RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Gibson writes: "R2P states that a country has a responsibility to protect its people from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and that should a country fail to stop such violence, the state no longer retains its sovereignty and the international community has the responsibility to intervene in order to protect that nation's people."

File photo, the Free Syrian Army. (photo: Manu Brabo/AP)
File photo, the Free Syrian Army. (photo: Manu Brabo/AP)

Syria: Where Revolution Goes Wrong

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

06 September 13


(Part 1 of a 3-part series investigating how violence has corrupted nonviolent attempts to overthrow regimes)
"Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." – JFK

n early 2011, the Arab Spring protests rocked the Middle East, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt, where millions took to the streets demanding democracy, equal rights for minorities, and an immediate end to the corrupt, oppressive regimes that had been abusing their power for decades. The Arab Spring came to Syria in February and March of 2011. The Syrian uprising was, at first, nonviolent in nature, as hundreds of thousands filled the streets in Syria's major cities. However, the Assad regime quickly cracked down by mass arresting, beating and killing protesters.

Assad soon escalated his violence, and his regime has been directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians, and the displacement of millions who have since fled to refugee camps in Turkey. This May 2012 report by the Alwaref Institute alleges that the Assad regime's shelling and bombing of cities with airstrikes and heavy artillery, shooting of unarmed civilians by heavily-armed tanks and gunships, and torturing of hospitalized protesters are all war crimes under international law, and as such, require action by the international community under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. R2P states that a country has a responsibility to protect its people from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and that should a country fail to stop such violence, the state no longer retains its sovereignty and the international community has the responsibility to intervene in order to protect that nation's people.

Independent journalist Anna Therese Day has spent considerable time in Syria, and last year authored a Shorty Award-nominated report for VICE Magazine called Gunrunning with the Free Syrian Army. In the report, Day accompanied an FSA colonel who defected from Assad's army when the mass killings began. The colonel had two main complaints: that Western governments had abandoned the Syrian people in spite of mass genocide and brutal killings of protesters, and that because of the absence of help from Western governments, the Syrian people have had to depend on the military might of jihadists like the group Jabhat Al-Nusra. The jihadists fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army have the much different objective of establishing a theocratic Islamist government, whereas the FSA's objectives are more along the lines of establishing a democratic and accountable secular government.

"Academic studies show empirically that civil resistance is more effective than armed resistance," Day told me in a Skype interview from Madrid. "But it's difficult to expect people to adhere to these ivory tower principles, even if in the long-term it will be more effective, when they are being attacked and need to defend to their families."

Erica Chenoweth, an International Studies professor at the University of Denver, is author of the book "Why Civil Resistance Works." In a February 2012 presentation at Dartmouth College, she explained how she was originally skeptical that nonviolence could accomplish major political goals, and decided to place very strict limits on which nonviolent campaigns she would credit with achieving major political goals. Chenoweth focused only on campaigns where there were more than 1,000 active participants using a majority of nonviolent tactics like boycotts, strikes, and street demonstrations over a small period of time. She also studied only nonviolent campaigns that were focused on achieving extremely difficult goals like regime change, removing an occupying military force, or seceding territory.

Chenoweth found that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent campaigns were twice as effective as violent campaigns, and that in that time period, nonviolence became an increasingly effective strategy for achieving major victories, whereas violence became increasingly ineffective. Chenoweth's research on violent campaigns found that their strategy was limited to simply getting as many people with as many weapons as possible and challenging the state head-on through either direct warfare or guerrilla tactics like sabotage and assassinations. Chenoweth's research found that for a violent campaign to be effective at either ousting a regime or removing an occupying military force, it had to wage a long-term struggle against the state with the aforementioned tactics to corrode the state's ability to assert power over the people, and it had to sustain its efforts over a long period of time. Because the state has a monopoly on violence, with more resources at its disposal, those violent campaigns had a very small rate of success.

