MICHAEL LEDEEN: Misery Doesn’t Cause Revolution.
Misery doesn’t cause revolution, whatever you may have been taught. Not in Venezuela, not in Iran, not in North Korea. Certainly the citizens in those countries are miserable, but I don’t think that revolution is about to erupt in any of them. I think that politics is an independent variable, not, as the Marxists would believe, the outcome of certain social conditions. Its causes are spiritual, not material. I think that revolution is an act of hope, not a last, desperate throw of the dice. The revolutionaries think they can change the world, and they think—nowadays, at least—that powerful forces are working on their side. Modern jihadis think Allah is fighting alongside them, for example, while Soviet dissidents believed democracy was a global force aimed at tyrants. Most Iranians believe that nothing of great import ever happens without the involvement of the Dark Forces (CIA and the Queen of England above all). Etcetera.
So it’s political. It’s not the economy, stupid. Ergo, sanctions are not going to do it (mind you, I’m all for sanctions, especially the sort that directly target the tyrants, but that’s because of their political effect). If you want regime change, your main weapons will be political. Above all, you’ve got to support the regime’s enemies and you’ve got to call for a new government and a new system.
In addition to Ledeen’s suggestion, we have unprecedented tools — cyber, institutional, popular culture — for making life very difficult for tinpot dictators. What we’ve lacked is political leadership with the will and imagination to use them.