By Stephen Gowans
Wars have almost always been highly devastating affairs, with dire consequences in ruined and destroyed lives, as well as in the destruction of economies, farms, factories, housing and public infrastructure. While it cannot be said that all people at all times have considered wars to be best avoided, it is safe to say that the humanitarian case against war is overwhelming.
This essay is concerned, not with war in general, but with military interventions. To be sure, military interventions are often inseparable from wars, since they are often the causes of them. But not always. Some occur in the context of wars that are already underway. And some happen without provoking major resistance.
Today, on the left—and even the right—there are many activists who are committed to an anti-war position, but who are more properly said to oppose military intervention. Opposition to war implies, not only opposition to one country initiating a war against another (aggression), but also to using military means to repel an attack (self-defence.) Yet it is highly unlikely that people who say they are against war mean that they are against self-defence. It is more likely that they mean that a military response to a conflict must only occur for valid reasons, and that self-defence is the only valid one.
However, those who have adopted an anti-war position often stress other reasons for opposing military interventions. These include the ideas that:
• Democracy is senior to other considerations and that people should be allowed to resolve internal conflicts free from the meddling of outside forces.
• Institutions and ideologies cannot be successfully imposed on other people and interventions that seek to do so (e.g., bring democracy to another country) are bound to fail.
• International law is a legitimate basis for determining the validity of military interventions and countries ought to abide by it.
In this essay, the arguments will be made that: none of these principles are grounds to oppose military intervention; one of them is empirically insupportable as an absolute statement; the idea that military force ought to be used only in self-defence is indefensible; and that had these principles been adopted as inviolable, a number of interventions that are now widely regarded as progressive and desirable would never have occurred. A case will be made, instead, that some military interventions are valid and that validity depends on whose interests the intervention serves and whether the long-run effects are progressive. By these criteria, NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are not valid, while France’s intervention on the side of the United States in the American Revolution and the Union government’s intervention in the states of the Confederacy in the American Civil War were valid. Also valid were the interventions of the Comintern on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) interventions in Korea (1950) and Tibet (1959), Cuba’s intervention in Angola (1975), and the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan (1979).
Full essay in PDF format: Military Interventions Progressive vs Imperialist
By Stephen Gowans
While the Western media loudly demonizes the government of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, it is fairly silent on the repressions of the US client regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Outdoing each other in the quest for the William Randolph Hearst prize for excellence in yellow journalism, Western newspapers slam Mugabe as the “Monster” and “Hitler of Africa .” At the same time, civil society hagiographers compromise with imperialist forces to help oust the “dictator” in Harare, but on Egypt, have little to say.
Meanwhile, wave after wave of strikes rock Egypt, sparked by rising food prices, inadequate incomes, political repression, and the government’s gutting of the social safety net.
Virtually absent in a country which receives $1.3 billion in US military aid every year are democracy promotion NGOs helping to organize a people’s revolution. Indeed, it might be hypothesized that the amount of democracy promotion funding a country receives is inversely proportional to the amount of US military aid it receives.
Egypt is not even a limited democracy. It is a de facto dictatorship. You might, then, expect to find Stephen Zunes’ International Center for Nonviolent Conflict training nonviolent democracy activists to overthrow the Mubarak regime. You might expect the Voice of America to be broadcasting “independent” news and opinion into Egypt, urging Egyptians to declare” enough is enough!” Predictably, this isn’t happening.
A year and a half ago, Hosni Mubarak – seen in Egypt as “Washington’s lackey” (1) — reversed the country’s social security gains of the 50s and 60s. The changes, he said, would “not only aim to rid Egypt of socialist principles launched in the 60s, but also seek a more favorable atmosphere for foreign investment” (2) – the same goal the opposition seeks in Zimbabwe.
Elections held last June to select members of the upper house of Parliament were described by election monitors “as manipulated to ensure that the governing party won a majority of seats.” (3)
Still, in the West, few have heard of vote-rigging in Egypt. Most, however, are familiar with vote-rigging allegations against Mugabe. Few too know that in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, “the only opposition group with a broad network and a core constituency,” is banned. (4) At the same time, Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC has never been banned, despite its conspicuous connections to foreign governments that have adopted regime change as their official policy.
