Reply to Stephen Zunes
Reply to Stephen Zunes
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Stephen Zunes does make a credible case that he has directed the bulk of his work to the critical analysis of U.S. and U.S. client-state abuses and that it is unfair to accuse him of focusing only on governments that are U.S. targets. We had done this in passing when we quoted an independent blogger who named Zunes as a member of a "clique" (our word) that takes an interest in the "democratic" potential of countries only when the "U.S. wants to bring down a government by military force, attempting to refocus any First World opposition away from opposing imperialism and toward 'bringing down dictators by nonviolent means'." As the inclusion of Zunes' name in the original version of our text was wholly tangential to the larger case that we made there as well as in Part 1 and Part 2, and as in personal communication (December 19), Zunes had already convinced us to remove his name from the paragraph in question, we have done so.
We do believe, however, that Zunes' aggressive reaction to our one-time mention of his name is excessive and may well betray the serious vulnerability from which he and his colleagues suffer.
Zunes is a prominent advocate for "nonviolent conflict," and has written analyses of its general theory as well as some of the concrete efforts to put it into practice. But our disagreement with Zunes is about some of the major events on the international stage over the past decade or longer, and whether their histories ought to be understood in the manner in which Zunes' work has portrayed them. Specifically, we are referring to U.S. destabilization and regime-change campaigns which we believe to be follow-ons to earlier, similar campaigns by the CIA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy, and a vast and proliferating number of NGOs, many supported directly or indirectly by Washington. Although Zunes' writings on these campaigns have not always followed the U.S. party-line, oftentimes they did—and the major campaigns, such as in Yugoslavia (2000), the several "color revolutions" within the former Soviet bloc (e.g., Georgia in 2003, the
Leftists and progressives who adamantly oppose
Zunes has had a long connection to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, an NGO where he holds the nontrivial title of chairman of its Academic Advisors Committee. ICNC founder and chairman Peter Ackerman was a board member and eventual chairman of Freedom House (September 2005 - January 2009), an institution that has been as clear an instrument of U.S. foreign policy as has the CIA itself. While
Ackerman and ICNC President Jack DuVall have been explicit about using NGOs for destabilization campaigns. Thus in writing about how "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," Ackerman and DuVall counseled that although "Iranians have the resources" to carry out a regime-change operation similar to the one that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia in 2000, Iranians lack the "know-how." Such "know-how," they added, "should not come from the CIA or Defense Department, but rather from pro-democracy programs throughout the West"—in other words, from the kind of "nonviolent-conflict" consultants that the ICNC was founded in 2001 to supply. As Allen Weinstein, a longtime engineer of foreign elections at the behest of several U.S. presidential administrations, admitted to the Washington Post in 1991: "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA." Two decades later, the "Age of Overt Action" has grown in sophistication—and by light-years in the technology available to it—from where it was at the time of the
Note that Ackerman and DuVall were publicly advocating their how-best-to-destabilize-Iran line as early as July 2003, and that the example upon which they drew was the successful campaign three years earlier against the
Zunes' writings about this case paid lip-service to the fact that the U.S.-led NATO bloc had been warring on
Zunes' denial of the importance of foreign actors in these 2000 events also runs into the problem that the ensuing ten-year domination of Belgrade by NATO sycophants has never once brought forth a second surge in these alleged "democratic forces," and one could plausibly ask why they suddenly disappeared from the political scene after October 2000. In a retrospective ten years later, Zunes provided the answer: "With the success of the democratic revolution, Otpor was unable to sustain itself as an independent movement and eventually dissolved"—more realistically, Otpor ("Resist"), the street-protest-delivering instrument used against Milosevic, had its financial plug-pulled once its mission was accomplished. However, some of Otpor's "former leaders" did go on to found the Centre for Applied Nonviolence Action and Strategies, Zunes added, and this "independent NGO disseminated the lessons learned from their successful nonviolent struggle through scores of trainings and workshops for pro-democracy activists and others around the world…."