However, Chenoweth discovered that nonviolent campaigns, with the various tactics at their disposal, were much more successful. They could attact a vast multitude of diverse people, and so were able to sustain a long campaign aimed at accomplishing specific strategic goals. Nonviolence succeeded where violence didn't: the OTPOR movement's ousting of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia; the Arab Spring's ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia. A nonviolent campaign can use leverage to remove all pillars of support for an oppressive regime or an occupying military force.

Anna Day says her reporting in Syria has forced her to re-evaluate her anti-war positions after seeing firsthand the brutality of the Assad regime and the indifference of Western governments who could have made a significant difference had they intervened a few years ago.

"We certainly have the economic leverage with Russia between the US and the EU to demand that Russia bring Assad to the table," Day said. "A political solution doesn't guarantee stability in the form of a US-installed government or a US-friendly dictator so we never threw our weight behind the UN and Arab League's efforts."

In the wake of a Senate panel voting this week in favor of bombing Syria, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) plans to vote NO when the bill comes up in the House. He says the only appropriate action for Syria's internal civil war should be done in accordance with the international community.

"We keep saying that 98% of the people in the world live in a country that signed an international treaty on chemical weapons," Rep. Pocan said in an interview outside the Wisconsin state capitol. "But we forget to say that in that same treaty, the remedy is to go the U.N. I hope we still consider that moving forward."

Regardless of whether or not the US chooses to intervene with either humanitarian aid or airstrikes, Anna Day says that the Assad regime is likely to win out against the violent campaign to oust him. She says she's troubled by the Obama administration's unilateral plans for intervention, and other plans that have been discussed to arm rebels with more sophisticated weaponry.

"Assad controls most of the country and won back major key swaths in August, so this notion that he doesn't have legitimacy anywhere simply isn't true," Day said. "It's debatable if the rebels – not the cause of the Revolution, but the rag-tag leadership of the armed resistance – have any legitimacy at all, even among anti-Assad civilian elements."

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+35 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-09-06 11:35
Interesting that we "will protect civilians" in Syria. Yet, Holder said when U.S. citizens got wiped out by the banks, subprime mortgage scandal, the bankers were "too big to jail."
+8 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-09-06 20:20
One explanation: Wall St. is bigger than Syria.
+4 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-09-06 23:12
I really liked Obama, "first time around." Started doing some really great ideas like cleaning up the health mobster industry. That will keep lots of Americans healthy and we can better compete in the global economy with healthy workers. And, so many Americans will not have to declare bankruptcy because health mobster companies will not be able to kick them off their rolls for claiming legit. treatments. Not to mention being able to get insurance with a pre-existing condition(s.) Unfortunately, he let himself get sucked into the military/indust rial complex. So sad for all of us.
+13 # Activista 2013-09-06 12:39
Carl, hope that you will have a chance to analyze and comment on view/facts opposite to yours:
before this conflict started we were happy and had a good life (there is free education, free healthcare, subsidies for fuel, in Syria ,) and now we live in poverty”. Her daughter and son-in-law (a pharmacist and engineer) standing on a cement floor in a Palestinian refugee camp, with not even a mattress, told us that this violence had erupted to everyone surprise’s and spread so quickly they were all still in shock, but when well armed, foreign fighters came to Homs, they took over their homes, raped their women, and killed young males who refused to join their ranks, so the people fled in terror. ..continued
much more in this link
+11 # MendoChuck 2013-09-06 13:06
Thanks Eldon . . .
Couldn't have said it better myself.

