New York Times: Democracy is Bad for US Foreign Policy

By Stephen Gowans

Here’s New York Times reporter Mark Landler on Washington’s reaction to the popular uprising in Egypt against the anti-liberal democratic, human rights-abusing Hosni Mubarak, a “staunch ally.”

Washington is “proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests.”

In other words, democracy and human rights are fine, but not when strategic and commercial interests are at stake.

Landler goes on to say that Washington’s cold-eyed commitment to realpolitik and profits “sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments — which has turned many of those young people against the United States.”

Well, there’s nothing amiss in Landler’s observation except his downplaying of the frequency with which Washington supports autocratic and unpopular governments – often rather than sometimes.

In Landler’s account of strategic thinking in Washington, it’s all right to support an “upheaval in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region,” but a “wave of upheaval could uproot valuable allies.” And profits and strategic position demand the possibility be blocked.

After all, the “Egyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington.” And so arrests without charge, including of nearly 500 bloggers, will continue, with Washington maintaining a principled non-interference in Egyptian affairs.

Washington will also continue to tolerate the repressive national emergency law, as it has done since 1981. The law provides the legal cover Washington’s “staunch ally” needs to “arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.” Because this is done in the service of safeguarding US strategic and commercial interests, Mubarak gets US military aid, diplomatic support, and an easy ride in the US media.

Compare that to US treatment of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe. Even if all the allegations against him were true – and they’re not — the government in Harare wouldn’t come close to matching Mubarak’s disdain for the democratic and human rights values Washington claims to hold dear.

And yet Zimbabwe is deemed by the US president to be a grave threat to US foreign policy, its president denounced as a strongman and dictator, and its people subjected to economic warfare in the form of financial sanctions, while Mubarak is hailed as a staunch ally who must be supported against the democratic aspirations of the Arab street.

The key to this duplicity is that Mubarak has sold out Egypt to US profit and strategic interests, while Mugabe has sought to rectify the historical iniquities of colonialism. Clearly, from Washington’s perspective, Mugabe is serving the wrong interests. Indigenous farmers don’t count. Western investors do.

One wonders where overthrow specialist Peter Ackerman and his stable of nonviolent warrior academic advisors come down on this — on the side of the democratic aspirations of young Arabs or reconciled to the cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests of US corporations and wealthy individuals?

The question, however, may be beside the point. What matters is not whether Ackerman’s janissary Lester Kurtz wants to spout Gandhian bromides to angry Egyptian youths, but whether there’s money to organize and boost the revolutionary energy of the street and how much is being poured into a repressive apparatus to shut it down.
Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney (Don’t give up on Egypt,”, June 2009) have the answer.

The Obama administration has drastically scaled back its financial support for Egyptian activists fighting for political reform. US democracy and governance funding was slashed by 60 percent. From 2004 to 2009, the US spent less than $250M on democracy programs, but $7.8 billion on aid to the Egyptian military.

But even this imbalance overstates the meager support Washington has offered pro-democracy forces. Given Mubarak’s status as a paladin of US commercial and strategic interests, much of Washington’s democracy program spending has probably been allocated to programs that act as a safety valve to divert anger and frustration into safe, non-threatening avenues. Money available to facilitate a real challenge to Mubarak is likely either meager or nonexistent.

With the US establishment vexed by cold-eyed concerns about the need to safeguard imperialist interests against pro-democratic uprisings, champion of nonviolent democracy activism Stephen Zunes can give up whatever dreams he may have had about helping to organize an Egyptian color revolution. When it comes to real democracy, and freedom that counts, the funding cupboard is bare. Color revolutions are for cold-eyed promoters of US strategic and commercial interests, not upheavals against US-backed compradors.

Lester Kurtz’s Duty

By Stephen Gowans

This is the continuation of an exchange between me and Lester Kurtz, a sociology professor and exponent of nonviolent resistance who sits on the academic advisory board of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

Lester Kurtz, an exponent of nonviolent warfare who sits on the academic advisory board of the Council on Foreign Relations-linked International Center on Nonviolent Conflict says he felt it was his duty to meet with members of his country's intelligence community to discuss nonviolent resistance. The ICNC provides information on civil disobedience tactics to groups seeking to take power from foreign governments.

Kurtz’s reply to my “Leftist overthrow advisor Lester Kurtz: ‘I talked with the CIA’” is below, followed by my reply to him.


