Archive for March 2010
By Stephen Gowans
Vin Weber, a former chairman and current board member of the US National Endowment for Democracy, has written an article in The Washington Times defending the NED against calls to eliminate its funding. 
The NED was established by the Reagan administration after the CIA’s role in covertly funding efforts to overthrow foreign governments was brought to light, leading to the discrediting of the parties, movements, journals, books, newspapers and individuals that received CIA funding. This undermined the efficacy of these agents as tools of US foreign policy.
As a bipartisan endowment, with participation from the two major parties, as well as the AFL-CIO and US Chamber of Commerce, the NED took over the financing of foreign overthrow movements, but overtly and under the rubric of “democracy promotion.”
As the NED’s president Carl Gershman explained,
“It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60’s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.” 
Thus, the NED was founded, as New York Times reporter John Broder explained in 1997, “to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades.” 
As part of the NED-program of regime change, governments the US foreign policy establishment targets for overthrow are demonized as anti-democratic while the recipients of NED largesse are angelized as pro-democratic. What links targeted governments is not their electoral democratic practices – which can range from absent to present — but their economic policies, which tend to be restrictive of foreign investment, imports, and property rights. What links the recipients of NED grants is not their attitude to electoral democracy, but their embrace of US policy.
The NED’s angelization of the Dalai Lama is a case in point. The Dalai Lama is hardly a democrat, yet he has received Washington’s lucre for decades, including from the CIA and later the NED. Tibet’s “spiritual leader”, as he has been anointed in the West, presided over a backward theocratic feudal society, before fleeing to India after a botched uprising against the Chinese government, which had supported the dismantling of Tibetan feudalism. As Michael Parenti explains,
“Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas…The Dalai Lama himself ‘lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.’
“There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location.
“As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.” 
The old Tibet, then, was hardly a society of peace and tranquility ruled over by a benign ruler. It was a class society torn by conflict and predicated on brutal, naked, exploitation. Despite this, a February 16, 2010 NED press release describes the former Tibetan feudal overlord “not only as a moral and religious leader respected throughout the world but as a fellow democrat who shares America’s deepest values.” 
In the same press release, the NED urged the Obama administration “to express America’s strong support for him” (a “devoted democrat”) “and what he represents – genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.”  But why should the NED urge the US administration to express support for autonomy in Tibet, when Washington has never supported autonomy for the Basques, Corsicans, the Kurds in Turkey, the Scots and Irish nationalists, or the South Ossetians?
“The answer is obvious: the United States does not support separatist movements in countries they consider their allies. The targets are either countries they consider rivals, like Russia or China, or countries that are too weak to resist, and where they can obtain totally dependent client states from the breakup – which is what happened with Yugoslavia.” 
Weber’s defense of the NED comes in response to a call from Shika Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, urging the Obama administration to cut funding to the NED on grounds the organization has outlived its original mandate, overthrowing communism.
In a Washington Times article, Dalmia wrote that the NED,
“…was founded by President Reagan in the heyday of the Cold War to contain communism. Communism has since evaporated, and democracy has spread like wildfire in the former Soviet Union, Still, President Obama proposes to hand the NED $109 million this year. This despite the fact that NED has been dogged by controversy, the least of which being that it once spent $1.5 million to defend democracy in the Soviet bastion called France. Worse, although NED gets all its funding from the government, it is structured like a private entity over whose board – an improbable hybrid of representatives of business, unions, and other concerns—Congress has little control. The upshot is that sitting presidents have used it to do things abroad that Congress wouldn’t approve. In the mid-1980s, for instance, it directed funding to the political opponents of the then-president of Costa Rica—long a beacon of democracy—simply because he opposed Reagan’s Nicaragua policy.” 
Predictably, Weber rejects Dalmia’s arguments. “Take the example of her contention that communism has ‘evaporated’,” he counters, “and tell that to the defectors who have risked everything to escape the hell on earth that is nuclear-armed North Korea.” 
Hell on earth? Is this like the hell on earth that is a ghetto in the hyper-nuclear-armed United States, or the hell on earth that is the Gaza blockaded by a nuclear-armed Israel backed by the hyper-nuclear-armed Pentagon?
As a member of the US foreign policy establishment, Weber ought to be careful about talking of hell on earth, for Washington is among the principal authors of unnecessary torment in this world. Iraq, site of the greatest contemporary humanitarian catastrophe, is a hell on earth, and it was created by the United States, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with what Washington said motivated the country’s Iraq sanctions policy and invasion. What did US B52 bombers create in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia if not hell on earth? And what condition prevailed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the fire-bombing of Dresden?
