Thursday, April 24, 2003

STATUE STORY: Here's Jesse Walker today:

In Serbia, for instance, university students in 1998 created a non-violent resistance movement, Otpor ("resistance" in Serbian). Its central mission was to peacefully undercut Milosevic. Sometimes this just meant mocking him — the group's "He's Finished" stickers popped up everywhere. Members spray-painted their symbol, a clenched fist, or "Otpor" on walls and distributed thousands of copies of Sharp's strategies for non-violent opposition. As the movement grew, Milosevic's government became less sure that its soldiers and police would obey if ordered to crack down on the rebels.

Clearly, no such popular movement existed in Saddam's Iraq, even though Iraqis had plenty of good reasons to hate their government. It's not because Saddam was especially more oppressive than Iran's rulers: When democratic ferment began in Iran, it faced one of the world's most repressive regimes. And it's certainly not because ordinary Iraqis are incapable of asserting themselves.

One major difference between Iran and Iraq: U.S. sanctions against Iran are much less severe than the ones against Iraq. Except in the Kurds' northern zone, the sanctions rendered Iraq's citizens more dependent on Saddam's government, and thus — perversely — helped crush the independent institutions needed for a real revolution. The end result was symbolized when Saddam's statue came down. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, jubilant crowds tore down the hated dictatorships' statues themselves. In Iraq, a much smaller crowd needed Uncle Sam's tanks.

Iraqi civil society is weak; even a completely well-intentioned occupation government will have a hard time transferring power to it. In Iran, however, the population should be able to throw off its oppressors and govern itself when the tipping point comes.

That's worth remembering as Americans mull Iraq's lessons and eye the region's other dictatorships.

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