The dictator slayer

By ADAM REILLY  |  December 5, 2007

Furthermore, the portrayal of Sharp as a crypto-imperialist just doesn’t jibe with his own biography. After getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State, for example, he refused to serve in the Korean War, and did a prison stint in Connecticut as a result. After getting out, he spent a year and a half as an assistant to A.J. Muste, the pacifist labor and anti-war activist. And, notes USF’s Zunes, a number of former Sharp protégés have become vocal critics of America’s conduct abroad. “If it weren’t for the fact that some people actually believe it,” says Zunes of the notion that Sharp is a surrogate for the US government, “it’d be laughable.”

All these protestations probably won’t convince Sharp’s critics, for whom American wickedness is something of an article of faith. (Meyssan, for example, is the author of 9/11: The Big Lie, which argues that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the US military-industrial complex.)

What’s more, even if Sharp’s detractors accepted all the aforementioned points, they could still seize on his connection with Robert Helvey, a former Army colonel who served as military attaché in Rangoon (now Yangon) during the 1980s. As Sharp tells it, Helvey had something of an epiphany when he first encountered Sharp’s work on nonviolent struggle at Harvard in the mid 1980s. “He came to one of the seminars I gave,” says Sharp. “Then he came to my office; he wanted to do reading on this. He came back and took books; he came back and took more. I guess I got him very confused, and he hasn’t been the same since.” Helvey subsequently worked to disseminate Sharp’s insights — and his own, captured in a book titled On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals — to opposition groups from around the globe; from 2003 to 2005, he served as the AEI’s president. (Helvey didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article; according to Sharp, Helvey’s departure from the AEI was amicable.)

Here’s where things get tricky. To reiterate: Sharp makes a point of noting that the AEI has never received US government funding. But when Helvey conducted a workshop for opponents of the Serbian regime in Budapest in 2000 — at which he discussed Sharp’s research — his funding came from the International Republican Institute (IRI), a pro-democracy, pro-free-markets organization that was founded in the Reagan era to oppose Communism. The IRI, in turn, is bankrolled by the US government; its board of directors is currently chaired by Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. Helvey also participated in discussions of nonviolent regime change prior to the second Iraq War that were funded by, among others, Freedom House — an organization that receives federal funding and that has been criticized by Noam Chomsky and others on the left.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. If you’re on the far left — or, for that matter, on the isolationist far right — you’d find cause for great concern in the shared financial ties and political goals on the part of Helvey and the AEI on the one hand, and the US government and its surrogates on the other. The Clinton administration wanted to oust Milošević, and Sharp’s ideas helped this happen; the Bush administration wanted to oust Saddam Hussein, and Helvey worked toward the same goal, albeit unsuccessfully. So the whole bunch must be in cahoots.

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