Hell on earth in north Korea didn’t begin with the US demolishing every building over one-story, but it did nothing to relieve it. The torment didn’t end either when Washington practiced nuclear terrorism by deploying battlefield nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula or when in 1993 it announced it was targeting strategic nuclear missiles on north Korea, a country which, at the time, had no nuclear weapons.
The NED’s role in overthrowing communism played its own part in creating hell on earth in north Korea by bringing about the collapse of the country’s markets. Decades-long sanctions have also made life tougher, precisely as intended by US policy makers. And unremitting military pressure from the United States, a military behemoth, has forced north Korea, a military pipsqueak, to channel a punishingly high percentage of its meagre resources into self-defense, depriving the country of the capital it needs for productive investment. If there is a hell on earth in north Korea, it exists because the United States has created one, deliberately, systematically, and with the intention of crushing a top-to-bottom alternative to Third World dependency on the United States.
Meanwhile, the NED has celebrated Jestina Mukoko, a Zimbabwean who was arrested in December 2008 by Zimbabwe state security agents, who Mukuko claims tortured her.
Mukoko is variously connected in leadership roles with organizations funded by the NED and United State Agency for International Development (USAID.) She is, for example, “the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a grantee of the” NED , as well as a member of the board of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an organization interlocked with a number of other Western-funded anti-Mugabe groups, and which receives its funding from the NED and USAID.
To understand why Mukoko was arrested, it helps to place her activities in the context of the Mugabe government’s efforts to carry through land reform, the West’s opposition to the expropriation of white settler farmland, and the efforts of the United States to enforce respect for private property rights through a campaign of regime change in which Mukoko plays a role.
The following points, therefore, are salient:
1. The United States is openly working to exclude Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party (which champions land reform and economic indigenization) from government, and to replace it with the Movement for Democratic Change (which advocates policies that would inevitably strengthen foreign domination of Zimbabwe’s land, labor and natural resources.)
2. The US-sponsored regime change campaign operates through the NED and USAID-financing of domestic activists, like Mukoko.
3. While the ostensible objective of NED and USAID-sponsored activities in Zimbabwe is the promotion of democracy and human rights, the real aim is the installation of a government committed to facilitating the pursuit of US and Western interests, including allowing the sale of agricultural land to foreign investors. That the United States and its foundations have the slightest concern for promoting democracy and human rights is belied by the US practices of detaining people without charge in secret prisons, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, the furnishing of aid and support to such notorious autocracies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the backing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to punish Gazans for exercising their democratic rights in electing Hamas. The NED does, however, care deeply about the interests of US corporations, banks and investors which, after all, play the dominant role in shaping US policy and whose representatives staff the key positions of the US state.
In other words, Mukoko is deeply connected to a US state which is openly hostile to Zimbabwe and its land reform and economic indigenization programs, and seeks to oust the Zanu-PF element of the current government. Is it any wonder she has drawn the attention of the Zimbabwe’s security services?
This mercenary on behalf of US interests recently travelled to Washington where she was feted by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama, an act not too much different from Petain traveling to Berlin to be showered with honors by Ribbentrop and Eva Braun. What would the US security state do to a US-based jihadist who took money from a foundation financed by the Iranian government to promote the rise of an Islamic Republic in the United States and who would later travel to Tehran to be personally presented with official honors by Mabouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister?
At the ceremony honouring Mukoko’s services to the empire, Michelle Obama expressed shock that Mukoko “was interrogated (by Zimbabwe security agents) for hours while forced to kneel on gravel…”  This was precious, coming from the wife of a president whose country has spent the last decade kidnapping militants who oppose their southwest Asian countries being dominated by the United States and its corrupt puppet regimes and then subjecting them to stress positions, water-boarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, when they’re not being shipped off to allied countries to face more unrestrained forms of torture, or are simply being assassinated. Belaboring the Eva Braun analogy, Obama’s shock was like Hitler’s partner complaining about the Soviets exchanging territory with Finland by force, long after the Nazis had gone on their rampage through Europe.
In his book Age of Empire, historian Eric Hobsbawm observed that,
“The age of democracy turned into an era of public political hypocrisy, or rather duplicity, where those who held power only said what they really meant in the obscurity of the corridors of power. Thus was born an enormous gap between public discourse and political reality”…
…a disparity all too evident in the NED’s public pronouncements.
