Al Qaeda, Nonviolence, And The Dictator’s Dilemma

February 28th, 2011at 08:15am Posted by Eli

Interesting story in today’s NYT about how al Qaeda has been marginalized by the mostly nonviolent wave of democracy sweeping the Middle East, demonstrating decisively that dictatorships can be toppled without the use of violence and terror – and also, I think, that most Muslims are more hungry for democracy and freedom than in swapping secular oppression for religious oppression.

I believe that one of the reasons nonviolence has been so successful is that it heightens what I call The Dictator’s Dilemma – that is, how do you crack down on an incipient revolution with sufficient force to disperse it without turning your own military and government against you?  If the revolution is a screaming angry mob hurling stones and insults at the troops, they will find it a lot easier to use force – in self-defense, if nothing else.

But if the revolutionaries are singing songs and welcoming the troops as brothers, the line of acceptable brutality moves considerably.  Depending on how strong the military’s loyalty to the dictator is, it may be impossible to goad them to sufficient violence to break up the resistance.  This is what happened in Egypt, and is partially happening in Libya, although Qaddafi has dampened it a bit with his use of mercenaries.

In any case, I’d like to think that this means that al Qaeda’s moment is past, but I fear it will simply spur them to focus more on the United States, Israel and Europe.  Although the fewer US-backed brutal dictators there are in the Middle East, the smaller the terrorist recruiting pool will be.  Something our government really should consider but won’t.

Entry Filed under: Foreign Policy,Terrorism

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