Stephen Gowans’ commitment to justice and opposition to imperialism is admirable and I wish to thank him for his contribution to that ongoing struggle. I am not convinced, however, that his approach will help him achieve his goals, and would like to offer some friendly suggestions and a gentle critique regarding his approach to what I consider our common endeavor. I welcome a dialogue with him, as well as with anyone wishing to address these vital issues that he raises.

First, I am flattered by his inaccurate headline calling me a “Leftist overthrow advisor,” but that is not me – I am a sociology professor at George Mason University who educates people in the strategies of nonviolent civil resistance. What I teach and write about is not a recipe for taking “power from foreign governments” as Mr. Gowans suggests, but frameworks to understand better a complex phenomenon known as nonviolent conflict and a set of tools that have proved – across various historical cases – effective in resisting different types of oppression. It is a matter of educating and therefore empowering people to stand up to injustice no matter what the source – leftist, right-wing, domestic, or foreign governments, as well as tyranny within the workplace, the home, or the neighborhood.

Mahatma Gandhi, my professor in these matters and the subject of years of research on my part, in addition to being an extraordinary strategist was the genius of anti-imperialism in his day, who set in motion the forces that toppled the colonial system. He wanted everyone to be trained as a Satyagrahi, a nonviolent civil resister who would oppose any kind of injustice in any sphere or at any level, from the micro level (e.g., domestic violence) to the global (e.g., international imperialism).

What is disturbing about Mr. Gowans’ comments is that many of his facts are simply inaccurate. I have never collaborated with the CIA, nor has the ICNC on whose academic advisory board I sit. I spoke as an independent academic and in no way as a representative of the ICNC, when my government asked me to dialogue with members of its intelligence community. I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to educate others when requested, and I was glad to give my modest input, among others, into a greater understanding of nonviolent processes that I think are often so badly misguided and– as Mr. Gowans’ article proves – misinterpreted.

To be completely transparent so Mr. Gowans understands clearly that there are no hidden conspiracies, at the first event, at the Rand office in Washington, I served on a panel with distinguished scholars (including Juan Cole) and spoke about religion and violence (one area of my expertise). Later I was asked to respond to a presentation by UCLA professor David Rapoport about terrorism and then at the National Intelligence Council’s request I gave a presentation on nonviolent movements, which I had mentioned as playing a more significant role than violent ones when examining religious movements. At no time did I provide any information that I did not already present in my publications and courses.

More broadly, Mr. Gowans has a serious misunderstanding of what is being taught by me (and by ICNC), and to whom it is being taught. It would be helpful if he would peruse ICNC’s website or obtain and read its extensive materials on civil resistance before making assumptions about its content. He might also sample my writings and books. Quite the opposite of providing tools for U.S. imperialism, we are offering content much of which is based on struggles that were conducted against regimes supported by the U.S., such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the movement against Pinochet in Chile, the people power movement against Marcos in the Philippines, and the first Intifada against Israel in occupied Palestine. Moreover, ICNC’s educational materials have been used, and workshops that it supported have been attended, by organizers and participants in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, in the Maldivians’ successful campaign for democracy, in the West Papuans’ struggle for independence from Indonesia, in the Sahrawis’ struggle for independence from Morocco, in the Egyptian and Ethiopian resistance to dictators in those countries, and in the struggle of Hondurans against the coup regime in that country. All of these nonviolent struggles have been waged against governments supported or assisted by the U.S. government.

As Mr. Gowans essentially concedes, nonviolent civil resistance is empirically proven to be more effective than any other method for bringing about change. The best study demonstrating that is Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1(Summer2008), pp. 7–44. In disseminating information about this phenomenon, the ICNC is merely one of many organizations internationally working to develop nonviolent civil resistance and encouraging its exploration. Training for Change, Nonviolent International, Voices in the Wilderness, the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and Peaceworkers in the U.S., War Resisters International based in the U.K., and Nova/Center for Social Innovation in Spain, are just a few of the other international organizations that are shouldering the work of global education in nonviolent struggle (and with all of whom ICNC has cooperated).

I wish Mr. Gowans – who I want to believe is as ardent supporter of strategic nonviolent action as I am – would join me and others in creatively developing nonviolent strategies and actions for fighting imperialism and injustice rather than attacking people who are actually providing education for oppressed peoples in hope of helping them mount effective nonviolent resistance.

Gowans’ Response

It is presumptuous of Lester Kurtz to equate his opposition to imperialism to my own. Kurtz’s commitment is not to anti-imperialism but to nonviolent resistance and the thought of Mahatma Gandhi. The two, notwithstanding the efforts of Kurtz, Stephen Zunes, and others to suggest they are the same, are very different.

