Across the Bay

Monday, July 05, 2004

Burning Cole

It's truly dizzying to track the flip-flopping of Juan Cole, and trying to make sense of it is an even more challenging task. In a new post, Cole commented on PM Allawi's interview with George Stephanopoulos. Among Cole's brilliant comments was the following on the young confused cleric Muqtada Sadr.

"He pressed Allawi on the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr, and received the response that al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army might well be amnestied if they cooperate with the caretaker government and seek to join the system. Since trying to exclude the Sadrists from Iraqi politics would be a recipe for disaster down the road, Allawi's response seemed measured and promising. (Of course, Muqtada may decline the offer, but then the responsibility will lie with him)."

So now Muqtada would be to blame if he refuses to join the Iraqi political scene (which he did. He's calling for blood again. He declared an end to the truce and snubbed Allawi's proposal of an amnesty.) But what does this really mean? Cole never says what should be done if that occurs. Is he implying that violence is warranted now? If so, was the US right then in militarily defeating Sadr? Who knows.

At the time, Cole said that the US was, naturally, dumber than a headless chicken for using force. Now, in a terrible new post on alleged Israeli involvement at Abu Ghraib (note that the Kuwaiti involvement still hasn't received attention from Cole) Cole had this to say:

"You have to move violently against the violent, but then you have to deny them public support by winning hearts and minds and turning off potential recruits and enablers."

Yet, when the US was doing just that in Iraq, Cole was blasting them for using force and saying that they are creating more supporters for the insurgents. I guess that doesn't apply anymore! Now Cole is all about violence! I'll come back to comment on the Israelis/Abu Ghraib post, and its deep pathologies, at a later time.

But what's more stunning is Cole's chronic habit of misquoting and misreading his sources (this practice reveals to a certain extent what he wants to see and read) and I've caught him doing that several times, where he totally misrepresented and misquoted his sources.

He's back at it here. Now I don't know if he's basing his information on another source beside the one he linked to (or a different version thereof), but if he did he should have said so, because the conclusions he draws are not supported by the piece in the link. For instance, Egypt is not mentioned once in the entire piece, yet Cole didn't hesitate to state that Allawi "seemed especially warm toward Syria and Egypt, and in other words was talking like an old-style Arab nationalist in regional terms." (No less! This of course is because Cole wants Allawi to be a typical Arab nationalist.) I wonder if the mention of Egypt is due to Amr Moussa's statement about his desire to see a "collective Arab involvement on this issue" (of sending troops to Iraq.) Now they all want to move in!

There is no favorable attitude towards Syria (or Iran) either. In fact, Allawi said in the interview that Iran and Syria have not done enough to keep fighters from going to fight in Iraq and he's still negotiating with them asking them to stop that practice, and he hopes to get a positive response. Cole interpreted this diplomatic discourse as old-style Arab nationalism!

There is no explicit mention of welcoming Jordanian (or any other neighboring) troops. Allawi kept it vague, saying that he's looking to expand and to get troops from "various countries, especially Arab and Islamic countries." He said this in tandem with a warning against negative interference and a plea to neighboring countries to "act responsibly" and "positively"!

More importantly, the remarks against the involvement of neighboring countries are not restricted to Zebari, they were also echoed by President al-Yawer (see my "Thanks, but No Thanks!" post.) So to label them "standard IGC" (whatever that means!) is nonsense, and frankly I think it exemplifies the contempt towards the Kurds that is typical of Cole, and Arabists in general. (Why single out Zebari and not mention al-Yawer? Just a thought!) You see, the Kurds are now the "new Maronites", i.e. those who "betrayed the family" by looking westward for help, so now they're perceived as the US' pets (note also the rumors of Israeli training of Kurds in the north. I'll have a post on that in the near future.)

On the issue of Iran and Syria, Asad and Khatemi issued a statement about their desire to see neighboring countries (i.e. Syria and Iran!) getting involved in reconstruction efforts and in stablizing the scene. Never short on humor, Khatemi said:

"Regional states, namely Iran and Syria, can have an important role, nay, a better role compared to the US when it comes to efforts in restoring peace and stability, and in establishing a democratic regime in Iraq. (sic!) " (My translation.)

As for Yemenis looking for a "radical alternative," Cole's analysis is weak and all over the place. Also, as a friend mentioned to me, Cole never considers the alternative that the Yemenis are willing to commit troops because of aid from the US (remember, the Yemeni leader was the only Arab guest at the G8 summit.)

All in all, it's a travesty, but somehow typical of Cole in general.