WHEN IT COMES to U.S. foreign policy, Stephen Zunes believes most Americans find it very hard to be self-critical and do not want to hear negative comments about their country.
Apparently, Zunes, a professor of politics and chair of the peace and justice studies program at the University of San Francisco, does not share those same problems himself.
At a Newark discussion sponsored by the American Institute of International Studies, Zunes on Wednesday portrayed the United States as engaging in a "neocolonialist" foreign policy, which uses economic and political power over developing countries to benefit itself in the short term, while disregarding the long-term consequences.
Zunes is the author of "Tinderbox," which argues that the U.S. government — whether seeking more access to cheap oil or backing Israeli policy — is pursuing a path that is self-defeating and undermines its strategic interests in the Middle East.
He also has been deemed one of the most dangerous professors of Middle East studies by Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch Web site, which monitors perceived anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment at U.S. universities.
But if Zunes' comments are any indication, it seems Pipes hasn't spent much time on the so-called "left coast," where left-wing political and intellectual leaders have been very vocal in criticizing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, Zunes charged that U.S. government policy is driven by ideology.
"There's some people on the left that say the invasion of Iraq was all about oil, and I wish it was," Zunes said. "But these folks are ideologues. And ideologues — whether they are on the left wing, right wing or anything else — say, 'To heck with the facts, it's full speed ahead,' and that's what really gets you into trouble."
When asked what he thinks the United States should do in Iraq, Zunes said he supports setting a timetable for U.S. troops to leave.
"A timetable is not necessarily saying that no matter what happens, we have to be out by this exact date," he said. "But it's serving notice to the Iraqi people that we don't want to stay permanently."
Zunes also argued that the United States is sending the wrong message in Iraq by building "sprawling military bases" and rewriting economic policies there in a way that he says favors American companies.
"We've even redesigned their cell phone system on the U.S. model, as opposed to the European and Middle East model, so it's almost impossible for an Iraqi businessman in a neighboring country to talk to anybody back home," Zunes said. "This is what gets people really angry with us."
He suggested that the U.S. government should consider enlisting a "pan-Arab, pan-Islamic" force that could help solidify the government of Iraq after U.S. forces pull out.
Staff writer Jonathan Jones covers ethnic, religious and cultural issues. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or at email@example.com.