Embracing nonviolent resistance does not make one an anti-imperialist, anymore than embracing violence does. With equal illogic, we could say that those who take up arms are anti-imperialists, because the use of violence has been central to many past anti-imperialist struggles. But that would imply that the Nazis were anti-imperialists, because they too relied on the use of violence to achieve their political goals. The means used to achieve a goal bear no necessary relationship to the goal to be achieved. The idea that all applications of Gandhian nonviolent resistance are anti-imperialist, because Gandhi led a struggle against British imperialism, is based on the same logical blunder. We can conceive of violence to achieve anti-imperialist ends and nonviolence to do the same. Equally, we can conceive of violence used to strengthen and defend imperialism, and nonviolence used for the same ends.

To be sure, Kurtz’s commitment to nonviolent resistance does not rule out the possibility that he is a committed anti-imperialist. But it would indeed be a strange anti-imperialist who feels that when his government (whose imperialist credentials are beyond dispute) calls upon him to dialogue with members of its intelligence community (who have a lead role in defending and promoting imperialism), that it he is duty-bound to comply. Had he been a German citizen in 1939, would he have felt it his duty to dialogue with members of the SS had he been asked? Apparently, in his felt obligation to meet with the CIA, and in his willingness to provide information on nonviolent struggle to groups with pro-imperialist aims, Kurtz sees himself as having a duty to an imperialist government which is higher than his duty to those struggling against it.

Kurtz takes another logical misstep when he argues: “Quite the opposite of providing tools for U.S. imperialism, we (the ICNC) are offering content much of which is based on struggles that were conducted against regimes supported by the U.S.” It does not follow that the tools the ICNC disseminates are not being used for US imperialism simply because they are based on previous struggles against US imperialism. Logically, Kurtz’s statement is equivalent to saying ICBMs are not weapons of mass destruction because the underlying rocket technology has been used for peaceful space exploration. Or that because guerrilla warfare was central to many anti-imperialist struggles, that the Contras, Mujahedeen, and Kosovo Liberation Army were anti-imperialist.

Kurtz, Zunes and their ICNC colleagues borrow the anti-imperialist prestige of previous nonviolent anti-imperialist struggles, and the progressive prestige of the nonviolent civil rights struggles in the US, to suggest the application of similar techniques is always anti-imperialist and progressive, and to whitewash the applications that aren’t. This is no different, in its political aim, from efforts in the 1980s to marshal support among left-leaning people for the Contras and Afghan Mujahedeen, or in the late 1990s to drum up support for the Kosovo Liberation Army. In doing so, the practitioners of the deception that these guerrilla movements were anti-imperialist used the public relations technique of exploiting a previous association (between guerrilla warfare and anti-imperialism) to suggest that the association is enduring and invariable (and that the Contra, Mujahedeen, and KLA struggles were therefore anti-imperialist.) The reasoning—illogical—follows this form: They must have been anti-imperialist; after all, the tools they used were based on struggles against U.S. imperialism. This anticipates Kurtz’s : “Quite the opposite of providing tools for U.S. imperialism, we are offering content much of which is based on struggles that were conducted against regimes supported by the U.S.”

Kurtz, then, seeks to portray collaboration with imperialism as anti-imperialist by drawing on instances where the use of nonviolent warfare and anti-imperialist struggles intersected. Attempts to breathe life into the false idea that nonviolent warriors are necessarily anti-imperialist can be seen in Kurtz’s attempts to frame his debate with me as one between two people who are committed to the same anti-imperialist goals but disagree on the means to achieve them. That we share very different goals is evident in the contrast between this by Kurtz, and this, by me.

I argued in an article on Peter Ackerman, the founder of the ICNC on whose academic advisory board Kurtz sits, that Ackerman does what the CIA used to do while working to make it seem progressive. In Kurtz’s reply, we can see that he, too, is engaged in the same project.

Finally, Kurtz argues that I essentially concede that nonviolent civil resistance is empirically proven to be more effective than any other method for bringing about change. If he could point out where I conceded this, essentially or otherwise, I would be grateful. I can’t recall ever being interested enough in the point to have either conceded or challenged it. However, now that Kurtz has drawn my attention to the question, let me offer two observations.

First, I shy away from absolutist statements of the kind that any one method is more effective than all others under all conditions, in all places, and at all times. That nonviolent resistance – or any other method of social change — is always the best method, everywhere, under all circumstances, seems highly unlikely to me.

