Monday, December 31, 2012

January Excerpt: An Interview With Stephen Zunes by Emanuel Stoakes

US Politics and Foreign Policy: An Interview With Stephen Zunes
Emanuel Stoakes
PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller, US Air Force

Given that this is the first issue of Empirical in 2013 and the human race has survived yet another turbulent year (despite the predictions of Mayan calendar enthusiasts and others), it may be appropriate to take stock in some way, in keeping with the ancient traditions of New Year festivals across the world.

During the Jewish High Holy Days, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is traditionally a time in which observant Jews are obliged to engage in sustained reflection on what’s been and resolve to do things better in the future. Other major cultural festivals such as Nowruz in Iran, Seol-Nal in Korea, and the Chaitra in the Hindu tradition, among many others, encourage varying degrees of contemplation and self searching amidst celebration of the year’s renewal.

With this in mind (albeit with a political focus), Empirical magazine caught up with the estimable San Francisco Bay Area scholar Stephen Zunes to discuss a cluster of controversial, sobering, and thoughtprovoking issues linked to the past and present actions of the government of the United States at home and abroad. Professor Zunes is Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, and is considered one of America’s leading scholars on US foreign policy, in particular Middle Eastern policy.

Professor Zunes has produced many widely read articles on Middle Eastern politics, US foreign policy, international terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, strategic nonviolent action, and human rights. He also spent many hours reading internal government documents in the national archives, as well as travelling extensively throughout west Asia and meeting key political actors in the region. I began by asking him about perhaps the most explosive issue of the last decade–the Iraq war.

Emanuel: What’s your opinion of the case that was made for the Iraq war? And what influence do you think that Project for the New American Century and its neoconservative membership had on how things turned out? [PNAC were an influential right-wing think tank during the 90s and 2000s who advocated “a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.” Supporters of the Iraq war, many PNAC members were part of the Bush administration.]

Stephen Zunes: They were a strong intellectual force behind it, in their intellectual rationalization, and a series of events, including 9/11, helped make it possible, along with some more traditional conservatives and the Christian evangelicals, and so on. So, it was a tragic confluence of various ideological and strategic tendencies, and they were certainly a major piece of it. I think a lot of people overplay their role in a sense especially the Zionist connection. If you read that famous memo from 1996, it’s more along the lines of what Israel can do for the US, than what the US can do for Israel. While I’ve certainly been attacked quite viciously by various Zionist groups, I’ve generally been one of those who has argued that the whole Israeli lobby angle is overstated, and so I agree with Noam Chomsky on this point. The invasion had a lot more to do with a broader hegemonic priorities than any one special interest group. I think what PNAC and those guys really were talking about was an idea–in many ways it is not a new idea–but by their very name, it goes back to that post-World War II period, when there really was that sense that the United States could reshape the world in our image. And again, it goes back in some ways to the Puritans. So in that sense I think they were able to capitalize on that part of American culture, by appealing to those that would be susceptible to that sort of thinking.

If you would like to read more of this interview in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

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