Zunes also echoed himself from 2000: "Neither the US president's leadership nor NATO's vast arsenal was responsible for
Zunes was also very enthusiastic about the "people power" regime-changes in
Downplaying the role of the United States and other foreign actors in Georgia's "Rose Revolution," Zunes wrote that the Bush administration was "not responsible for the change of government," although it "soon moved to take advantage of the change the Georgian people brought about…." Incredibly, he also wrote that Georgia's incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze was "strongly supported by Washington," and "continued to receive the strong support of President George W. Bush" straight through Shevardnadze's resignation on November 24. Just as incredibly, he wrote that Richard Miles, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia in 2003 who had also served as the head of the U.S. mission on Yugoslavia at the time of Milosevic's ouster, supported Shevardnadze against Kmara ("Enough"), which Zunes characterized as a "decentralized student-led grass roots movement."
Here we see Zunes systematically denying both the
The same problematic emphasis of Zunes' work was evident in late 2004, when he reprimanded "elements of the American left" for committing a "grievous error, both morally and strategically, in their failure to enthusiastically support the momentous pro-democracy movement in the
But this so-called "revolution" shared all of the components of the regime-change campaigns in Yugoslavia and Georgia, including a foreign-funded and trained street-protest-delivering instrument known as Pora ("It's time"), and allegations of fraud first in the presidential election (October 31), followed by allegations of fraud in the runoff election (November 21), followed by the challenger Viktor Yushchenko's eventual victory in yet a third election that foreign observers finally baptized as "free and fair" (December 26). This was the kind of toxic mix of foreign interference and playing to the Western media that Zunes lauded as a "triumph of the human spirit," and he chided leftists and progressives for not climbing aboard the
Zunes' apologetic themes were evident once again in 2009, when in the aftermath of Iran's June 12 presidential election, he wrote that "It is not clear whether the opposition can successfully organize a 'people power' revolution [of the kind that has] succeeded in ousting autocrats who attempted to steal elections in such countries as the Philippines in 1986, Serbia [i.e., Yugoslavia] in 2000, or Ukraine in 2005…," but that "it is clearly a home-grown indigenous struggle," and the "best thing the United States can do to support a more open and pluralistic society in that country is to stay the hell out of the way." That by this moment in Iran's history, it was much too late to admonish the United States to stay "out of the way," and that the major components of the post-election response inside Iran, including the challenger's allegations of a stolen election (repeated enthusiastically in Western capitals) and the street protests that were inspired by this lie ("What happened to my vote?"), conformed to the familiar techniques put into play against regimes dating back to Yugoslavia (at least), was dismissed by Zunes as the musings of crackpot bloggers and misguided leftists.
Nine days later, Zunes followed-up with a commentary that emphasized
Stephen Zunes has done some very good work, but in 2000, he wishfully read-into the regime-change campaign against Yugoslavia a triumph of "people power" and "nonviolent" resistance, and he has been misreading such campaigns ever since. We find it astonishing that for over a decade, he has failed to notice any connection between the relentless power-projection by the U.S.-led NATO bloc, on the one hand, and the rise of the "democracy promotion" and "nonviolent conflict" NGOs, on the other, with their heavy concentration on the countries that once comprised the Soviet bloc and now border on Russia.
We also find it astonishing that, in the four cases surveyed above, Zunes maintained his geopolitical-denying mode across the map, stripping all four anti-regime actions of significant historical contexts both within and, more important, beyond their countries' borders. Thus he wrote that a "surprising number of leftists in the United States and other Western countries" mistakenly believe that "popular civil insurrections against autocratic regimes are part of some grand U.S. conspiracy," and, like Iran's leaders, also believe that the "pro-democracy uprisings in [Yugoslavia], Georgia, and Ukraine earlier this decade were an American plot to advance U.S. imperialism." Zunes' use of the words "plot" and "conspiracy" is as pathetic as it is revealing. Is the view that the spread of the National Security State throughout Latin America from 1954 to 1990, and the return of Honduras to a dictatorship from the date of its June 2009 coup d'état onward, flowed from U.S. power and policy interests nothing more than conspiracy-mongering?
It is disturbing to watch Zunes repeatedly downplay the role of foreign money, knowledge, and power at work behind regime-change campaigns, and hype the "democratic" credentials of the opposition to targeted regimes. Indeed, the latter is an especially powerful cocktail for sowing confusion among leftists and progressives, whose minds tell them to oppose imperial causes, but whose hearts warm to emotionally manipulative rhetoric about the "homegrown" nature of "pro-democracy" movements.
