Mark Krikorian makes a distinction that is too often ignored.
Here’s the key point in a profile of Gene Sharp, who has written extensively on how to resist tyrants:
Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”
This is precisely why non-violent protest can work against some regimes but not others. Those regimes whose armed supporters are willing to kill peaceful protesters survive this kind of resistance just fine; those without the nerve to kill people wholesale end up retiring to Saudi Arabia, if they’re lucky. That’s why the ChiComs and the mullahs are still in charge, and why we’re not seeing a lot of “people power” in Syria. Now, a regime can continue for a long time after it has lost the will to kill, simply out of inertia — it takes a serious and sustained non-violent challenge to force it to confront the choice between mass slaughter and surrender. But once you force the question, as the Egyptian protesters did (and as the peoples of the former Soviet empire did 1988-1991), they’re finished.
This is why Gandhi and Martin Luther King were successful — not because of the power of pacifism as an ideology but because they were dealing with opposition that was simply too civilized to kill on the scale necessary to defeat them, even though such killing would have been quite easy to accomplish.
That is the salient point about Gandhi's vaunted pacifism, the Brits, even at the colonial fringes were simply not willing to slaughter the vast number of Indians that Gandhi was willing to march at them. That is hardly a recipe for success many other places. As Krikorian points out preaching pacifism at Hitler or Stalin is actually immoral as there would have been no chance to actually win. The sole result would have been saving the Nazis and Soviets the trouble of rounding people up. They were already quite adept at the killing them part.
Krikorian makes the point that pacifism in the face of an intractably evil enemy is actually immoral. I could not agree more. Equally immoral is pacifism under the protection of someone else's militarism. Living as a pacifist in America is absurd and while perfectly legal it is hardly a brave moral stand. If you want to be a morally proud pacifist go do so in the Mullah's Iran; they stack pacifist's like cord wood there. But the question then becomes, can the Green movement in Iran, or others in regimes that use violence, succeed using non-violence? Well it didn't go so well when they tried in 2009. They put up a brave stand, but in the end the Mullahs and their armed thugs deployed enough force to crush the rebellion. Then they began systematic state suppression, torture, rape and murder of many of the leaders of the revolt. They left a pretty good mark, and it kept them down for quite a while.
Now the examples of Tunisia and Egypt have shined a light on some pretty dark parts of the world as far as freedom is concerned. There are revolts of some sort going on all over the Middle East and there are varying degrees of state violence in response. But there could easily come a tipping point where either the states ratchet up the oppression or they find it strategically non-viable to do so and accept some sort of liberalization. Well Huzzah! Every time that happens we have an opportunity to make new friends and potentially allies. We must have a compelling narrative to oppose that of the Islamists and supporting their push for freedom and a chance at prosperity is a damn good place to start.
We completely missed the boat in Egypt as Obama and his near-criminally incompetent national security team chased the People's Royal Barge up the Nile in a chickenwire canoe, swinging a football bat and wearing bowling cleats. We need to have a national policy that allows us the flexibility to support national sovereignty movements and finally give up on the Realpolitik of supporting the least heinous of the bastards in a particular region. Isn't that the perfect job for our moral superiors on the left? Shouldn't they jump at the chance to community organize actual oppressed people, instead of working the faux victim racket here at home? Let's give them the chance. That is why there is a USAID, a State Department and hordes of NGOs and other agencies. Let's decide to actually mean what we say about all men being created equal and endowed with certain rights. That would require a way to support non-violent means of resistance, but it should also come with a reminder that we don't cotton to those who slaughter non-violent protesters.
It never hurts to be on the side of freedom & liberty in a war of ideas against submission and oppression.