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An Exlusive Interview with Stephen KINZER
Page II

For Preface>

This is Page: 2
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Profile of Stephen Kinzer

by Bircan ÜNVER

How can the US be prevented from making a decision alone to intervene? Also in your book, there are certain cases where the UN allied with the US foreign policy. So then who will protect those countries right here?

Even in the case of the Iraq invasion, the US was not able to get any international body to give an approval. The UN wouldn’t do it; even NATO, our own closest friends and allies, would not approve this operation. I can understand that because of the structure of the UN, maybe it’s not able to participate as fully as we would like in foreign intervention. But if the US could just get the unanimous approval of NATO, our own closest friends and allies, with whom we faced the Soviet nuclear threat for half a century, then I think we would have a stamp of approval for an intervention that much of the world would accept. But we could not even get NATO to approve of our invasion of Iraq. Therefore much of the world considers it illegitimate and that is part of what got us into our trouble in Iraq in the first place.

- My concern is that the UN is supposed to be the one to protect those developing countries rights that are the weakest.

I see the problem of the UN summarized in three simple observations. Number one: If the world is going to be safer and more stable and more secure, the UN needs to play a much greater role. Number two: The UN, as it is now constituted, is not able to play this role. It is dominated by sovereign states that don’t want their individual power undermined. And number three: There is no real prospect that the UN is going to be able to change profoundly any time soon. This is a sad, serious effect that suggests the UN is not going to be able to fulfill the role that many of us would like to see in play. It cannot be the world’s peacekeeper because countries don’t want to surrender the authority that would require.

- So, where is the hope?

- Given the great power of the US in the world today, I have to think that the real hope lies in the American public. One of the things I hope to do with my book is educate Americans about the effects of these operations. It seems to me that only if ordinary Americans vote for leaders who are reluctant to intervene in foreign countries except in the direst emergencies. Only if Americans will stand up against unilateral interventions, only if Americans will recognize that overthrowing foreign governments sounds like a good idea but in the end, always hurts, not just the victim country, but also the security of the US, can we hope in the future for a more stable world.

“Probably no concept in world history has been more abused than that of religion.”

- I don’t understand how the policies, the interventions can be wrapped in religious reasons! (President William McKinley, John Foster Dulles, President George Bush and George W. Bush.)

Probably no concept in world history has been more abused than that of religion. If you look at the writings and preachings of the founders of the world’s great religions, they are all about cooperation and peace. But yet more wars have been fought with a religious basis than for any other reason. Now, these interventions and wars may have had a lot of true explanations, but those explanations are always wrapped in this religious belief that we are doing God’s will. Once you believe that you are doing God’s will, then anything you do should be acceptable. It’s very dangerous when any human being claims to know what God wants. It’s one thing to act on behalf of your government, or on behalf of your own principles, but it’s quite a stretch, in my mind, to do what Americans have done in the past, which is to believe that they are God’s instruments on earth. And that they are acting in accordance with divine orders.

“There is one religious belief against which I rebel. And that is the belief that there is only one true religion and all the other religions are wrong.”

- This issue really bothers me, using religion for political interests. Especially at the second part of the 20th century, seeing that religion or God’s will are still used in these terms is hard for me to comprehend as a simple human being.

My own personal view is that people’s religious beliefs should be their own private matter and that any belief, that any religion wants to teach, or any religious belief that any person wants to hold is okay with me with one exception. There is one religious belief against which I rebel. And that is the belief that there is only one true religion and all the other religions are wrong. If you believe that, then you are capable of anything. Because you believe that, not only is God on your side, but also God is propelling you to fight everything that is wrong. Only when you believe that your religion is the right one and all other religions are a lie, are you capable, not only of acting in what you believe is accordance with the will of God, but you’re able to believe that anybody that you can confront whose religion is even slightly different from yours is in fundamental and terrible error, so therefore anything you do to them is okay. We believe in America that our heritage is, in large part, a religious heritage and we feel that spiritually, as well as politically, we have discovered the real truth. It is a very dangerous thing for any human being to believe that he or she is found the real truth.

- It seems that the system created all these belief systems and they seem to have corrupted, collapsed and been manipulated in one way or another. Is there any way for people to have an "inner revolution" to really open their mind (and heart), regardless of wherever they are, whatever they represent?

I think it's the great challenge of spiritual leaders all over the world to try to encourage revolutions within a soul of every human being. That's a little beyond what I aspire to do; nonetheless I am hoping to give people information about the world and about their own history that they don't know. I am taking as the byword for my work a line from the Declaration of Independence. It says: "Let facts be submitted to a candid world." All I'm trying to do is explain history in an exciting way and hopefully in a way that will make people think, not just about the past, but also about the future.

Stephen Kinzer is during a book signing event for the OVERTHROW at the
Barnes & Nobles in NYC in April 2006. Photos:

- Going back to the Overthrow: From Hawaii to Iraq, you define interventions, overt and covert operations. What are the other operations, which you didn't include, but America had an important role to shape those?

In my book I cover these fourteen cases in which the US overthrew a foreign government. That means there are a lot of cases that I don't cover. I don't cover cases when the US used normal weapons of diplomacy promising troops, support, and encourage positive regimes abroad and punish those that weren't helping us. I don't cover times when the US supported leaders that it liked against domestic uprisings. I don't cover the times when the US supported the domestic uprisings against leaders that it didn't like. I don't cover coups in which the US was partly involved, but was not the decisive force. For example, during the 1960s, a number of nationalist governments were overthrown in the world. I cite three as examples. One is President Sukarno in Indonesia. President Mabutu in the Congo, and also the democratic regime in Brazil were overthrown. Now, each of these cases the US was involved in, we encouraged certain people, we took certain steps, but probably all those coups would have happened without our involvement. So I am limiting myself specifically to those cases when the US was the decisive factor in the overthrow of a foreign government.

