The president, asked what advice he'd give to protesters in the Middle East, said this:
The history of successful transitions to democracy have generally been ones in which peaceful protests led to dialogue, led to discussion, led to reform, and ultimately led to democracy.
And that's true in countries like Eastern Europe. That was also true in countries like Indonesia, a majority Muslim country that went through some of these similar transitions but didn't end up doing it in such a chaotic fashion that it ended up dividing the societies fundamentally.
This is a highly selective reading of history. The successful transition to democracy in America, for example, involved both the American Revolution and the Civil War. In Germany, it involved World War II. In Israel, it involved extensive arms smuggling operations and the bombing of the King David Hotel. In the Cold War, it involved not only peaceful protests in Eastern Europe but a lot of NATO nuclear weapons aimed at the Soviet Union. So while peace and nonviolence are great and usually better than the alternatives, especially when they work, and it's great that the president is in favor of them, not every dictator will yield to peaceful protests or respond to them with offers of dialogue and discussion. Think Tiananmen Square. Think the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
I realize this point is a bit far afield from the usual topics around here, but I sometimes detect a certain naivete or hard-left doctrine about the president's foreign policy that goes hand in hand with his approach on domestic policy. If a person is under the illusion that the world's most brutal and evil dictators are waiting to respond to peaceful protests with dialogue, discussion, and reform, that person is probably also under the illusion that the American economy would be vastly improved if the government would just spend enough money on windmills and high speed rail while raising taxes on the millionaires and billionaires who are campaigning to cut spending on infant formula for the poor. It's all part of the same ideology.