 Vin Weber, “Vin Weber: Defending the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 11, 2010.
 David K. Shipler, “Missionaries for Democracy: U.S. Aid for Global Pluralism,” The New York Times, June 1, 1986.
 John M. Broder, “Political Meddling by Outsiders: Not New for U.S.,” The New York Times, April 1, 1997.
 Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” Michael Parenti Political Archive, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html
 National Endowment for Democracy, “How to welcome the Dalai Lama to Washington,” February 16, 2010.
 Diana Johnstone, “Breaking Yugoslavia,” New Left Project, March 3, 2010, http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/breaking_yugoslavia/
 Shikha Dalmia, “Busting the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 4, 2010.
 Michael Allen, “Activist demands accountability and end to impunity in Zimbabwe,” Democracy Digest, March 12, 2010.
By Stephen Gowans
I confess that when Michael Barker sent me a link to nonviolence advocate Brian Martin’s Gandhi Marg article “Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence” I wasn’t too keen on reading it.  With a pile of unread books threatening to bury me under an avalanche, I thought my time could be better spent on avalanche control. Plus, I was hoping to get around to mowing the tufts of hair that advancing age have brought to my ears.
It was, therefore, with scant enthusiasm that I flipped desultorily through Martin’s article. Undecided as to whether to plunge in, I skipped to the conclusion. If anything there grabbed my attention I would read the article in full. Otherwise, I would toss “Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence” on my not-worth-the-time pile, along with the stack of Stephen Zunes articles I had accumulated.
The first sentence of Martin’s conclusion read: “Proponents of nonviolence have come under attack for supporting bad causes, in particular US imperialism.”
My attention shifted more firmly to the article, away from a precariously balanced book teetering atop my book pile.
The next sentence brought me fully awake. “[F]ew of the claims of the critics stand up to scrutiny and many lack evidence.”
I was immediately interested. Which claims lack evidence? Which don’t? Which stand up to scrutiny? Which wither under Martin’s analysis?
Laying a brace against the tottering mountain of books beside me, I dove into Martin’s article, anxious to discover how the claims of nonviolence critics fell apart under careful examination.
Hmmm. Nothing on page 1. Oh well, he’s just getting started. Page 5 – Still nothing, but there are 15 pages of text to go. It’s early. Page 10 – A bus rumbles by and shakes the Himalaya of books beside me. A book hurtles to the floor. I move quickly to avoid it. Nothing yet. Page 15 – Still nothing. Did I read the conclusion correctly? I skip ahead to check. Proponents of nonviolence…under attack…supporting US imperialism…lack evidence. No mistake. Page 16. Nothing. Pages 17 and 18. Still nothing. Page 19. Ah, there it is. In the final paragraph before the conclusion. A single sentence: “the stance of the anti-imperialist critics is seriously flawed, including by the absence of any proof that nonviolent movements are pawns of the US government.”
What? I just cancelled a much needed date with my ear-hair scissors to learn that “[F]ew of the claims of the critics stand up to scrutiny and many lack evidence” because “the stance of the anti-imperialist critics is seriously flawed”?
This is like being told that the secret to getting rich is to accumulate a lot of money. Or that when people lose their jobs, unemployment happens. I should have trusted my instincts and tossed Brian Martin on the not-worth-the-time pile.
Problems with Martin’s Case
Here are the problems, if they’re not already evident.
First, the ICNC (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict), one of the proponents of nonviolence that has come under attack for supporting bad causes, has been criticized for its connections to ruling class organizations and for aiding groups whose aim is to bring down foreign governments whose policies are not conducive to the interests of Western economic elites. Of this there is considerable evidence and documentation. Michael Barker has catalogued a lot of it. Click here.
Rather than dealing with the criticism above and the evidence that supports it, Martin deflects attention. Those who criticize the ICNC for its ruling class connections are deemed champions of the idea that “nonviolent movements are pawns of the US government.” This has demagogic potential. No one wants to be called a dupe, and accusing the ICNC’s critics of branding grassroots activists as victims of a swindle serves two purposes: it turns grassroots activists against the critics and takes attention away from the central issue: the ICNC’s ties to the US foreign policy establishment.
The second problem is that Martin fails to show that the critic’s case falters under close examination and lacks evidence. In fact, he doesn’t examine it at all. Instead, he simply asserts that the case lacks substance, footnoting the conclusion with a reference to a personal communication from “Hardy Merriman – of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.” Merriman told Martin that “the burden of proof should be on those making the assertion that recent nonviolent movements are fronts for Western powers. They never provide such proof.”
