Posted by: lcowie | September 26, 2008

Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes returns to Elon with a case of the ‘I told you so’s’

Reprises and revamps ‘U.S. policy in Iraq and the Middle East’ lecture

by Lesley Cowie

During his second trip to Elon, Stephen Zunes discusses his current ideas about foreign policy and what the next administration should work on.

Discussing his current ideas about foreign policy, Stephen Zunes presents more insight into Iraq and the Middle East.

With the intensity of the presidential elections well under way, the theme of the Iraq war continues to reverberate in the heads of voters. University of San Francisco professor Stephen Zunes returned to Elon Wednesday night to speak to students and faculty about the foreign policies concerning Iraq and the Middle East. After six years, Zunes happily returned to his home state of North Carolina and to Elon students with a jokingly boastful message: “I told you so.”

Zunes’ last visit to Elon was in 2002, some months before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. At that time, he said, I raised several concerns about the prospect of a U.S. invasion. After interviewing the former chief of weapons inspector, Zunes said, I really didn’t see Iraq as much of a threat.

He went on to say that he had pointed out claims of absolutely no evidence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. I knew the drain on national sources and the financial costs would be enormous and that we would lose our standing in credibility, he said.

“I regret to say that I was right,” Zunes said. “That is exactly what happened. At the time, there were some folks who agreed with me and some folks who did not….It’s disappointing, though unfortunately not surprising, that here I am in the same spot talking about the U.S. war in Iraq.”

According to Zunes, the U.S. opened itself up to trouble by refusing to understand the rest of the world. Those who were planning the war, Zunes said, virtually knew nothing about the Iraqi society, even the basic questions about demographics were unknown. Rather than continuing to point a finger at the current administration, Zunes changed focus and set his thoughts on present-day foreign policy.

“The next president needs to recognize that Israeli and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive,” Zunes said.

Zunes, who had thought he understood U.S. foreign policy in 2002, now says he is not clear about what U.S. policy should be.

Students lined up in both aisles of Whitley Auditorium to ask Zunes questions about Iraq, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.

Students lined up in both aisles of Whitley Auditorium to ask Zunes questions about Iraq, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.

Considering the turmoil in Iraq, Zunes questioned the intentions and reasoning of the 2008 presidential candidates. Why, he asked, do so many people want to be president when there are so many obstacles right now? The next administration, Zunes said, has a lot to deal with.

Zunes believes that one of the biggest issues that America faces is its damaged reputation. Aside from the fact that there is a scary, real, and threatening force that wants to kill us, he said, America’s standing is much worse than it was. According to Zunes, the U.S. used to be a humanitarian country, the country that all others would turn to for help. Now, he said, other countries can solve their problems without coming to us.

“We are supposed to be a model for the free world, but that is slowly deteriorating,” Zunes said. “Regime change happens through the people, non-violent activists. It doesn’t happen through invasion and occupation. The way in which democracy was formed in some countries involved a coalition interested in creating democracy in the country, through non-violent acts. Iraq is not the model for the way to create a democratic form of government.”

Zunes also highlighted the fact that American freedoms have been negatively connoted by citizens in the Middle East. Everybody thinks that the Middle Easterners hate us because of our freedoms, Zunes said. However, the sentiments of the Middle East were that of love and respect for Americans. Essentially, Zunes noted, the U.S. caused the Middle Easterners to change their feelings.

We invaded their territory, Zunes said. And the worst part, he conceded, is that our reason for being in Iraq keeps changing.

“Weapons of mass destruction were the first reason,” he said. “Then it was to remove [Saddam] Hussein. Then it turned to al-Qaeda connections. Then we couldn’t leave because things got worse and, ironically, couldn’t leave though things got better.”

Although Zunes was anticipating the U.S. invasion of Iraq, few people could have predicted the contradictions of the invasion and of U.S. foreign policy.

Although Zunes was anticipating the U.S. invasion of Iraq, few people could have predicted the contradictions of the invasion and of U.S. foreign policy.

Zunes described North Korea’s interactions with the U.S. as a way of demonstrating another irony. He pointed out that North Korea still retains its government despite not allowing the U.N. to look for nuclear weapons. Iraq, on the other hand, allowed the U.N. to look for WMDs but was invaded and had its government overthrown.

“The vast majority of Iraqis want Americans out [of their country],” said Zunes. “Sunnis and Shiites think it is necessary to attack American troops because they are trying to express their disapproval of our involvement in their country. It is a messy situation that is nowhere near resolution. Things could get worse if we withdrawal from Iraq, and it will get worse if we stay there.”

Continuing to illustrate the ironies, Zunes discussed the democratic presidential candidates. These Democrats, he said, support increasing funds for weaponry, but there are already too many weapons in the Middle East. Zunes went on to say that the number one export in the U.S. is weapons, especially to the Middle East.

At this stage in the war, Zunes could offer few suggestions for the future. It has already been such a complicated mess, he said, that it is hard to predict how things will change and develop. Zunes tried to offer what he believed were the most logical suggestions, and then opened the floor up to questions.

For more information on Dr. Stephen Zunes, please visit his website here.

Zunes discusses why so many people credit the recent troop surge with declining levels of violence in Iraq (above).

One Elon student asked Zunes to compare and contrast the Iraq war to the Vietnam war (above).

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