A Reply to Stephen Zunes

Does Stephen Zunes "really support 'massive American violence' and interventionism"?

Although everything about this question is a Zunes concoction, Zunes posed it at the outset of his July 1 "reply to David Peterson's defamatory attacks against me in his June 30 blog."  The implication, of course, is that David Peterson stated that….  Hence, too, that the outraged tone Zunes maintains in his "reply" is justified. 


But as with the rest of the phrasing that Zunes employs — "David Peterson must know full well," "Peterson should know," "Peterson should also know," and "Peterson should also realize" — all of this is strictly rhetorical.  Also misleading — presumably, deliberately so.  If this Peterson fellow should know X (where X stands-for those things that Stephen Zunes wants others to know), then why doesn't he? 


Nor was July 1 the first time that Zunes circulated this particular concoction.  On June 30, in one his regular forwards to his email list, Zunes warned that a "blog on ZNet this morning accuses me of supporting 'massive American violence, and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran', despite the fact I have always categorically opposed such intervention.  I hope each of you will take the time to write into the various web sites and blogs making such accusations, not just to defend me and my colleagues, but to defend the Iranians who very much on their own accord — and not unlike the people on the streets today in Tegucigalpa, Honduras — have chosen to protest what they consider to be an illegitimate regime."


Lumping the people on the streets in post-Zelaya Honduras (there's one regime-change that I'll bet sticks longer-term: See EG and AC) with the "Iranians who very much on their own accord…have chosen to protest what they consider to be an illegitimate regime" was a clever tactic.  Even if Zunes' plea to his listserve to defend him and his "colleagues" was a pretty sad display.


But when I first caught Zunes' use of those 12 words that he attributed to a "blog on ZNet," I had to do a double-take.  Although I recognized the words as mine, I knew that I hadn't accused Zunes of supporting massive American violence and interventionism.  As a matter of fact, I knew that I had done nothing of the kind.

So, as I'm not about to let Zunes define what I did and did not say, much less let him define the streets of Iran, let's straighten-out what we can straighten-out, and separate fact from Zunes' concoctions. 





On June 28, Zunes criticized Truthout contributor Steve Weissman for misrepresenting ("so highly selective as to be misleading," in Zunes words) an op-ed by Peter Ackerman and Ramin Ahmadi that had been published in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune back on January 4-5, 2006.  Zunes added that Weissman


did not provide a link to it in his article, but if you actually read the original op-ed, you'll find that it actually comes out against "external intervention." While it calls on governments to try to pressure the Iranian regime to stop oppressing its people, it says that only NGOs should be involved with actively supporting Iranian civil society groups. The op-ed also stresses that these NGOS should only provide support for what the Iranians are already doing, as opposed to providing them direction or strategic advice. This is no different than what women's groups, environmental groups, human rights organizations, trade unions, and other groups are doing in support for their counterparts in countries all around the world. Yet, Weissman makes it sound like it's some kind of conspiracy.

Given Weissman's oversight, and the added fact that Zunes himself did not provide the missing link to the disputed January '06 op-ed, I went and found a copy of the op-ed ("Iran's future? Watch the streets").  I read it.  And I saw immediately that Weissman hadn't misrepresented this op-ed at all — it was every bit as vile as Weissman said it was, and worse in some ways that Weissman didn't touch on. 

Revealingly, this showed that it was Zunes who misrepresented the op-ed, in a response posted to Truthout wherein Zunes had the balls to criticize Weissman for misrepresenting both the op-ed and the work of Peter Ackerman and his International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which Ackerman founded and chairs, and where Zunes says that he himself serves as the chair of its committee of academic advisers.  (Try to find this committee on the ICNC's website some time.  I know I can't.)

Now.  Recall those 12 words from above, where Zunes warned that someone at ZNet was accusing him of supporting "massive American violence, and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran."