The Brotherhood’s “popularity is based on a reputation for not being corrupt and extensive solidarity work in clinics, nurseries and after-school tutoring.” Its volunteers “fill the gaps left by a state system that has seen illiteracy rise and services fail as liberal economic reforms enrich businesses close to the regime.’ (5) Zimbabwe’s opposition, by comparison, seeks to privatize, slash government spending and give the country’s prized farm land back to European settlers and their descendants to restore the confidence of foreign investors.
In recent years, “Egyptian officials have stepped up repression as a means to blunt the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, locking up its leaders without charge. There is also talk of amending the constitution for president, but in such a way as to prohibit any independent candidate aligned with the Brotherhood.” (6)
As in Zimbabwe, a vast majority live in deep poverty, but unlike in Zimbabwe, “Egyptian authorities have cancelled elections, prohibited the creation of new parties and locked up political opponents.” (7)
Last June, “President Bush lavished praise on President Hosni Mubarak…while publicly avoiding mention of the government’s actions in jailing or exiling opposition leaders and its severe restrictions on opposition political activities.” (8) Bush’s silence contrasts sharply with his accusations against President Mugabe, who hasn’t jailed or exiled opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai or banned his party.
So, how is it that a regime that “arrests political opposition figures, beats street demonstrators, locks up bloggers, and blocks creation of new political parties” (9) gets so little attention in the West, while Zimbabwe gets so much?
And why is there a liberal-progressive-left affinity with opposition forces in Zimbabwe, when those forces are funded by a billionaire financier, capitalist foundations and Western governments, while if there’s any solidarity movement with the people of Egypt, it is virtually invisible?
The answer, I would suggest, lies in the failure of the greater part of the Western left to understand how corporate officers, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers set the agenda through their ownership of the media, domination of government, and control of high-profile foundations and think tanks.
Mubarak’s pro-investment policies and repression of the Arab street serve
the bottom-line interests of the US corporate class. Accordingly, the media and foundation agenda steers clear. What foundation grants are distributed, are handed out to groups that eschew confrontation, and seek to work within the system, rather than against it, to change it.
On the other hand, Mugabe’s land reform and economic indigenization policies challenge Western corporate and investment interests. It’s in the interests of European-connected commercial farmers, resource-extraction companies and Western banks, through their control of the media and foundations and domination of Western governments, to mobilize public opinion and forces on the ground to oppose these policies and replace them with more investment-friendly ones.
Not surprisingly, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the principal immediate potential beneficiary of the corporate-directed mobilization in Zimbabwe, promises to “encourage foreign investment” and to bring Zimbabwe’s “abundant farmlands back into health” (10) – that is, to return Zimbabwe to raising cash crops and to reverse legislation mandating majority ownership of the economy by the majority population.
This is an agenda that serves Western corporate elites, not ordinary people. Cheerleaders for a left practice of compromising with imperialism say this is a sign of independence. But a left that is regularly mobilized on behalf of corporate and investor interests when those interests are threatened, and remains quiescent when the same interests are being challenged, is hardly independent.
Western leftists should ask themselves fundamental questions.
Who owns and controls the media? Are the media neutral, or do they shape public opinion in ways that advance the interests of the media’s owners and others who share the same interests and connections? What are the interests of the people who own and control the media?
Who owns and controls the foundations that fund policy experts, including those on the left? Do foundations give money to people who effectively oppose their interests or to people who effectively advance them?
How will a leader, political party, or movement that effectively advances the interests of ordinary people over those of corporations, banks and imperialist governments be treated by the media and by foundation-connected experts (recognizing that corporations and banks own the media and foundations and dominate imperialist governments)? Will they be given grudging respect? Are will they be vilified?
If a leader promotes the interests of corporations and investors while cracking down on ordinary people (Mubarak) will he be demonized? If not, why not? And if a leader promotes the interests of ordinary people over those of foreign corporations, investors and colonial settlers (Mugabe), will he be treated indifferently?
1. New York Times, September 20, 2006
2. Al-Ahram Weekly, February 1, 2007
3. New York Times, June 15, 2007
4. New York Times, April 9, 2008
5. The Guardian (UK), July 19, 2007
6. New York Times, October 22, 2006
7. Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2006
8. New York Times, June 17, 2008
9. New York Times, September 20, 2006
10. The Guardian (UK), April 7, 2008
By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes has written a reply to my article criticizing his connections to US government- and ruling class-funded “peace” organizations, but far from rebutting my criticisms, he helps make my point.