Just to make this clear: Martin’s careful examination of the critics’ case boils down to an assurance from good old Hardy Merriman, of the ICNC, that the ICNC’s critics haven’t got a case. This is like a George W. Bush supporter declaring that few of the claims of Bush’s critics stand up to scrutiny, because Dick Cheney told him so in a personal communication. No wonder Martin buried this in a footnote.
But that’s just the start of the problems with this dishonest piece of scholarship. ICNC critics have never said that nonviolent movements are fronts for Western powers (at least, the ones I know haven’t.) What they’ve said is that the ICNC (and Western powers) are fronts for the US ruling class, of which ICNC supremo Peter Ackerman, is a charter member. You can find out more about the ex-leveraged buyout specialist, former head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, and now Council on Foreign Relations board member, here. When Ackerman isn’t teaching foreign activists how to use nonviolent civil disobedience to overthrow Third World governments, he’s running Rockport Capital Inc., a private investment firm. Just the kind of guy you would expect to be assisting progressive causes.
Nor do the critics of the ICNC criticize the organization for promoting nonviolence, though Martin would have you believe that nonviolence is the burr under their saddles. The truth is that what bothers the ICNC’s critics is the organization’s integration into the US foreign policy estblishment. It’s not the tactics the ICNC promotes, but the reasons it promotes them, and on whose behalf, that galvanizes the center’s critics. Martin misses this, whether deliberately or not, is unclear.
The Case Against the ICNC
Martin doesn’t name me in his article, and he may never have had me in mind. But all the same, let me summarize my own objections to the ICNC, and its siblings, the AEI (Albert Einstein Institution) and CANVAS (Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies), and more broadly, “democracy” promoting organizations like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy, established to take up the former CIA function of meddling in foreign countries’ elections.)
The ICNC and NED are fronts for Western ruling class interests.
These organizations engage with movements abroad to influence them and use them to achieve Western foreign policy goals.
Nonviolent civil disobedience movements can be effective in bringing down governments that have been demoralized or weakened by war, threats of war, sanctions, economic crisis or outside propaganda (delivered via Radio Liberty, Voice of America, NED-funded ‘independent’ media, the Western mass media, and so on) or some combination of the above. Nonviolent civil disobedience movements, by themselves, without outside intervention to disorganize and weaken the governments they seek to change, are usually ineffective. (I provide an example later on in this article.)
By promoting nonviolent civil disobedience the ICNC and CANVAS:
(A) provide tools for activists abroad to overthrow their governments. These tools become effective when Western powers first disorganize and weaken the foreign governments they have targeted for overthrow;
(B) encourage activists at home to adopt nonviolent civil disobedience, pointing to its successes abroad, but ignoring the role played by war, sanctions, economic crisis and propaganda as softening up interventions that help nonviolent civil disobedience to work. This channels domestic activists into a set of activities that, while they may often be successful when used in conjunction with intervention to weaken target governments, are likely to be far less successful otherwise, and may well be completely ineffective and inappropriate to the circumstances.
The problem with pragmatic nonviolence (the nonviolence based on strategic, not ethical considerations that Gene Sharp, the ICNC’s intellectual godfather champions) is not that it is always ineffective, but that it is not unconditionally more effective than violence, as its promoters claim. It is easy to conceive of circumstances in which nonviolence is the method of choice, but equally easy to conceive of other circumstances in which nonviolence will fail miserably. The position of the ICNC, AEI and Brian Martin is that nonviolence is always more effective than violence, a claim which, to throw Martin’s words back at him, withers under scrutiny and lacks evidence. The complaint against Martin and his fellow pragmatic nonviolence promoters, then, is that what they are promoting is a position that locks domestic activists into a nonviolence that is not always the best tactic for the circumstances at hand.
To strengthen their case, Martin et al point to recent successes abroad, intimating that domestic activists can be equally effective if they use the same techniques. This, however, completely ignores the role Western intervention has played in these countries of weakening governments and providing funding to activists to organize civil disobedience and build media support. No Western government is going to sanction itself, threaten to bomb its own population, distribute anti-government propaganda calling for its overthrow, or pay local activists to agitate for its downfall. Absent these conditions, the chances of civil disobedience working in the United States, Britain, Canada and elsewhere in the Western world to achieve anything close to what has been achieved elsewhere, are slim at best. It’s kind of like saying building a roof will keep you safe from the elements, because, look, those people over there built a roof and now they’re warm and dry, ignoring all the preceding work in building a foundation, frame and walls.