- What was the role of the US in three coups in Turkey?

- One of the questions that I had to face in writing this book is how much we really know about a lot of covert operations. By their very nature, covert operations are conducted very secretively. Now, information about some of these operations has become public like the ones we carried out in the countries I describe in my book. The coup in Iran in 1953, or Guatemala in 1954, South Vietnam in 1963, or Chile in 1973. But there are a number of other coups that have happened in the world, the true facts of which are still obscure. I met a guy the other day who was from Greece, and was very eager to discuss the involvement of the US in the coup that overthrew the democratic government and imposed military rule in Greece. People in Turkey are also curious about the US involvement in three separate coups that were carried out in Turkey between 1960 and 1980. These and other operations are still obscure. I don’t think we really know the full truth about what happened in those countries and if the full truth ever emerges that will be another great book for me to write.

- I think that you know more than that.

- I only suspect. I don’t write about what I suspect. I only write about what I know.

- Your book gave me courage to ask this question: I recently learned that Armenian Benevolence Organization was found in 1906 in New York and they have been established in the US for 100 years. Maybe related to the US or not, how do you see, from a global imperialist context, the Turkish-Armenian conflict?

I think I want to take a pass on that question. I have gotten too deeply into the whole Turkish-Armenian thing. It’s too far off my subject now. I don’t want to get involved with that one now. Too many people are fighting about it. Will you excuse me on that one?

- But I hope you will one day write something in that context?

- Yes it’s an interesting subject. It could be a good topic in the future.

“In the new global conflict, the weapons of armies are not decisive. What is the key weapon? The key weapon in this conflict is information.”

- In your presentation at the Northwestern University (which was televised on CPAN-2 Book Channel on April 22, 2006), you had received an interesting comment that you might have more to say on. It was: “Have you become an anti-American? Or are you withdrawn into Marxism, especially when you say the US has to abolish military?”

- In many cases around the world, the US has carried out interventions that in the long run not only to hurt the countries we intervene but also they weaken America’s own national security. There are cases after case of countries in which the US helped overthrow a leader who embraced American ideals. And then we replaced him with a tyrant who despised everything the US stands for. This is not the way to promote the American idea in the world. Right now we are engaged in a conflict around the world. It’s very different from any conflict that’s been fought in the past. In all past wars, the country with the biggest and best and most heavily equipped army wins. But that’s not the case now. Otherwise, the US would have won this conflict long ago. In the new global conflict, the weapons of armies are not decisive. What is the key weapon? The key weapon in this conflict is information. That’s what we need to know. We need to know who’s out there; what’s he planning; who is he talking to, what is he going to do, when he is going to do it? How do you get that information? You get it from people; you get it from ordinary citizens; you get it from intelligence agencies; and you get it from governments. You will only get their cooperation if they respect you, if they want to help you. When we turn millions and millions of people against the US all over the world, we reduce our ability to receive the information we vitally need to win the current conflict in which we’re involved. For example, if the villagers who live along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan truly respected and admired the US, Osama bin Laden would have been captured a long time ago. But those people don’t want to help us. And the reason they don’t want to help us is because of the way they perceive us; because of what we have done in the past. So here’s another example of how our actions in the world actually undermine American principles and American national security.

“The crisis in Iran now overruns nuclear ambitions is another example of how American intervention produces completely unpredictable results years later. What happened in Iran (in 1953)?”

- You mentioned in your book that a “nuclear holocaust” could happen during the Cold War era. It seems now they are driven to that direction?

- The crisis in Iran now overruns nuclear ambitions is another example of how American intervention produces completely unpredictable results years later. What happened in Iran? In 1953, we overthrew a democratically elected government. That was the only democracy Iran ever knew. We placed the Shah back on his throne; he ruled with increasing repression for 25 years. His repression produced the explosion of the late 1970s what we call the Islamic revolution. That revolution brought to power a clique of fanatically anti-American clerics who begin their role by seizing American diplomats as hostages, and have spent the last quarter of century actively and sometimes quite violently seeking to undermine western and American interests all over the world. That regime has now brought the world to the break of crisis over its nuclear program. That regime never had to come to power, and this crisis never had to emerge. If the US had not intervened in Iran in 1953, we might have had a functioning, thriving democracy in the heart of the Muslim Middle East all these 50 years. Then we would not have had to face this crisis we face today and the Middle East might have been completely different. It’s an example of what terrible, unpredicted effects our interventions can have.

- The US decides (or Nuclear Club) who could have the nuclear power and who cannot!

-SK: In a sense there is a similarity because one country is deciding who is allowed to have nuclear weapons and who isn’t, and not only that, the same country is going to decide what sorts of punishment should be given out to those countries that violate America’s idea of order in the world. This unilateral kind of action only isolates the US even more than it has been isolated in the past.

- What is your next (book) project?

- I’ve written a lot about interventions that happened but should not have happened. Now I’m looking at some interventions that should have happened but didn’t happen. I’m thinking of the one in Rwanda or maybe in Darfur today. Intervention, particularly American intervention, is always going to be a fact of life. How can we learn from the mistakes of the past interventions to shape future interventions in a positive way? Since intervention is going to continue to be an effective life in the world, in particular, American intervention, we need to find a paradigm for how to organize these interventions in ways that will actually address human needs and not produce unintended aftereffects.

- Thank you very much.

_ . _

The interview transcribed by:

Special Thanks to:
Emily Montjoy, Henry Holt & Company
David Wallace-Wells, Times Book

More on the Light Millennium:

Interview date: April 25, 2006, Page II, NYC, Bircan Ünver, The Light Millennium, Inc., Summer 2006, New York.

Summer 2006
Issue# 18
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