Quite the contrary. — I very clearly had written ("Non-Violence 101"):

American preachers of nonviolence (presuming for the sake of argument that I can count Ramin Ahmadi as an American) who look at the violence of the human world, then look at the Middle East, and who conclude that the "international community" is not doing enough — in Iran?  Come again?  And Zunes, who by now uses forms of the word 'nonviolence' at least as often as anyone you can name, still expects non-gullible readers to buy these evasions of massive American violence, and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran? 

Here, it is Ackerman and Ahmadi's January 4-5, 2006 op-ed to which I was referring — adding that Zunes (who was defending Ackerman – Ahmadi against Steve Weissman) "expects non-gullible readers to buy these [i.e., Ackerman - Ahmadi's] evasions of massive American violence [i.e., in Iraq and elsewhere], and diversions onto the state of affairs inside Iran." 





There is a categorical difference between (a) massive American violence and (b) interventionism (i.e., forms of foreign intervention and interference).  But there is also considerable overlap, and the line separating them is hardly clear and distinct. 


Now.  I know that John R. Bolton (to name a lovely case) supports both massive American violence and military interventionism (as well as  massive Israeli violence and military interventionism).  I know that Stephen Zunes on the other hand does not support massive American violence.  (Nor have I asserted otherwise.)  I also know that Zunes protests against U.S. interventionism, and that Zunes supports what he characterizes as "home-grown," "pro-democracy" movements that employ "nonviolent" tactics aimed at toppling "repressive" regimes across multiple theaters of conflict that have included the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2000), the Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), and Iran (2009), among others.

Last, I know that in every one of these four cases, Zunes' claims about the "home-grownness" of the "pro-democracy" movements, and of the moral imperative for "progressives" in the West to support them, are a mixture of truth and falsity.  That is, Zunes downplays important truths about the contemporaneous role of American Power and interventionism. (Though he's always willing to show where it had a proven impact in the past.)  More important, Zunes exaggerates the role of an allegedly emerging kind of collective, "nonviolent" revolutionary subject that he'd like us to believe is indigenous to each of these theaters, that arouses and organizes itself under certain circumstances, and that slowly but surely is taking control over the fate of its countries — even though these countries also happen to be on Washington's regime-change list, which in case after case, Zunes denies has any influence at all.    


Just sticking to Iran: Zunes (who is far from alone in this) can protest all he likes about the current lack of hard evidence for a 1953-style, CIA-engineered effort to destabilize the Islamic Republic and to send the clerics packing for Qom.  If what is demanded here by way of evidence is something as authoritative as Donald Wilber's 1954, first-person account of the CIA's overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, I'm afraid this sets the evidentiary bar too high for the moment.  In the 21st Century, I don't believe that the mechanics of subversion are the same as they were 50 years ago.  Besides, Wilber's account wasn't made public until 46 years later. 


But though I'm not buying Zunes' protest, the larger truth about foreign interference in the lives of Iran's 70 million people remains the massive American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, the ubiquitous American military presence around Iran's borders, the constant threats of attack by the United States and Israel (reiterated in recent days – see R and AP), Washington's use of the International Atomic Energy Agency dating back to 2003 to harass Iran over its legal and NPT-compliant nuclear program, and the series of economic and political sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States, by its allies, and by the Security Council — all of these add-up to massive "external interventions" by the United States (et al.) in the lives of Iranians.


Given this history, it is dishonest to pretend that the major events occurring inside Iran in recent weeks, such as the large voter turnout for the June 12 presidential election, the political struggles among rival factions of Iran's ruling elite, and the mass demonstrations in Iran's largest cities since June 12, are uninfluenced by it.  (For two astute commentaries on this, see "The Iranian Election and the Revolution Test,"  Stratfor, June 22; and "The Real Struggle in Iran and Implications for U.S. Dialogue," Stratfor, June 29.)  In fact, I'd wager that the more significant these struggles around the meaning of the 12th of June turn out to be for Iran's future, the more that they've been influenced by external factors.  To contend otherwise is as outrageous as it would be to contend that the several-hundred-thousands of Iraqis who died during the "sanctions of mass destruction" era (1990-2003) died as the result, not of the impact that the U.S.-U.K. sanctions had on life inside Iraq, but of something indigenous to life inside Iraq, uninfluenced by the sanctions.  In both cases, this would be and is ridiculous.