He writes, “The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations – from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) – depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals.”
On this we agree: The capitalist class, through its money power, dominates capitalist societies, including its universities, social justice organizations, peace groups and scholars of non-violence (at least those willing to feed at the trough.) Is it any surprise, then, that handsomely-funded social justice organizations, peace groups, progressive media and scholars of nonviolence might be understood to be agents of capitalism and imperialism within the left community?
But Zunes continues: “Just because the ultimate source of funding for various non-profit groups is from members of the ruling class, however, does not mean that ruling class interests therefore set the agenda for every such non-profit group; they certainly do in some cases, but not in many other cases, including that of ICNC.”
There’s an obvious exceptionalism in Zunes’ argument. Maybe others are bought, but not me. Lay that aside. The ruling class doesn’t need to set the agenda for all organizations and individuals; it only needs to fund individuals and groups who promote its interests. This is the same argument Chomsky and Herman have made in connection with the mainstream press propagating elite narratives. Media outlets don’t need to set the agenda for journalists; they simply need to hire journalists who say the right things, and fire those who don’t. The New York Times won’t hire Chomksy or Herman to write a regular column, but it will hire Thomas Friedman, because he can be relied on to stay within a narrow band of opinion acceptable to ruling class interests. No one sets an agenda for Friedman. But, then, no one has to. As Humbert Wolfe once said, “You cannot hope to bribe and twist, thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
So what does Zunes do, unbribed, that obviates his funders setting an agenda for him? For one, he promotes a peaceful activism at home that is useful to the ruling class in channeling inchoate militancy into ritualistic, symbolic, forms of protest, whose effect in countering the ruling class is approximately zero. He says he “has even been arrested on a number of occasions protesting US imperialism” (doubtlessly in a ritualistic way that minimizes inconvenience for all concerned) but his being arrested has accomplished nothing, except to bulk up his credentials as an activist. And all those who have followed his lead had the same effect. The Washington Consensus is in no danger of falling apart and US war-making hasn’t been set back a millimeter in its relentless advance.
By contrast, non-violent activists in Belarus, Zimbabwe, Iran and formerly in Serbia can be much more effective; they have the US ruling class on their side. They’re helped immensely by the sanctions Washington deploys against their governments, by the threats of war the US uses to intimidate governments it wants to overthrow, by US bombing campaigns, by US assistance to the political opposition, and by the wads of money from the NED, USAID, and their equivalents in Britain, Germany and so on. Non-violent regime change in foreign countries is only possible as a result of contextual violence related to economic and conventional warfare. The contextual violence is absent in the case of peaceful protest in the US, which is why non-violent activism plus sanctions plus threats of war plus funding of subversion plus establishing media to broadcast anti-government propaganda works abroad and non-violent activism plus none of these other things doesn’t work at home.
Another reason the ruling class foundations on which Zunes relies do not have to set his agenda is that Zunes is an absolutely reliable amplifier within the progressive community of the arguments the State Department uses as the basis for its human rights imperialism. He assures us, without adducing the tiniest jot of evidence, that Belarus, Iran, and Zimbabwe are dictatorships and that Yugoslavia was in 1999. That’s helpful to the imperialist class in dampening interest among those politically conscious enough to be inclined to get in the way of imperialist designs being carried out against target countries. Who’s going to spring to the aid of foreign governments and anti-imperialist movements that are widely portrayed in the mass media, and seconded by foundation-supported “independent” progressive scholars, as oppressive and dictatorial?
Indeed, there are three ways Zunes promotes the ruling class agenda within the progressive community which makes the setting of an agenda for him by the wealthy individuals and foundations who furnish him with money completely unnecessary. He (1) lionizes ritualistic and symbolic forms of non-violent protest at home which have no effect in impeding the ruling class in pursuing its interests, and which, therefore it seeks to promote as an alternative to potentially more effective opposition (and if this safe outlet of opposition can be promoted by someone with activist credentials, all the better); by (2) amplifying ruling class justifications for its meddling in the affairs of other countries and thereby turning progressives against ruling class foreign policy targets; and (3) by burnishing US government regime change operations, portraying them as legitimate home-grown operations against oppressive governments.