Most disturbing of all, though, Zunes' work asks us to swallow the pro-imperial premise that the
Edward S. Herman
---- Endnotes ----
 See Stephen Zunes, "Herman distorts the facts," ZCommunications, December 19, 2009. Zunes was responding to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment's Bandwagon" (ZCommunications, December 15, 2010), specifically the second paragraph of the section titled "Louis Proyect Versus Louis Proyect." For two examples in which Zunes focused on a regime supported by the United States, see Stephen Zunes, "Showdown in 'Tegucigolpe'," Foreign Policy In Focus, July 10, 2009; Stephen Zunes, "The Power of Nonviolent Action in Honduras," Yes! November 8, 2009.
 See Louis Proyect, "Peter Ackerman: billionaire sponsor of toxic NGOs," The Unrepentant Marxist, October 3, 2007.
 See, e.g., Stephen Zunes, Lester R. Kurtz, and Sarah Beth Asher, Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1999), esp. Zunes' own Ch. 3, Ch. 7, and Ch. 11 in this volume. In the "Conclusion" to this volume, Zunes and Lester R. Kurtz write: "There have been movements in Third World countries which have shaken the foundations of authoritarian rule only to have the regime bailed out by large infusions of aid and assistance from the
 See Gerald Sussman, Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Europe (
 See, e.g., Stephen Zunes, "Nonviolent Action and Pro-Democracy Struggles," Foreign Policy In Focus, January 24, 2008.
 In Julia Duin, "Protests for Peace,"
 See "Freedom House Statement on Iraq War," Press Release, March 20, 2003. Ackerman's co-signers included Freedom House Chairman James Woolsey, Brian Atwood, Samuel Huntington, and Jeane Kirkpatrick.
 Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, "The nonviolent script for Iran," Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003.
 See David Ignatius, "Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups,"
 Evidence for the prototypical status that the 2000 overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic holds in the pantheon of "nonviolent conflict" and "democracy promotion" can be seen in the treatment that the ICNC has devoted to it. In the 13-page "Discussion Guide" that accompanies Steve York's documentary film Bringing Down a Dictator (A Force More Powerful Films, 2001), we read that "In preparing for the September 2000 elections that ultimately unseated Milosevic, the opposition had extensive help in the form of financial assistance and training from the United States and European countries," and that a "number of factors contributed to the overthrow of Milosevic, especially financial assistance and training from the United States" (p. 6).
 Stephen Zunes, "Credit the Serbian People, Not NATO," Foreign Policy In Focus, October, 2000.
 Stephen Zunes, "Serbia: Ten Years Later," Truthout, October 10, 2010.
 On September 27, 2000, a runoff election between Vojislav Kostunica and Slobodan Milosevic was announced for October 8, but on October 6, Milosevic announced his resignation as president and withdrew from the runoff, leaving Kostunica the only remaining candidate.
 Stephen Zunes, "U.S. Role in Georgia Crisis," Foreign Policy In Focus, August 14, 2008.
 Stephen Zunes, "Why Progressives Must Embrace the Ukrainian Pro-Democracy Movement," Foreign Policy In Focus, December 1, 2004.
 For a current example of this resort to the technique of laying guilt-trips on leftists and progressives with respect to
 Stephen Zunes, "The Iranian Uprising Is Homegrown, and Must Stay that Way," Foreign Policy In Focus, June 20, 2009.
 On the stolen-election lie in Iran 2009, see Eric A. Brill, Did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Steal the 2009 Iran Election?, Self-Published Manuscript, last updated August 29, 2010. Also see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Riding the 'Green Wave' at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond," MRZine, July 24, 2009; and Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Chutzpah, Inc.: 'The Brave People of Iran' (versus the Disappeared People of Palestine, Honduras, Afghanistan, Etc.)," MRZine, February 20, 2010.
 Stephen Zunes, "Iran's Do-It Yourself Revolution," Foreign Policy In Focus, June 29, 2009.
 See e.g., Seymour M. Hersh, "Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush administration steps up its secret moves against Iran," New Yorker, July 7, 2008; Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "The Iran Versus U.S.-NATO-Israeli Threats," MRZine, October 20, 2009; and Christopher Dickey et al., "The Shadow War," Newsweek, December 20, 2010.
 See, e.g., Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy, Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010).
 See, e.g., Rick Rozoff, "Lisbon Summit: NATO Proclaims Itself Global Military Force," Stop NATO, November 22, 2010.
 See Sussman, Branding Democracy,
 Zunes, "Iran's Do-It Yourself Revolution."