By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes is making a career of legitimizing fundamental US government assessments of all but a few of its foreign policy targets, uncritically mimicking State Department slanders of target countries and falsely declaring US funded regime change organizations to be “progressive organizations which could by no means be considered American agents.”
Reacting to a Netfa Freeman article in the Black Agenda Report criticizing his position on Zimbabwe, Zunes refers to “Mugabe’s election fraud, mismanagement of the economy, and human rights abuses.” This is State Department boilerplate. While it would be too much to ask Zunes to back up his statements in his brief reply to Freeman’s article, I cannot recall that he has ever produced evidence of any of his charges against US foreign policy targets in his longer articles, or has ever shown the slightest hint of scepticism regarding the charges Washington has levelled against “outposts of tyranny.” Instead, Zunes freely apes State Department rhetoric, defending from the left fundamental State Department views.
Particularly galling is his reference to Mugabe’s “mismanagement of the economy,” standard fare from US Secretaries of State, the CIA and New York Times, but hardly what one would expect from a critical and sceptical progressive who claims to be independent of US establishment positions. Attributing Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties to Mugabe’s policy errors whitewashes the role of the US in sabotaging Zimbabwe’s economy through the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which effectively cuts Harare off from balance of payment loans, development assistance and lines of credit from international lending agencies.
In his reply to Freeman, Zunes falsely states that Women of Zimbabwe Arise can by no means be considered American agents. The group’s leader, Jenni Williams, was presented with the State Department’s 2007 International Woman of Courage Award for Africa by Condoleezza Rice in a March, 2007 ceremony in Washington. The US State Department does not give out awards to people who work against the interests of the US economic elite. It does, however, award those who advance the elite’s positions.
A US government report on the activities in 2007 of its mission to Zimbabwe reveals that the “US Government continued its assistance to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.” US government assistance to Woza and other civil society organizations was channeled through Freedom House and PACT. Freedom House, which is interlocked with the CIA and is a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, is headed by Peter Ackerman, who also heads up the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). Stephen Zunes is chair of the board of academic advisors to the ICNC. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the Albert Einstein Institute, an organization which trained activists in popular insurrection techniques to overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. Zunes has vigorously defended the AEI. She is also currently a director of the US foreign policy establishment-dominated Human Rights Watch, which recently launched a dishonest attack on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s human rights record.
Woza supports two US State Department propaganda vehicles: SW Radio Africa, a US State Department funded short-wave radio station that beams anti-Mugabe propaganda into Zimbabwe, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7, also funded by the State Department to broadcast US foreign policy positions into Zimbabwe. All political parties in Zimbabwe have, in their recent Memorandum of Understanding, urged journalists to abandon these pirate radio stations to “start working for the good of the country rather than for its enemies.” Jenni Williams and Woza are not, as Zunes falsely claims, working independently of the US government.
Zunes is close to individuals and organizations that are members of the US foreign policy establishment (Freedom House head and Council on Foreign Relations member Peter Ackerman) and have received funding from the US government and ruling class foundations to train popular insurrection groups to overthrow US foreign policy targets (Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institute). He has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster, and George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger. He is intolerant of criticism, asking WordPress to shut down my blog for criticisms of his association with Ackerman.
His modus operandi is to accept State Department denunciations of most US foreign policy targets as true, while attacking Washington’s foreign policy for being based on hypocrisy. He denies that insurrectionary movements trained by organizations that are funded by wealthy individuals, ruling class foundations and Western governments are agents of US imperialism, portraying them instead as independent grassroots groups.
There is much about Zunes to raise doubts about his politics.