The only way we cannot accept that Zunes is an agent of imperialism, is if we accept that the ruling class is incredibly stupid and funds the activities of those who are against its interests and fail to promote its agenda. Since this is highly unlikely, it is also highly unlikely that he is not a grassroots lieutenant of imperialism, along with all the other left scholars who have made their compromise with “the unfortunate reality” that in capitalist societies peace groups and social justice organizations are funded by wealthy individuals and their foundations.
“The name for our profits is democracy” – Phil Ochs, Cops of the World
By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes, a professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, is bristling against what he calls the leftist attack on “independent” grassroots nonviolent activists who are trying to bring down “autocratic” governments and “dictatorships” in places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran (1). People who have cast votes in these countries may be surprised to discover they’re living in dictatorships, but the U.S. government says they are, and “progressives” like Stephen Zunes are happy to lend credibility to Washington’s charges. “Independent” grassroots activists in these same countries may be surprised to hear they’re independent, despite the cataract of support they receive from U.S. and Western governments and Western ruling class foundations, but if Zunes wants to elevate them from fifth columnists to independent democracy activists, they’re pleased to receive his support.
These days, Zunes’ bristling against the leftist attack may have something to do with the attack hitting too close to home (2). His association with dodgy U.S. ruling class foundations that hide the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives behind a high-sounding commitment to peace has increasingly come under scrutiny. And judging by his reaction, he doesn’t like it (3).
Although he boasts of having impeccable progressive and anti-imperialist credentials, Zunes chairs the board of academic advisors for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (the ICNC), a Wall Street-connected organization that promotes nonviolent activism in the service of destabilizing foreign governments — the same ones the U.S. State Department (and Zunes) likes to discredit by calling them dictatorships.
The ICNC’s founding chair is New York investment banker Peter Ackerman, who is also a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an organization dominated by directors of major U.S. corporations, corporate lawyers and CEOs. The CFR brings together executives, government and military officials and scholars to provide policy advice to the U.S. State Department. Its key members circulate between the council, corporate board appointments and State Department positions. The CFR has never been particularly concerned about promoting peace, freedom and democracy, but has had a single-minded focus on promoting the overseas profit-making interests of U.S. corporations and investors.
Ackerman is also chairman of the board of Freedom House, an organization that champions the rights of journalists, union leaders and democracy activists to organize openly to bring down governments whose economic policies are insufficiently friendly to U.S. trade and investment. Funded by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House features a rogues’ gallery of U.S. ruling class activists who have sat, or currently sit, on its board of directors: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Otto Reich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Forbes, among others. These people share Zunes’ rhetorical commitment to “freedom and democracy,” though the only freedom they’re interested in is the freedom of U.S. corporations and investors to accumulate capital wherever and whenever they please.
Ackerman’s Center has been heavily involved in successful and ongoing regime change operations, including in Yugoslavia, which Ackerman celebrated in a PBS-TV documentary, Bringing Down a Dictator, about the ouster of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Ackerman, who studied under U.S. nonviolence guru Gene Sharp, has a U.S. Marine Corps officer son who earned a silver star for service in Iraq, using bombs and bullets, not nonviolent activism, to change Iraq’s regime. Apparently, Ackerman did little to instill nonviolent values in members of his own family.
The Center’s vice-chair is Berel Rodal, a former senior Canadian government official in foreign affairs, international trade, defense, security and intelligence, hardly the kind of background you would expect of an advocate of nonviolence, but fits well someone who has taken a leadership role in promoting Western foreign policy goals. Put the two together and you get nonviolent direct activism in the service of US foreign policy goals – -exactly what Rodal, Ackerman, the ICNC and Stephen Zunes are all about.
Another Center associate is Robert Helvey, whose book “On Strategic Non-Violent Conflict: Thinking about the Fundamental”, is promoted on the Center’s website. Helvey is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. military attaché to Myanmar (like Rodal’s, an improbable background for a budding Ghandi) who has been linked to anti-Chavez groups. Chavez has accused Helvey’s employer, the Albert Einstein Institution, of being behind an imperialist conspiracy to overthrow his government (4). Zunes says that “charges that…Bob Helvey” or the Albert Einstein Institution or the ICNC “are serving as agents of U.S. imperialism are totally unfounded” and that “the only visit to Venezuela that has taken place on behalf of any of these non-profit groups engaged in educational efforts on strategic nonviolence was in early 2006 when” Zunes “led a series of workshops at the World Social Forum in Caracas.” (5) Chavez, he says, has fallen for a conspiracy theory. These “individuals and groups” are not “plotting with his opponents to overthrow him.” (6)
But a Reuters’ report says Helvey was brought to Caracas in 2003 “by a group of businessmen and professionals to give courses to young activists on how to ‘resist, oppose, and change a government without the use of bombs and bullets.’” (7) Is Zunes unaware of this, or is he paltering with the truth?