One wonders who will be making the money when Obama goes into Syria . . . You can be sure there will be money made by someone!
+11 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2013-09-06 14:22
The military/indust rial complex will be laughing all the way to the bank. Bush/Cheney must have laughed like crazy when they "pulled off" the big lie to Americans and got Americans to believe rather than think. Colin Powell knew he was "duped" but he lost his courage to speak the truth.
+7 # Even 2013-09-06 14:51
Raytheon stock rose considerably last week.They make Tomahawk missiles.
+15 # L H 2013-09-06 13:14
But you didn't factor in the paid "rebels" coming from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, on salary from Prince Bandar Bush. And you didn't discuss Saudi Arabia supplying the chemical weapons without rebels knowing what they were. So, whose revolution is this anyway? Isn't it multiple countries vying for control of the region? Where is that discussion?
+10 # angelfish 2013-09-06 13:34
Curious to know where the World has been for the previous Millennia? Middle Eastern States have been butchering, sexually assaulting, enslaving and horrifying their own populaces since they first crawled out of the Swamp. WHY all the outrage over their use of chemicals? They cut off hands, feet, heads, ad infiniti, with impunity. Why is everyone so upset about their savagery NOW? We are the Authors of our OWN misfortune having backed regimes like the Shah's and other No-Good-niks' to serve OUR purposes, creating the fanatical Nut-Jobs that are out to return the Middle East to the 10th Century. Our hands are almost as dirty as theirs when it comes to man's inhumanity to man. WHEN will we learn to settle things peaceably? We can't reason with the Fanatics and shouldn't bother to try. Whoever we arm will turn the guns back on us. The President is caught between a rock and hard spot. Let the International Community deal with it. It is NOT our fight!
+3 # Even 2013-09-06 14:53
The people of the Middle East (Arabs, Jews and Persians) are bloodthirsty creeps but the rest of us aren't?
+2 # angelfish 2013-09-06 16:58
Even, Did you READ what I wrote? "Our hands are almost as dirty as theirs when it comes to man's inhumanity to man". NO ONE is blameless here, however, this is NOT our fight and we should stay OUT of it!
+2 # hutchr 2013-09-06 13:42
The "International Community" and American international interventionist s have been too present already. Why don't we just let them fight it out themselves. I believe that all peoples have the right and duty to rebel against a government that they feel is repressive and that includes with armed revolution. At the same time, I think that it is absurd to think that the government in power is not going to kill and get rid of as many rebels as it can. rebels shouldn't be surprised if they get killed. They also can't start a fight and then expect some "big brother" to come in and protect them against reprisals. Both the American war of Independence and the Civil War were essentially fought by Americans with the help of some other countries, but the main fighting was done by the people directly involved in the problem. Hands off Syria and let them fight it out as they want to or have the will to. Also any interventions in the American wars were done by much more symmetrical means than what the USA holds over the Syrian government.
+4 # Even 2013-09-06 14:56
That's fine except that the Western governments have been involved for months and have caused the situation to worsen by supplying arms.So "let them fight it out themselves" is no longer a possibility.
+5 # mojowork_n 2013-09-06 14:08
FWIW, I don't have the links but I know that I've read that both Wikileaks and the Wall Street Journal have published reports showing that the U.S. paid salaries and paid for arms and supplies for the rebels. To me that just shows the level of duplicity of our government. They're trying to act like they want to help victims of violence but they're paying bills to keep it going.

Report from another journalist with rebels in Turkey:

and a really good look at the longer record, today:
+12 # janie1893 2013-09-06 15:26
Has it occurred to anyone that what we are seeing in Syria, is a preview of what is going to occur here when the citizenry becomes totally against the machinations of the military/indust rial complex?
+2 # listentome 2013-09-06 17:23
Gibson's response is the US and rebels' stance at a time when we may start a 3rd world war. How utterly irresponsible. Glad someone keeps up with the news of rebel backing and destabilization techniques. Although Syria was a semi-socialist country like Iraq as well with many free basic services including aspects of education and secular system (Assad is a doctor), we take the side of
the rebel. Well maybe it is just the rebel within us that should be used for greater purposes than backing military-indust ry of the west. We know not what we do. Big money has been trying to overthrow Damascus for many many years.
Stakes are even higher today as we all know. Gibson's sources are non-convincing
and he has a suspect motive for vilifying Syrian government, horrendous as the record is in that country.
+9 # Kathymoi 2013-09-06 18:02
I feel strong negative reaction when I hear Obama say anything about protecting democracy in another country. He hasn't shown any interest in protecting democracy in the United States.
+2 # m... 2013-09-06 19:48
''"Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." – JFK''

One has to wonder if the man felt to share this enlightened insight after peering into the future through a crystal ball that broadcasted warnings of America's future in acronymic terms such as--- NDAA.., NSA.., FISA.., and so on...

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.