Second, I can’t imagine how the superiority of nonviolent resistance could ever be empirically proven. There are far too many things going on in any struggle for change to disentangle the effects of one form of struggle from all the others that are likely to accompany it and from the effects of the different responses to the struggle that different governments may make.

For example, the Gandhian struggle against British control of India was not unaccompanied by a violent resistance. Moreover, Britain’s exhaustion and depletion following WWII likely figured prominently in the country’s willingness to loosen some control over its colonial possession.

Likewise, it is impossible to isolate the effects of the US-sponsored, aided- and organized-civil disobedience movement on the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic from the effects of NATO bombing; the US-sponsored and funded KLA insurgency; sanctions; and the differential withholding by NATO of heating oil from areas that supported Milosevic’s Socialist party. Isolating one element of the anti-Milosevic struggle from its many and diverse elements, and then attributing the outcome of the struggle to one element alone, seems to me to be as dishonest as it is methodologically untenable. And yet, this is exactly what the ICNC has done in its paean to nonviolent struggle, Bringing Down a Dictator.

That Kurtz could argue that a method of social change has been “empirically proven” should raise serious questions about his intellectual honesty. Sadly, he seems to be less a social scientist than a kind of salesman for nonviolent resistance who dishonestly exploits his academic credentials to peddle what any intelligent undergraduate would recognize as a conclusion based on methodological nonsense.

To be clear, my view on nonviolent warfare is that it can be effective, but not at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. Some conditions seem likely to increase the likelihood of a campaign of nonviolent warfare succeeding. These include outside support in the form of funding, training, and organization (what the US government, imperialist foundations and ICNC provide); diplomatic and military pressure on the target government; the use of sanctions and economic warfare to destabilize the economy; and the cooperation of the media to undermine the legitimacy of the target government, as well outside support for so-called “independent” media to do the same. The aim is to weaken and disorganize a government to sap its will to rule. Other governments at other times have been weakened and disorganized by crises (economic catastrophe or the devastation of war, for example) that were not methodically engineered by an outside power. Some of these governments have also been brought down by opposition forces, sometimes violently, sometimes non-violently. The point is that recognizing that nonviolent warfare can be effective in some instances does not amount to essentially conceding that nonviolent civil resistance is empirically proven to be more effective than any other method for bringing about change.

But this is hardly the main concern. Even if I were to concede the point, as Kurtz erroneously claims I have, it wouldn’t erase the collaboration of Kurtz and other exponents of nonviolent warfare with imperialism. That’s the real strike against the ICNC and its agents.

Leftist overthrow advisor Lester Kurtz: “I talked with the CIA”

By Stephen Gowans

Lester Kurtz is a professor of sociology who sits on the academic advisory board of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, an organization that trains activists in the use of mass civil disobedience to take power from foreign governments.

Lester Kurtz, another academic pony in Peter Ackerman’s ICNC stable. Kurtz talked to the CIA because they asked him to.

The ICNC was founded by former Freedom House head, Peter Ackerman, Michael Milken’s right-hand man at the Wall Street investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. Ackerman became ridiculously wealthy organizing the KKR leveraged buy-out of RJR Nabisco. [1]

These days Ackerman is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with former US secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, and CEOs, investment bankers and highly placed media people. When he’s not helping formulate foreign policy recommendations at the CFR, he’s lending a hand on the Advisory Council of the United States Institute for Peace, a phoney U.S. government peace outfit headed absurdly by the U.S. secretaries of defense and state.

As you might expect of a wealthy investor who hobnobs with the US foreign policy establishment, Ackerman defines protection of private property rights as an integral part of democracy and believes the United States has a lot of teach the world. [2]

After learning investment banking at the knee of Milken, Ackerman turned his energies to training foreign activists in the use of the nonviolent resistance techniques of Gene Sharp, probably the first person to situate mass civil disobedience in the context of military strategy. [3] This earned Sharp the sobriquet the Clausewitz of nonviolence, after the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. [4]

An interviewer working for a Canadian nonviolent resistance magazine once pointed out to Sharp — with some incredulity — that people say a government cannot fund or sponsor the overthrow of another government.

