to believe that on top of teaching classes, grading exams, writing journal articles and giving lectures, these Western academics have ample time to become implicated in distant coups hatched in Washington. In other words, conspiracies are afoot in every direction, against tyrants both aided and hated by the U.S., and our favorite nonviolence scholars may be furthering plots against all of them.
I’m reminded of the Sean Connery movie, the “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, a gallery of rogues who had superhuman powers (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0311429/). Barker casts Stephen Zunes in the Sean Connery role, and it’s a kind of League of Extraordinary Regime-Change Academics prepared to teach people how to bring down worthy anti-American rulers like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Washington’s favorite Arab despot Hosni Mubarak. And all, presumably, because that’s what the CIA wants.
It doesn’t make any difference how many footnotes are found at the bottom of articles or comments like this which besmirch the motives of those who promote nonviolence or try to discredit its value, by suggesting it’s the work of imperialists and their stooges. All such claims are still nonsense.
Is there any reason why my comments keep getting removed?
Because they’re stupid?
No comments are stupid. May be it is well meant comments and not published due vested interests. Most unfortunate for not sharing it. You must publish Mr. Barker’s view otherwise not only me but people will believe that you are only pawn in the American Imperialists’ hand. Even Gandhi, a most popular leader India ever had and a messenger of non-violence served the interest of British Imperialism at that time and sabotaged popular movements of Indian people led by Martyr Bhagat Singh and later by Subhash Chandra Bose. Please publish Mr. Barker’s comments. regards,
Oh, I “get” it now. Mr. Barker has been stalking Mr. Zunes this way for four years? That is a tad obsessive, no?
Actually Barker, western powers have backed Qaddafi: