By Stephen Gowans
“The narrative we want to come out of this is that the Libyan people overthrew a dictator, not that we came in and toppled a despot,” said Stephen J. Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
“And that’s the problem with going after command and control if it results in the death of Qaddafi, because what we really want him to do is for him to leave or to die at a Libyan hand, not an American hand,” said Mr. Hadley, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” (1)
To explain the 2000 overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict promotes the very same narrative Hadley wants for Libya.
Through its video, Bringing Down A Dictator, and articles written by scholars on its academic advisory board–at least one of whom has met with the CIA and RAND Corporation–the organization brazenly rewrites history to put forward the narrative that an indigenous pro-democracy movement overthrew a dictator, not that NATO intervened massively to topple an elected president.
At least three facts are at odds with the ICNC narrative:
• NATO carried out a 78-day terror bombing campaign whose purpose was to induce “Milosevic’s own people…to turn on him,” according to the commander of US Air Force units in Europe at the time, General John P. Jumper. (2). In 1999, US General Michael Short told The New York Times that the bombing campaign was based on “hopes that the distress of the Yugoslav public will undermine support for the authorities in Belgrade.” (3)
• The West engineered a sanctions campaign that uniquely targeted areas in which Milosevic had strong support. This added to pressure on Milosevic’s own supporters to oust their president.
• Washington spent $10 million in 1999 and $31 million in 2000 to train, equip and advise an overthrow movement to destabilize the former Yugoslavia and oust Milosevic.  It is this movement that the ICNC celebrates as a largely indigenous pro-democracy movement.
Wherever Washington is trying to topple an independent government, the ICNC’s scholars can be counted on to help build a narrative that says the people overthrew a dictator, not that Washington allied with part of the population to sweep the old government from office. Invariably the replacement governments have aligned themselves closely with US financial, commercial and military interests.
Of the ICNC founder and chairman Peter Ackerman, Edward Herman and David Peterson note: He “was a board member and eventual chairman of Freedom House (September 2005 – January 2009), an institution that has been as clear an instrument of U.S. foreign policy as has the CIA itself.” (5) Ackerman is also a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, equally as clear an instrument of US foreign policy.
On Stephen Zunes, the organization’s chief scholar, the pair add: “It is disturbing to watch Zunes repeatedly downplay the role of foreign money, knowledge, and power at work behind regime-change campaigns, and hype the democratic credentials of the opposition to targeted regimes.” (6)
This, indeed, is another way of saying that Zunes works to make the narrative of US regime change operations come out the way Hadley wants it to come out in Libya – with a targeted leader’s fall seen to come at the hands of his own people with US complicity erased from history.
Herman and Peterson condemn this narrative-setting as “an especially powerful cocktail for sowing confusion among leftists and progressives, whose minds tell them to oppose imperial causes, but whose hearts warm to emotionally manipulative rhetoric about the ‘homegrown’ nature of ‘pro-democracy’ movements.” (7)
Zunes and other ICNC scholars claim to be on the left. Some even anti-imperialist. If so, what’s left?
1. Kareem Fahim and Mark Mazzetti, “Allies defending actions in Libya after airstrike”, The New York Times, May 1, 2011.
2. Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, “Nato says it is stepping up attacks on Libya targets”, The New York Times, April 26, 2011.
3. New York Times, May 13, 1999. Cited in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower.
4. Dobbs, Michael, “US advice guided Milosevic opposition,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2000.
5. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Reply to Stephen Zunes”, December 30, 2010. http://www.zcommunications.org/reply-to-stephen-zunes-by-edward-herman
6. Herman and Peterson.
7. Herman and Peterson.