How delightful that the January 4-5, 2006 Ackerman – Ahmadi op-ed turned-up at the website of the National Council of Resistance of Iran within 24 hours of its publication in the NYT and IHT!  (See "Iran's future? Watch the streets.")
But, look.  The clear lesson here (and what Zunes should also know) is not that as the
Mujahedin-e Khalq engages in terrorist activities, and as NCRI posted the op-ed to its website, this means that Ackerman and Ahmadi "support the MEK" or "support terrorism."  Any more than the lesson here is that as the NCRI posted the op-ed to its website, this means that the MEK – NCRI have renounced violence for "nonviolent conflict" à la that which is available at one of the ICNC's training sessions.  Give me a break.


Rather, the lesson for us here is that the MEK – NCRI, an organization that clearly has ties to the U.S. Government, and that exists for the sake of overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran, read the op-ed, liked what it read, and posted it. — From this, are we to conclude that the MEK – NCRI thought that the op-ed argued a case antithetical to their goals, or aligned with their goals?  (Remember: The key word here is 'goals'.  Not 'means'.)  Or, to pose the same question in the form of a multiple-choice question: Do you suppose that MEK – NCRI posted the op-ed to its website because the op-ed advocated regime-change in (a) Camp Ashraf, (b) the United States of America, (c) the Islamic Republic of Iran, or (d) none of the above?



Unlike others, I do not drape myself in the philosophy of nonviolence.  (Though I certainly believe it.)  But to deny that the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict has pursued an agenda that deviates from this philosophy, and that, in turn, is deeply political, I find preposterous. 


To return to a point I made last time: Assume that you are a U.S. citizen, and a wealthy one at that.  Assume also that you advocate "nonviolent conflict" as a means of affecting change.  Looking at the human world in 1990, in 2000, or in 2009, or any year in-between, how could you fail to conclude that, among the perpetrators of violence that warranted your attention, there was one perpetrator above all that you should attend to, one regime requiring your efforts to change it, and change it radically, and no close-second – the United States of America, whose "Empire of Bases" encompass the world's "garrisoned lands," and all of the peoples forced to live under its threats and uses of force (including Iranians)?


How could the Washington D.C. – based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict fail to understand this — unless, that is, the ICNC advocates a philosophy of nonviolence with one-half of its institutional brain, while the other half runs the Stars 'n Stripes up its flag pole, and reads  the map of the world from the point of view of American Power, according to whether a foreign regime is a "friend" or a "foe"? 

Doesn't anybody remember how the ICNC used to enlist the documentary, Bringing Down a Dictator (Steve York, 2002), which falsified the decade-long dismantling of Yugoslavia that lead to the October 2000 ouster of Slobodan Milosevic from Belgrade, in the cause of the "war against terrorism," after its President had "warned the governments of Iraq, Iran and North Korea not to make weapons of mass destruction available to terrorists"?  ("How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired," Peter Ackerman, National Catholic Reporter Online, April 26, 2002.) 

Or how ICNC's Peter Ackerman, then still serving on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House (which he later chaired from September 2005, through January 2009), joined his fellow Board members to issue a Statement on the morning after their President initiated the U.S. aggression against Iraq (an "outbreak of hostilities," in the Statement's words) expressing their "hope that the war effort American forces are now engaged in goes well and that Saddam Hussein's tyranny falls with minimal loss of life"?  ("Freedom House Statement on Iraq War," Press Release, March 20, 2003.)

And who couldn't smell something rotten afoot when, in the immediate aftermath of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, after the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq was up and running, Peter Ackerman and ICNC President Jack DuVall took to the pages of the July 22, 2003 Christian Science Monitor to argue that "Successful civilian-based struggle makes a country ungovernable through strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other nonviolent tactics — in addition to mass protests — crumbling a government's pillars of support."  But, rather than applying their lessons to the liberation of Iraqi territory from a foreign occupying power, they stated: "This is possible in Iran."  ("The nonviolent script for Iran.")

