On August 5, 2012, Stephen Zunes—professor of politics and international studies and director of the Middle East studies program at the University of San Francisco—made his seventh appearance at the hilltop Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (UUCB) in the northern enclave of Kensington. Zunes is a regular at UUCB, no doubt because his views are in line with the church’s “Social Justice Council,” which, according to their website, “sponsors forums focussing [sic] on social justice topics” in pursuit of the quixotic goal of “working towards a better, more just world.” Accordingly, there were copies of the British-based newspaper Positive News in the vestibule with the headline, “U.N. Calls for Happiness-based Economy.”
The church may call for happiness, but as Zunes’s lecture demonstrated, it willfully ignores terrorists, who have been known to cause quite a bit of unhappiness, not to mention death. His topic was “The United States and Iran” and in keeping with his past talks on the subject, Zunes assured the audience of approximately fifty people that Iran is not a threat. He claimed that Iran’s nuclear weapons would not be ready for another four to five years; that Iran would never strike first with nuclear weapons; that there are no Hezbollah cells in South America and on America’s southern border; and that reports of Iranian-sponsored global terrorism are exaggerated.
He emphasized repeatedly that sanctions and threats are counterproductive because they increase the regime’s repressiveness. Attacking Iran, he claimed, will ignite Persian nationalism and cause dissidents to ally with the regime. Thus assured that no action is needed, the audience was visibly relieved.
The real point of Zunes’s talk, however, was not to encourage inaction, but to condemn the U.S. Congress for its alleged belligerence towards Iran and to encourage the United Nations to create a “Middle East nuclear-free zone.”
Referring to two bills supported in the House of Representatives by large bipartisan majorities, Zunes asserted that, “Congress is really pushing the United States to go to war.” He continued:
It’s a bipartisan calling for war. Never before has Congress forbid negotiations and deterrence. Obama’s threshold is Iran actually starting to build nuclear weapons. Congress lowered the threshold [to] Iran simply having the capability of developing nuclear weapons, which some in Congress say they already have.
In pushing for a “Middle East nuclear-free zone,” Zunes ignored the fact that Israel—surrounded by enemies sworn to its destruction—must maintain control of its own defense and could never trust such a zone. He alluded to the U.N. General Assembly’s push for a nuclear-free Middle East, which is simply a means of pressuring Israel to disarm unilaterally. Zunes urged the audience to contact their members of Congress for the same purpose.
Returning to the theme of downplaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Zunes displayed the usual apologist naiveté:
Iran really does have a nuclear program. At this point, however, no evidence suggests the current program is anything but peaceful. Even the U.S. government acknowledges that as far as it can tell it is an exclusively civilian nuclear program.
This fails to acknowledge International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano’s January, 2012 statement that the IAEA, “has credible information that Iran is engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosives.” Just this month, Haaretz reported that the Obama administration received a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report demonstrating that “Iran has made surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of its military nuclear program” and that “the Iranian development of a nuclear weapon is progressing far beyond the scope known to the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
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