Sharp replied, “Why not?” adding, “What do they prefer that the U.S. spend money on?” [5]

Gene Sharp, the Clausewitz of nonviolence, who sees no trouble with the U.S. government spending money on overthrowing foreign governments. When Sharp was accused of advising right-wing Venezuelans on how to topple Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the head of the ICNC academic advisory board, Stephen Zunes, sprang to his defense. Sharp is old and sick, Zunes explained. Besides, he has adopted a “transpartisan’ position that cuts across political boundaries and conceptions and (talks) to essentially anyone”. It used to be that leftist peaceniks were against the US government and other rightist forces. Now they advise them.

Nonviolent resistance – also more aptly called nonviolent warfare – is about taking power, not making a point. It’s not pacifism or a principled religious or ethical position based on abhorrence of violence. It’s power politics. Ackerman and other nonviolent warriors believe that mass civil disobedience – the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and nonviolent sabotage backed by sanctions and demonization of target governments – can be more effective in taking political power than military intervention. [6] That makes them instrumental nonviolence advocates. They advocate nonviolence, not because they hate violence, but because they think nonviolence works better than armed revolt or military intervention.

With the help of people like Lester Kurtz, the ICNC trains a modern cadre of mercenaries, who travel the world in the pay of NGOs, Western governments, wealthy individuals and corporate foundations, in order to train local groups in regime change through nonviolent warfare. [7] Ackerman, Kurtz and company, sit at the head of a kind of imperialist International, whose aim is to spread the US system, US influence and ultimately US capital around the world, under the guise of “promoting democracy.” It calls to mind a line from Phil Ochs’ condemnation of US imperialism, “We’re the Cops of The World”. Ochs sang, “The name for our profits is democracy.” Of course, the ICNC isn’t admitting to any of this. ICNC members say they’re just handing out information on nonviolence to anyone who will listen.

Last April, Kurtz posted a comment to my blog, calling my linking of Ackerman and his ICNC to US imperialism a “non sequitur.”

I replied. In my reply I pointed out that Kurtz discloses on his CV that he gave workshops to the CIA and the U.S. government- and corporate- funded think-tank, the RAND Corporation. Nine months later, Kurtz replied, with a bombshell. Sure, he talked with the CIA and RAND, he said, because they asked him to.

Albert Szymanski, also a professor of sociology, would never have received an invitation from the CIA to conduct a workshop on anything, and if he had, we can be pretty sure he would have turned them down. So why Kurtz (an academic advisor to an outfit founded by a wealthy CFR member who celebrates the overthrow of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, an act which cleared the way for a US-backed pro-capitalist government to come to power to sell off state and socially-owned assets to investors like Ackerman) and not Szymanski (a Marxist-Leninist who deplored imperialism)? If ever there was a sign you’re part of the problem, it’s being asked by the CIA for advice. Giving it erases all doubts.

Here’s the exchange. It begins with Kurtz’s comments on my article, “Washington Post: North Korean, Iranian nuclear capability threatens US imperialism”, on April 5, 2010.

It’s no surprise that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things is not a shock – what is surprising is Stephen Gowans’ effort to link “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” and Peter Ackerman, with US imperialism! What a non-sequitur! Those activists (with the aid of only educational resources from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict that Ackerman funds) have taken on oppressors of all political stripes, many of them (like Marcos, Pinochet, etc., etc.) part of the US orb. While Washington no doubt has a hit list, it has nothing to do with providing information and resources to people who would organize for their rights regardless of who is thwarting them. The kind of imprecise thinking that links these activities through some leap of logic simply distracts from other aspects of the argument and leaves me puzzled as to the point of the article.

I replied the same day.

I’m assuming the above was written by Lester Kurtz, Professor of Sociology at George Mason University, and a member of the academic advisory board of Peter Ackerman’s organization, the ICNC. In March, 2005, Kurtz ran a workshop on religion and violence for the CIA and RAND.

I wonder whether Kurtz sees the connection between RAND and the CIA on the one hand and US imperialism on the other. Probably not.

While it may come as no surprise to Kurtz that US foreign policy is somehow linked to the economics of things, showing that this is so is much more difficult than showing that Peter Ackerman is linked to US imperialism. The latter is easily demonstrated.

(1) US foreign policy is imperialist,
(2) The Council on Foreign Relations plays a major role in shaping US foreign policy, and
(3) Peter Ackerman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

We could add other observations (e.g., Ackerman’s previous role as head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, hardly what you would call a non-imperialist organization, and his privileged position atop the economic order of things) but the points above should suffice.

What comes as a surprise to me is that while Kurtz can grasp the nexus between the economics of things and the imperialist nature of US foreign policy, he can’t see the much more obvious connection between Ackerman and US imperialism, but perhaps that is so because to see it, would mean acknowledging his own connection to it.