Helvey’s dalliances with the anti-Chavez opposition came fast on the heels of “his work in Serbia before Milosevic’s fall” where he “briefed students on ways to organize a strike and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.” (8)
Zunes has received at least one research grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and has served as a fellow of the organization (9). USIP’s aim is to “help prevent and resolve violent conflicts”, an improbable mandate given that the organization was established by the U.S. government, receives funding from Congress, and has a board of directors appointed by the President, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and the president of the National Defense University – hardly the world’s greatest advocates of peace, but pretty effective advocates of the pursuit of U.S. corporate and investor interests abroad.
What’s not so improbable is that Zune’s ICNC colleagues (you know, the guys who are absolutely not agents of U.S. imperialism) are also connected to USIP. ICNC founder and Freedom House chair Peter Ackerman is on the advisory council. Former U.S. Air Force officer, presidential campaign speechwriter and ICNC director Jack DuVall – who Zunes must know well based on his assurances that “Jack DuVall…is not an agent of U.S. imperialism” (10) — is also connected to the USIP.
It’s hardly curious, then, that a group of Americans, many with backgrounds in the military, but also in foreign policy and investment banking, connected in some way to the U.S.-government funded and directed Institute of Peace, and involved in training foreign activists to destabilize foreign governments, might be seen as agents of U.S. imperialism. But Zunes says they’re not, offering his assertion alone (and his self-proclaimed credentials as a progressive and anti-imperialist) as proof.
Zunes’ rhetoric is reminiscent of Bush’s. He says nonviolent activists are pursuing “freedom and democracy” (in the same way, apparently, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a project in bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East). He throws the charge of dictatorship around as facilely as Bush does. Yugoslavia (in 1999), Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Iran are dictatorships, he says. Apparently, Zunes has been too busy mimicking State Department press releases to notice there are elections and opposition parties in these places.
He says “there is no evidence…to suggest…that the U.S. government or any U.S.-funded entity has ever provided training, advice, or strategic assistance for the kind of mass popular nonviolent action campaigns that have toppled governments or threatened the survival of incumbent regimes.” (11)
Maybe he hasn’t been paying attention. When it comes to Zimbabwe, one of Zunes’ and the U.S. government’s favorite betes noire, there’s plenty of evidence. The British newspaper The Guardian revealed as early as August 22, 2002 that, “The United States government has said it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition” “trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations” “to bring about a change of administration.” (12)
Washington confirmed its own civil society-assisted regime change plans for Zimbabwe in an April 5, 2007 report, revealing that in 2006 “The U.S. government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society,” including providing training and assistance to the kind of grassroots “pro-democracy” groups phony anti-imperialists, among them, another ruling class foundation-connected academic, Patrick Bond, celebrate as “the independent left.” (13) The U.S. “supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies.” (14)
Zunes tries to defend U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries by pointing out that “the limited amount of financial support provided to opposition groups by the United States and other Western governments in recent years cannot cause a nonviolent liberal democratic revolution to take place.” (15)
Who said it could? The real issue isn’t whether groups that challenge foreign governments are homegrown; it’s what they’re struggling for, why phony peace institutes are helping them, and what they’re going to end up with if they’re successful.
How curious that the governments Zunes really seems to be concerned about (Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus and Myanmar) are hostile to the idea of opening their doors to unrestricted U.S. investment and exports. How curious that the successful soft revolutions Zunes admires (Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine) have brought pro-U.S., pro-foreign investment governments to power.