Notice how, with the violent U.S. military seizure of Iraq then in the books, these two U.S. – citizen advocates of "civilian-based, non-violent resistance for democracy, justice and human rights" turned their sights directly on Iran. — Nor will you find a single instance prior to March 19, 2003, when Ackerman – DuVall et al. advocated that what was then needed to prevent U.S. aggression against Iraq was "strategic resistance" by the people of the United States, unified behind clear political goals, backed by broader civilian participation, using tactics that divide the U.S. leadership and their military defenders.  Or that such indigenous, civilian-based resistance to the U.S. Government's looming crime against the peace was something that the rest of the world's democracies also should assist — much less something that the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict was eager to assist, mobilizing its legendary stock of films, books, instructional curricula, and "generic knowledge about nonviolent strategies and action."

And this despite the fact that, as of July 2003, there had been three times in the previous five years that the U.S. regime had committed crimes against the peace and massive violence: Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 (which the dishonest Ackerman – DuVall don't even mention as an external factor disrupting life inside the FRY), against Afghanistan in 2001, and, of course, against Iraq in 2003.

"Serbian dissidents [back in 2000] were given working capital — money for supplies, communications, and, most important, training in strategic nonviolent struggle," Ackerman – DuVall also noted, recalling the first of many U.S./NGO – supported regime-changes during this decade.  But although "Iranians have the resources," they lack the "know-how," Ackerman – DuVall asserted, cautioning that such know-how "should not come from the CIA or Defense Department, but rather from pro-democracy programs throughout the West." — Exactly the kind of service these cynical "nonviolent conflict" promoters established the ICNC to provide.

Or, on another front, how can I not scratch my head in utter disbelief when The Progressive's Amitabh Pal asked the Albert Einstein Institution's Gene Sharp (March, 2007 — the "most noted proponent of nonviolent action alive," Pal called him) whether Sharp thought a "nonviolent approach [might work] in the other countries that the Bush Administration is targeting, such as Iran," and Sharp replied:


People from different political positions are saying that that's the way we need to go.  And that kind of struggle broadly has important precedence in Iranian/Persian history, both in the 1906 democratic revolution and in the 1979 struggle against the Shah — all predominantly nonviolent forms of struggle.  If somebody doesn't decide to use military means, then it is very likely that there will be a peaceful national struggle there.


If asked a question about foreign countries that the United States might be targeting (after having just targeted Afghanistan and Iraq on monumental scales, please note well), surely most readers of ZNet would be sharp enough to know that the most appropriate theater for nonviolent action is inside the state making these threats, rather than inside the country being threatened by it.





The fact of the matter is that the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict is not marshalling its strategies of "nonviolent resistance" against the world's foremost purveyor of violence, and to a degree proportional to the task of bringing it to heel.  But the ICNC has shown a disturbing proclivity to make its strategies available to parties in countries where the regimes are targeted for isolation, sanction, destabilization, and change by the world's foremost purveyor of violence. — Is this contradiction not prima facie grounds for wondering what's really up at the ICNC?

What's more, I do not believe that Stephen Zunes' post-June 12 commentaries on events inside Iran are the product of an objective assessment of what is known right now about Iran and the United States.  (Again, see Stratfor, June 22 and June 29.)  Rather, I regard Zunes' writings on this topic to be highly partisan advocacy literature.  Zunes' purpose, it seems to me, is to shore-up support among his readers for The Opposition to the Islamic Republic, and, more important, to persuade them to buy a specific understanding of the 12th of June.  Zunes does this by portraying to his readers a romanticized character known as Iran's "pro-democracy" movement, using a language that he knows will connect with them on an emotional as much as an intellectual level — they are "nonviolent," "home-grown," "indigenous" — and by insisting that the U.S. Government keep its hands-off.  Zunes also uses a guilt-trip on his readers, such that if they want to prove their "leftist" and "progressives" bona fides, they will leap aboard the same bandwagon that Zunes is riding on.  If only the disparate elements of The Opposition aren't crushed by the repressive factions of the Islamic Republic aligned with Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  If only their cause is not betrayed by the pseudo-"progressives" in the West who keep worrying about the uses of "human rights," "humanitarianism," "democracy promotion," and "nonviolent conflict" to promote quite different objectives.