Nine months later Kurtz responded.

Of course there’s a connection between RAND, the CIA, and US imperialism – that’s why I talked with them when asked to do so. What good does it do to sit in a corner and talk to ourselves? I used to complain to my students that nobody ever asked me about important policy questions – do they ask you? I’d ask. So, when they asked me to speak, I did. I’d not work for them, but will talk with them, with you, with the devil, with anyone who will listen. The whole system is rotten, but won’t be replaced or transformed until people stand up and speak out.

Interestingly, Kurtz used the same defense that the head of the ICNC academic advisory board Stephen Zunes used on behalf of the Clausewitz of nonviolence, Gene Sharp, when it was revealed that Sharp had advised right-wing Venezuelans on how to bring down Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Sharp, explained Zunes, had “taken a ‘transpartisan’ position that cuts across political boundaries and conceptions and (talks) to essentially anyone” [8], apparently just as Kurtz does. If that’s a defense, the world dodged a bullet when Zunes turned down a career in law.

Here’s more of Zunes defending Sharp:

Unfortunately, Sharp – who is now well into his 80s and whose health is failing – appears to show little discernment as to who he meets with and his audience has sometimes included some right-wing Cubans or Venezuelans who have sought him out to see if any of his research would be of relevance in their efforts to organize some kind of popular mobilization against the Castro or Chavez governments. Some of those may have indeed been later found to have engaged in assassination plots. [9]

Since Kurtz isn’t well into his 80s, how do we explain his lack of discernment in who he meets with? Or does age have anything to do with it? Meeting with right-wing Venezuelans, right-wing Cubans [10], followers of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah of Iran [11], and the CIA seems to be standard operating procedure for nonviolent warriors. The New Republic’s Franklin Foer pointed out that “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 Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” It seems that if there’s a nationalist or socialist government to be overthrown, the nonviolent warriors are always willing to step up to the plate. They’ll talk to anyone: right-wing assassins, followers of a former US-backed Iranian dictator, the CIA. Adopting a position that “cuts across political boundaries and conceptions” means that where leftist peaceniks once were against the US government and other rightist forces, not they advise them.

On January 5, I responded to Kurtz’s latest comment.

Good work Les. Maybe after you deliver a few more seminars, the CIA will see the light, and decide that taking down foreign governments that refuse to subordinate themselves to Washington’s dictates isn’t such a good thing after all… Oh, but I forgot, that’s no longer a CIA function, is it? It’s now your job, and that of your ICNC colleagues.

Exactly what is it you’re standing up and speaking out about to the CIA anyway: that organizing nonviolent warfare campaigns against foreign governments is more effective in achieving US foreign policy goals than taking out wedding parties with predator drones?

You are, indeed, making the world a better place, Les. Keep accepting those CIA invitations.

Kurtz and some other ICNC academic advisors seem bewildered that they should be so vigorously criticized for trying to show the powerful that nonviolent overthrow movements are a better alternative to armed intervention. After all, what could be wrong with trying to persuade Washington that there’s a nonviolent way to achieve its foreign policy objectives? What they fail to grasp is that the tools the US government uses to prosecute its foreign policy aren’t the problem. The problem is US foreign policy.

1. Franklin Foer, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.

2. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, “Interview with Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” October 19, 2006. .

3. Eli Lake, “Iran launches a crackdown on democracy activists,” The New York Sun, March 14, 2006.

4. Peace.Ca, “Gene Sharp: A Biographical Profile.”

5. Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101,” Peace Magazine, July-Septmeber, 2003.

6. Peter Ackerman, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002; Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003; Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)

7. Mark R. Beissinger, “Promoting democracy: Is exporting revolution a constructive strategy?” Dissent, Winter 2006.

8. Stephen Zunes, George Cicariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Debate on the Albert Einstein Institution and its Involvement in Venezuela”,, August 5, 2008.

9. Ibid. It’s bad enough that Zunes tries to excuse Sharp’s meeting with right-wing Venezuelans as a lack of discernment attributable to age and illness when nonviolent warriors regularly aid right-wing forces, but his descent into bafflegab in the construction of the truly prolix phrase “‘transpartisan’ position that cuts across political boundaries and conceptions” — meaning I’d give advice to Hitler if he asked — would be comic were it not intended to prettify a reactionary position. Zunes, I think, would give British MP Sir Norman Fry a run for his money as a concocter of tortured explanations to cover up what he doesn’t care to admit.

10. Foer.

11. Ibid.