And what happens when the soft revolutions Zunes and his colleagues assist, succeed? In Serbia, which Zunes’ ICNC considers to be the site of one of its most successful engagements, “dollars have accomplished what bombs could not. After U.S.-led international sanctions were lifted with Milosevic’s ouster in 2000, the United States emerged as the largest single source of foreign direct investment. According to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, U.S. companies have made $1 billion worth of ‘committed investments’ represented in no small part by the $580 million privatization of Nis Tobacco Factory (Phillip Morris) and a $250 million buyout of the national steel producer by U.S. Steel. Coca-Cola bought a Serbian bottled water producer in 2005 for $21 million. The list goes on.” (16)
Meanwhile, in Kosovo, the “coal mines and electrical facilities, the postal service, the Pristina airport, the railways, landfills, and waste management systems have all been privatized. As is the case across the Balkans, ‘publicly-owned enterprises’ are auctioned for a fraction of their value on the private market with little or no compensation for taxpayers.” (17)
It should be recalled that prior to the soft revolution-engineered corporate takeover, the Yugoslav economy consisted largely of state- and socially-owned enterprises, leaving little room for U.S. profit-making opportunities, not the kind of place investment bankers like Ackerman could easily warm up to. That the toppling of Milosevic had everything to do with opening space for U.S. investors and corporations should have been apparent to anyone who read chapter four of the U.S.-authored Rambouillet ultimatum, an ultimatum Milosevic rejected, triggering weeks of NATO bombing. The first article called for a free-market economy and the second for privatization of all government-owned assets. NATO bombs seemed to have had an unerring ability to hit Yugoslavia’s socially-owned factories and to miss foreign-owned ones. This was an economic take-over project.
Zunes’ associate Helvey hasn’t limited himself to training activists to overthrow governments in Venezuela and Serbia. Wherever Washington seeks to oust governments that pursue economically nationalist or socialist policies, you’ll find Helvey (and perhaps Zunes as well) holding seminars on nonviolent direct action: in Belarus, in Zimbabwe, in Iraq (before the U.S. invasion) and in Iran (18).
Zunes would be a more credible anti-imperialist were he organizing seminars on how to use nonviolent direct action to overthrow the blatantly imperialist U.S. and British governments. With the largest demonstrations in history held in Western cities on the eve of the last conspicuous eruption of Anglo-American imperialism, it cannot be denied that there’s a grassroots movement for peace and democracy in the West awaiting Zunes’ assistance. So is he training U.S. and British grassroots activists to use nonviolent direct action to stop the machinery of war? No. His attention is directed outward, not on his own government, but on the governments Washington and ruling class think-tanks want overthrown. He’s also busy applying for grants from a phony U.S. government institute of peace, hooking up with Peter Ackerman and his gaggle of fifth column promoters and mimicking U.S. State Department nonsense about countries the U.S. ruling class would like to dominate but can’t being dictatorships and their Western-funded oppositions being independent.
Genuine progressives and anti-imperialists should carefully scrutinize the backgrounds of Zunes and others, paying special attention to their foundation and think-tank connections. They should also ask whether the “independent” grassroots groups these people celebrate are really independent, or whether they’re as tightly connected to Western governments and ruling class activist foundations as Zunes is.
1. “Nonviolent Action and Pro-Democracy Struggles,” Z-Net, February 17, 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16538. See also Zune’s “Leftist Attack on Nonviolent Direct Action for Democratic Change, www.canvasopedia.org/files/various/Leftist_Attack_on_NVA.doc
2. Michael Barker, “Peace Activists, Criticism, and Nonviolent Imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on Imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html.
3. Stephen Zunes, “Spurious Attacks on Supporters of Nonviolent Resistance to Oppression, MRZine, January 18, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html#zunes.
4. The Guardian, June 7, 2007.
5. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
Concerning Zunes’ assurances that Gene Sharp, Robert Helvey and the Albert Einstein Institution are not agents of U.S. imperialism and aren’t assisting groups plotting to overthrow the Chavez government:
“The AEI is run by Gene Sharp, a self-titled expert of what he calls ‘nonviolent defense,’ though better termed ‘regime change.’ His methodologies have been studied and utilized by opposition movements in Burma, Thailand, Tibet, Belarus, Serbia, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. In the AEI’s 2004 annual report, Venezuela is highlighted as an area where actions are currently being taken:
Venezuelans opposed to Chavez met with Gene Sharp and other AEI staff to talk about the deteriorating political situation in their country. They also discussed options of opposition groups to further their cause effectively without violence. These visits led to an in-country consultation in April 2003. The nine day consultation was held by consultants Robert Helvey and Chris Miler in Caracas for members of the Venezuelan democratic opposition. The objective of the consultation was to provide them with the capacity to develop a nonviolent strategy to restore democracy to Venezuela. Participants included members of political parties and unions, nongovernmental organization leaders and unaffiliated activists…Helvey presented a course of instruction on the theory, applications and planning for a strategic nonviolent struggle. Through this, the participants realized the importance of strategic planning to overcome existing shortcomings in the opposition’s campaign against Chavez. Ofensiva Cuidadana, a pro-democracy group in Venezuela, request and organized the workshop. The workshop has led to continued contact with Venezuelans and renewed requests for additional consultations.”