Well.  If to suggest that this portrayal of events inside Iran isn't accurate (but, to repeat my initial question on June 22: How can you tell?), and to argue that the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and the rest of the expanding nongovernmental, but nonetheless parallel, universe of American Power are anything but disinterested spectators results in the charge of "defamation" — so what?


It remains my opinion that no U.S. citizen – advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence would have spent the first decade of the 21st Century preaching the gospel to peoples in countries targeted by the regime in Washington.



"reply to David Peterson's defamatory attacks against me in his June 30 blog," Stephen Zunes, ZNet, July 1, 2009

International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (Homepage)

"The nonviolent script for Iran," Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003
"Iran's future? Watch the streets," Peter Ackerman and Ramin Ahmadi, New York Times - International Herald Tribune, January 4-5, 2006 (as posted to the website of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

Freedom House Statement on Iraq War, Peter Ackerman et al., March 20, 2003 

"Credit the Serbian People, Not NATO," Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, October, 2000 
Why Progressives Must Embrace the Ukrainian Pro-Democracy Movement," Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, December 1, 2004 
Crediting Bush for Growing Lebanese Demands for Freedom Misplaced," Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, March 22, 2005  

"The Iranian Uprising Is Homegrown, and Must Stay that Way," Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, June 20, 2009 
"Iran's Do-It-Yourself Revolution," Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, June 29, 2009

"Iran: Non-Violence 101," Steve Weissman, Truthout, June 21, 2009
A Response to Steve Weissman's 'Non-Violence 101'," Stephen Zunes, Truthout, June 29, 2009

"A Rainbow of Revolutions," The Economist, January 19, 2006 (as posted to the ICNC's website)

"Iran and the Americans," ZNet, June 22, 2009 
"Non-Violence 101," ZNet, June 30, 2009 

"A Reply to Stephen Zunes," ZNet, July 5, 2009


Update (July 5): On the website of the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi, the editor recently wondered


why hundreds of thousands of Iranians went out into the streets in such huge numbers, while their Arab counterparts do not do the same, even though Arab dictatorships are more oppressive and corrupt and the Iranian "dictatorship," a gentle lamb by comparison?



"In other words," the gentleman continued (though the June 29 original was posted in Arabic, I'm working from a BBC translation),



we see a velvet revolution in Iran under such headings as "vote-rigging" and irregularities, but we do not see the same happening in Arab countries, neither in those states where vote rigging has become the norm, nor in those states where there is no vote rigging simply because they have no election culture….



Instead, the "'velvet' revolutions only take place in countries whose regimes are not pro-Western, oppose U.S. hegemony, or are not in agreement with the U.S….Countries that revolve in the orbit of the United States and the West are immune to such 'velvet' revolutions regardless of the extent of oppression and corruption…."

The only time the Western media showed interest in protest demonstrations in the Arab world was in the so-called "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon [in March 2005]….The Western media showed interest in those demonstrations because they were against the Lebanese opposition led by Hezbollah; but they showed no interest in the "orange" counter-demonstrations.

We are not talking here about the election which the entire world agreed was fair and won by Hamas in [January 2006 in the Gaza Strip]. Yet the United States and its allies refused to recognize the results of those elections even though the colours of Hamas' flags are "green," like those raised by the reformists in Iran.  But of course there is a world of difference here: Hamas' "green flags" were against the United States, while the Iranian green flags were not….

("Arab Velvet Revolution — Why Not?" Abd-al-Bari Atwan, Al-Quds al-Arabi, June 29, 2009, as translated by BBC Monitoring Middle East, June 30, 2009.)

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