by Robert Tracinski
In attempting to absorb and explain the fall of the Soviet Union—a seemingly devastating blow, as millions of Eastern Europeans rejected the leftist "utopia"—the left has developed a vast new rationalization. They have been trying to spread the myth that the Soviet Union was brought down by a mass non-violent protest movement, an Eastern European equivalent of the hippie street protests of the 1960s. Thus, they claim, it was the leftist legacy of "social protest" and "non-violent" pacifism that led to the collapse of Soviet tyranny—and not the military confrontation of the Cold War. The lesson they draw from this is not only that they were right to advocate "detente" and pacifism in the face of the Soviet threat—but also that we should adopt a strategy of "engagement" and pacifism toward Islamic dictatorships like Iran. Instead of relying on military confrontation, they tell us, we should rely on the home-grown non-violent protest movements within these countries.
Here for example, is the view of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, as described in my article "Altruism and Dictatorship," from the June 2004 print issue of The Intellectual Activist. Kristof devoted several columns to describing the resistance to tyranny by unarmed students in Iran and during the Tiananmen Square protests in China. But then, I noted:
"Kristof immediately advocates a policy of appeasement and 'engagement,' arguing that if we 'press Iran harder, Iran will halt its nuclear cooperation and evict inspectors, Israel will bomb a couple of Iran's nuclear sites…, and Iran's ayatollahs will benefit from a nationalistic surge to stay in power and rule more rabidly than ever.'
"So how does Kristof expect good people to confront a dictatorship? The answer is provided in a June 2 column in which Kristof provides a moving account of how he witnessed students being mowed down by troops during the Tiananmen Square massacre in China 15 years ago. He concludes, 'The Communist Party signed its own death warrant that night,' losing all claim to popular legitimacy. Then he again advocates the appeasing diplomacy of 'engagement,' asserting, 'The same forces [of "engagement"] would also help transform Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Burma, if only we would unleash them. We are doing a favor to the dictators in those countries by isolating and sanctioning them.'
"This, then, is the altruist plan for confronting dictatorship. Military threats from confident superpowers are bad; street rallies by unarmed students are good. To bring freedom to China, Iran, and other dictatorships, we should depend on the sacrifice of idealistic young dissidents, rather than the assertion of our interests."
The terrific New York Times article that leads today's news links in TIA Daily is a timely reminder that this "non-violent" view of the collapse of dictatorships is a delusion and an evasion. Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" is a long-delayed follow-up to the revolt against Soviet-inspired tyranny—and it is a reminder that revolutions are still made by men with guns.
The New York Times, for all of its leftist leanings and the awful stuff secreted onto its editorial pages, can still produce some real blockbusters in its international coverage, which has long been the greatest value the paper offers. Today's piece is one of the best pieces of reporting I've seen in a long time. It presents a previously untold story that has all the high drama of a great spy thriller—yet it is all taken from real life.
Its central message is that pro-Kremlin Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his political clique failed in their attempt to rig the Ukrainian election because they lost control over "the last guarantor of power: the men with the guns." But they did not merely lose control; a significant number of the "men with guns" were actively working against the vote-riggers—and they threatened active, violent, armed resistance against the imposition of dictatorship. They issued warnings that "if [Interior] ministry troops came to Kiev, the army and security services would defend civilians," and that a crackdown would lead to bloodshed and civil war because the "demonstrators would resist." It was the threat of force in resistance to tyranny that broke the attempt to entrench a Kremlin-backed dictatorship in Ukraine.
The lesson here is that the way to resist dictatorship is not through an altruistic pacifism, not through the senseless sacrifice of unarmed students, but through an insistence on the legitimate use of force—that is, the use of force in defense of liberty.