Eva Golinger, Bush vs Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2008, p. 136.
Either Zunes doesn’t know what’s going on, or is playing fast and loose with the truth.
7. Reuters, April 30, 2003.
9. See http://www.stephenzunes.org/ and http://www.fpif.org/advisers/37
10. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
12. The Guardian, August 22, 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/22/zimbabwe.chrismcgreal .
13. Stephen Gowans, “Talk Left, Funded Right, April 7, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/07/talk-left-funded-right/ .
14. U.S. Department of State, The U.S. Record 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/.
15. Zunes, February 17, 2008.
16. Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
18. The Albert Einstein Institution, Report on Activities, 2000 to 2004, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/2000-04rpt.pdf .
By Stephen Gowans
In mid-January, former US Chief of Staff General John Shalikashvili and four top military leaders from European Nato countries released a report calling for a new Western military alliance that could act without UN authorization and use nuclear first strikes to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The generals were justifiably denounced as Drs. Strangelove, but what was missed was the reality that the former military men hadn’t acted on their own, but were brought together to write their report by a think-tank whose board of directors includes chairmen and CEOs of America’s top corporations and investment firms.
The recommendations the generals made were every bit as much those of America’s corporate elite as they were the generals’.
Who rules America?
The American sociologist William Domhoff has spent years asking who rules America?
He thinks he has the answer. America’s rulers, he says, comprise a tiny slice of the US population whose members intermarry, go to the same private schools, join exclusive clubs, travel the world for business and pleasure, and own most of the country’s corporate wealth.
They pursue careers in business, corporate law and finance and sit on the boards of large corporations, head up investment banks, and lead top corporate law firms.
They’re not a cabal issuing secret edicts from behind the scenes but an interconnected group who are keenly aware of their common interests and who use their wealth openly to dominate the political process in legal — and in what most people would consider legitimate — ways.
They hire lobbyists and fund think tanks and foundations to influence public policy.
They employ public relations firms and use their control of the media to shape public opinion.
They provide most of financial backing to the United States’ two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
Top government positions – secretaries of state, defense, treasury and commerce, top diplomats, the top tier of the bureaucracy – are overwhelmingly staffed by members of this tiny, interconnected, group.
Conflicts with organized labor, consumers, and others aren’t always won by this upper class of corporate grandees, but their domination of the political process allows them to come out on top most of the time.
Where money power dominates, public policy tends to be shaped to promote the interests of those with money. Here’s how the upper class uses its money power to shape public policy, according to Domhoff.
o A problem is identified in corporate boardrooms or exclusive clubs.
o The problem is communicated to one of the foundations and think-tanks the upper class finances and directs. These include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Business Council and dozens of others.
o These organizations assemble groups of corporate executives, scholars (1), military officers and government bureaucrats to formulate solutions to the problems the upper class initially identifies in its boardrooms and exclusive clubs.
o The solutions are presented in papers, released to the public and sent to legislatures, where they are transformed into legislation, or to government departments to be enacted by executive order.
The upper class’s policy recommendations are often accepted by legislators and government officials. Top government officials almost always belong to, or are indebted to, the upper class. Legislators rely on upper class support to get elected, and to receive lucrative corporate lobbying or executive positions after politics.
Domhoff argues that political parties aren’t vehicles for formulating policy, but serve the purpose of selecting ambitious exhibitionists as candidates who can be relied on, if elected, to implement policies recommended by the ruling class’s experts.
Formulation of policy happens, instead, within ruling class think-tanks and foundations.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a little known think-tank which “seeks to advance global security…by providing strategic insights and practical policy solutions to decision-makers.” It calls itself “a strategic planning partner for the government.”
The CSIS fits Domhoff’s description of a ruling class policy formulation organization. Its board of trustees is made up a bipartisan collection of upper class leaders who have spent their adult lives alternating between top government appointments and the boardrooms of some of America’s largest corporations.
