An Exlusive Interview
with Stephen KINZER
This is Page: 2
of Stephen Kinzer
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
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
- 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Kinzer is during a book signing event
for the OVERTHROW at the
Barnes & Nobles in NYC in April 2006.
- 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.
the new global conflict, the weapons of
armies are not decisive. What is the key
weapon? The key weapon in this conflict
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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: Figen BINGÜL
Emily Montjoy, Henry Holt & Company
David Wallace-Wells, Times Book
on the Light Millennium:
date: April 25, 2006, Page II, NYC, Bircan
Ünver, The Light Millennium, Inc.,
Summer 2006, New York.