On Tuesday afternoon, students and professors crowded Kaufman Auditorium to hear the former Gen. Anthony Zinni, a Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor and former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command discuss the causes of, and possible solutions to, the looming threat posed by Iran. Zinni is in the final week of his professorship.
“Alas, I am disappointed,” Prof. Ross Brann, near eastern studies, said of Zinni’s impeding departure. “He has made incredible contributions.”
Zinni proceeded to delve into the complicated topic of American/Iranian relations, as the Middle Eastern country becomes an ever-increasing security concern. He stated that “Iran seems to be something that we’re heading towards, though no one knows exactly [what that will mean].”
Zinni asserted that the international community does not appreciate Iran's history as an ancient and significant culture and regional power.
“I think this [feeling] has really stuck in the Iranian psyche, even up to now,” he said.
Zinni traced a tempestuous “up-and-down” relationship with the U.S., including popular Iranian disappointment in the 1950s when the U.S. engineered a coup to overthrow democratically-elected leader Mohammad Mosadegh because of his supposedly Communist leanings.
He described the “horrendous casualties” incurred during Iran’s later conflict with Iran, noting that virtually every Iranian family lost a member. He called this war “the most significant psychological event” for the Iranian people, who were widely upset by American support of Iraq, eventually reaching the general conclusion that “there was no hope for a relationship with the U.S.”
Zinni also told of the rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard in the bewilderingly complicated “Rube Goldberg”-style government apparatus ruling Iran. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard was created to ensure compliance with Islamic fundamentalism, and now has “tentacles reaching into other elements of power,” he explained.
He described the Green Movement, an opposition party comprised of reformists who are dissatisfied with the current government. The group includes advocates of women’s rights, journalists and workers’ organizations.
“They are trying to effect change in a nonviolent way,” Zinni said, adding that members of the Green Movement were disappointed by the lack of Western –– particularly American –– response to their protests in the recent, disputed elections.
Zinni characterized American policy in the Persian Gulf region and U.S. foreign policy in general as “overmilitarized,” and advocated increased support of the Iranian opposition movement as an alternative to the use of force.
“If the image of the U.S. is a soldier or a sailor, and your only basis for a connection is a security one, that is very limited,” he said, arguing that “another preemptive attack on a Muslim country [such as Iran]” would cause fury in the Islamic world, and that Iran would be unlikely to “lie down and take a strike.” Instead, he said Iran could retaliate with attacks against Israel, American troops in the area, or on oil fields –– which would have serious economic and energy consequences.
Furthermore, Zinni argued that after conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, “to engage in a third war to which [the other two] would pale in comparison” is not at all feasible for the U.S.
He said he hopes the U.S. will “explore more” solutions to the problem of Iran, and seek to support the Green movement.
“It’s still alive but it’s under tremendous repression,” Zinni said of the Movement.
After the talk, students in the audience further engaged Zinni in dialogue regarding Iran’s relationship to China and the problem of nuclear proliferation.
Many expressed interest in Zinni’s unique perspective as a high-ranking military official as well as a diplomat.
“I thought it was interesting how he stressed the need to balance the power of the military [with other methods], especially coming from a general,” said Greg Berman ’12.
The article originally stated that Zinni asserted that Iranians did not have an appreciation of their own culture. The piece has since been changed to show, for the record, that Zinni was referring to the international community not appreciating Iranian culture. The Sun regrets this error.