The organization brings together experts – usually retired generals, admirals and military strategists – to work on security issues the upper class has identified as needing attention. Policy recommendations are released in reports, and presented to the relevant decision-makers.
Recently CSIS brought together five top military officers from across the Nato community to prepare a “150-page blueprint for urgent reform of western military strategy and structures.” (2)
The blueprint “has been presented to the Pentagon and to Nato’s secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.” It’s expected the think-tank’s proposals will be discussed at the April Nato summit in Bucharest. (3)
There has been virtually no media coverage of the proposal in North America, but it has received some coverage in the British press.
The authors of the report, who include ”the US’s top soldier under Bill Clinton, John Shalikashvili,” recommend that the West use preventive nuclear first strikes to stop other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. (4)
The generals were immediately denounced as Drs. Strangelove for their readiness to recommend preventive nuclear strikes. But the story, and the reaction to it, seemed to miss the connection of the military men to the CSIS, and the CSIS to the US ruling class.
Shalikashvili and his counterparts were brought together by the CSIS to prepare a military strategy to deal with countries that resist domination by the West, particularly those, like Iran, which could be in a position to defend themselves by developing a nuclear weapons deterrent.
The blueprint proposes the development of “a new pact drawing the US, Nato and the European Union” together as a single, unified fighting force capable of taking immediate action – up to and including the use of nuclear weapons – without the authorization of the UN Security Council.(5)
Like the anti-Comintern pact, which brought together Germany, Japan, Italy and later Spain in a crusade against communism and the Soviet Union, a new Western military alliance would bring North America and Europe together in a crusade against political Islam (which the generals refer to as a growing irrationality in the world.)
But unlike the anti-Comintern pact, the new military alliance the generals prescribe would be a lot more cohesive and far more deadly.
Whose policy is this?
There is a danger of misunderstanding the generals’ policy prescriptions as being solely the work of individuals representing private concerns rather than recommendations endorsed by an organization that has taken a leadership role in representing the interests of America’s ruling class.
Behind the generals’ manifesto lies the CSIS and behind the CSIS lies some of the top names in American business and investment banking, including former and current chairmen and CEOs of Merril Lynch, Lightyear Capital, The Carlyle Group, Coca-Cola, Glaxo, Time Inc, and Exxon Mobil. The investment firm Lehman Brothers is represented on CSIS’s board. So too are CARE and the United Way.
For the US ruling class, Nato’s consensual nature, the strictures of international law, Europe’s occasional assertions of independence, and reluctance to exploit America’s nuclear arsenal to secure military objectives, have delayed the arrival of a new American century.
Countries which practice policies of independent economic development need to be brought to heel.
The owners of America’s corporate wealth complain bitterly about Iran’s foreign investment-unfriendly policies, Belarus’s largely state-owned economy, and South America’s budding 21st century socialism.
China is competing with Western companies for investment, raw materials and markets in Africa. An assertive Russia is reclaiming its economy and competing with US firms for Western Europe’s energy markets.
A unified Western military alliance that marched in the same direction and used overwhelming force would be decisive in conquering space for Western capital.
While Shalikashvili and his counterparts are the public face of this strategy, the interests of the owners of America’s corporate wealth are its real author.
(1) Ruling class think-tanks don’t rely exclusively on right-wing scholars. Left-wing scholar Stephen Zunes is associated with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a ruling class think-tank headed up by Wall Street investment banker Peter Ackerman. The ICNC specializes in training youth groups in using non-violent direct action to destabilize countries whose governments pursue economic policies that, while friendly to their own populations, are unfriendly to the profit-making interests of US corporations and investors. One of the ICNC’s latest projects has been to give courses to young activists on how to resist, oppose and change the Chavez government in Venezuela using non-violent techniques. Patrick Bond, a left scholar based in South Africa, heads up a think-tank, the Centre for Civil Society, which counts business groups and capitalist foundations as its backers. Bond is on record as endorsing youth groups funded by the US State Department as being representative of the “independent” left in Zimbabwe.
(2) Ian Traynor, “Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, Nato told,” Guardian (UK), January 22, 2008; Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing a Transatlantic Partnership, http://www.csis.org/media/csis/events/080110_grand_strategy.pdf
(5) Traynor; Towards a Grand Strategy