Indeed, the efficacy of these techniques absent help from rich outside donors can be measured by what happened in Georgia, after the Rose Revolutionaries, using techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience, ousted Eduard Shevardnadze, clearing the way for Washington’s new man, Mikheil Saakashvili, to come to power.
A second nonviolence-based revolution should have happened when Saakashvili turned out to be little better than the man he replaced. Instead, nothing.
“Georgia is a semi-democracy,” explains Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the National Democratic Institute in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another. There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” 
According to Mitchell, “under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, and the government was too weak to crack down on dissent. But the state was rife with corruption, and elections were poorly run. Under Saakashvili, the central government is stronger and official corruption has been reduced, but the media have far fewer freedoms and there are fewer civil organizations. Elections still don’t function well.” What’s more, “parliament has been weakened through constitutional changes mandated by Saakashvili, making it difficult for the legislative branch to restrain executive power.” 
So why don’t the Rose Revolutionaries dust off their nonviolence skills, and oust Saakashvili, the way they did Shevardnadze?
One reason is that many Rose Revolutionaries have moved on to do Uncle Sam’s work in other countries whose governments Washington has slated for regime change.
“Every few months” explains the Los Angeles Times’ Borzou Daragahi, Nini Gogiberidze, a Rose Revolutionary employed by the nonviolence promoter CANVAS, “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.”  Apparently, with their fires of indignation burning against the autocracies of Victor Lukashenko and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Gogiberidze and her CANVAS colleagues have failed to notice that Saakashvili is also an autocrat.
Another reason is that the Rose Revolutionaries’ rich donors have withdrawn their funding, and diverted it to the whole point of the Rose Revolution – Saakashvili. As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported in 2008, “the Bush administration scaled back funding for voluntary civil and social organizations” (i.e., the Rose Revolutionaries) “in order to devote resources to building up the central government.”  Saakashvili got more help from Washington to consolidate his position, while the nonviolence movement sputtered to a halt, starved of the funding that once fueled it. Money helps in organizing, and organization is critically important in both strengthening governments and overthrowing them.
As I finished Martin’s article I reflected on its title: Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence. One of the dilemmas Martin failed to address is that of defending the ICNC, an organization that is bound up with US ruling class interests and at the same time promotes nonviolent civil disobedience (mainly in Third World countries), and which is condemned not for its promotion of nonviolent activism but for its integration into the US foreign policy establishment and its assistance to the pursuit of US foreign policy goals. As Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic, “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting [ICNC chief] Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.”  Nonviolence promoters have found themselves springing to the defense of this dodgy organization (which does what the CIA used to do but tries to make it appear progressive) because they’ve misinterpreted attacks on the ICNC as attacks on nonviolence.
The real dilemma for independent nonviolence promoters is to figure out how to build a firewall between the Western ruling class interests that lurk behind seemingly neutral organizations like the ICNC, fronted by the soi-disant progressive and anti-imperialist Stephen Zunes, and genuine grassroots movements. The solution is summed up clearly in the epigram: the revolution will not be funded (or selflessly assisted by ultrawealthy members of the Council on Foreign Relations.) Genuine grassroots revolutions and movements will only achieve genuine grassroots goals if they reject engagement with fronts for Western ruling class interests. Otherwise, activists abroad may find themselves helping to bring another Saakashvili to power. Another US client, eager to transform his country into a profit center for US investors, may be congenial to the interests of investment firms, like Rockport Capital Inc., but will hardly be congenial to the interests of the bulk of grassroots activist who clear the way for his ascension to power. As for activists at home, they may find themselves straitjacketed into a mode of achieving social change that is not always well suited to the circumstances at hand, and which succeeds only when backed by the massive intervention of Western states, an intervention that clearly won’t be happening at home. The warning, beware of ultra-rich establishment figures bearing gifts, and even more so their progressive lieutenants, scarcely needs justification.
In March 2010 the ICNC revealed on its website who its board of academic advisors is. Among the names was Brian Martin.
1. Brian Martin,” Dilemmas in Promoting Nonviolence,” Gandhi Marg, October-December, 2009.
2. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/23/AR2008082301817_pf.html
4. Borzou Daragahi, “A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution”, The Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
6. Foer, Franklin, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.