Across the Bay

Sunday, November 28, 2004

No Re-Cole-lection

I know I promised to ease the Cole material, but the guy simply refuses to quit feeding my habit (besides, how can I refuse that devastated reader who was practically sobbing at the possibility of a Cole-drought!) Take this post for instance.

I'm not going to address all the nonsense and the usual self-aggrandizing and self-promoting hypocrisies he spit out, but I can't let this section pass:

"As for Wills's argument that academia "has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies." Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations -- except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. " -- it is another instance of blaming the victim.

Academia has not marginalized itself. It has
been marginalized. Perfectly reasonable beliefs such as that workers should have a right to explore unionizing without fear of being fired have been redefined by Joe Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife as "out of the mainstream." Thinking that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq (as I said repeatedly in 2002 and early 2003) was defined as out of the mainstream and unpatriotic. Corporate media bring in a parade of so-called "experts" (often lacking credentials and saying ridiculous things) from "think tanks," in Washington and New York instead of letting academics speak. (There are some exceptions, obviously, but I am talking about over-all numbers). Wouldn't you like to hear about Ayman al-Zawahiri from someone who actually had read him in Arabic? The universities have such experts. The think tanks mostly just have smelly little orthodoxies of the Right." (Emphasis added.)

Either Cole has an incredibly bad memory (especially for a historian), or he's a dishonest opportunist (to add to "hypocritical" and "shrill"). Here's why. Here are five posts (in crescendo), all from 2003 (when, according to Cole, he was busy opposing the war on Iraq and letting everyone know it's a bad idea), that put a huge dent in Cole's claim (emphases added):

1- March, 2003:

"My analysis is not meant to support an anti-war or pro-war position. Like most people, I have mixed feelings about all this (I despise the Baath Party)."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this hardly counts as "thinking the war was a bad idea"! At best, this is a neutral position (or perhaps a "marginal" position). It's nowhere near the anti-war activism he's now claiming.

2- April, 2003:

"The Iraq war has resulted in many human casualties that make any humane person want to weep. I hope the human sacrifice will have been worth it; certainly Saddam's regime was virtually genocidal and it is a great good thing that it is gone."

OK, getting warmer! From neutral to at least grateful that Saddam is gone! Still, miles away from "thinking it was a bad idea."

3- February, 2003:

"I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country (Milosevic did not kill nearly as many people). If it is true that Chirac thinks the Baath party can be reformed from without, he is simply wrong."

Mmmmkay, so now he was paralyzed from opposing it! The paralysis must have affected his brain and blocked this out somehow. I mean he even thought Chirac was wrong! Good gawd! Oh, and back then he actually thought Saddam killed more than Milosevic did. Recently, if you recall my first post on Cole's reaction to the Lancet Report ("A.S.S. Cole"), he said that the number of people Saddam killed is "controversial" and that the US (based on the numbers of the Lancet Report) is closing in on Saddam!

4- March, 2003:

"I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides. The rest of us have a responsibility to work to see that the lives lost are redeemed by the building of a genuinely democratic and independent Iraq in the coming years."

WHAAAAAA!? He "Remains convinced" that it's worth the blood that is about to be spilled on all sides!! Doesn't quite sound like a bad idea to him, now does it!?

5- July, 2003:

"I don't think this Iraq war was a last resort, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with the way the war fever was whipped up with very dubious claims by powerful Iraqi expatriates and the right in Washington. However, and this is the big "H," I have lived with Baathist Iraq since I got into the Middle East field, and being a specialist in Shiism and a friend to Iraqi Shiites meant that I knew exactly what the Saddam regime had done to them. So, I refused to come out against the war. I was against the way the war was pursued--the innuendo, the exaggerations, the arrogant unilateralism. But I could not bring myself to be against the removal of that genocidal regime from power."

And the truth comes out, crystal clear. He refused to come out against the war.

And he's complaining that some (not nearly enough) people aren't taking him and his likes seriously!? Maybe this will help: Prof. Cole, your pants are on fire... and so is your credibility.

Update: Cole Responds... sort of. This is how Juan Cole responded to the material laid out against his claim (see also Martin Kramer's Sandbox): he tampered with his original post, adding two links to back up his claim. He also added this qualifier: "...even as I admitted Saddam's atrocities." I.e., his way to counter all his statements about him being "convinced" and happy about the removal of Saddam. But let's take a look at these two links he put up and see whether he actually comes out and says, as he now claims, that he was against the war, and that he stood up and was counted as someone who was totally against it as a "bad idea."

In a piece on H-Net, Cole simply put out a supposed description of the "root causes" of Islamic terrorism; I'm sure you've heard them before: "grievances and (repeat after me) humiliation." Of course that included a litany against Israel (first and foremost) and a little jab at India etc. The cautionary remark was that this might create more Jihadists (including Cole's theory of a "Shiite international": The Shi'a worldwide would go berzerk if the US hit a shrine in Najaf, etc.) He also added some possible scenarios that could happen regionally. Nothing special. Then came the relevant line:

"I will be ecstatic to see Saddam go. But I have a bad feeling about this, as Han Solo once said prophetically." (Emphasis added.)

That's it!? That's the "I said repeatedly in 2002 and 2003 that it was a bad idea"!? Here's how I characterize this line: cautious, but on board. It fits very well with his other remark about having "mixed feelings" about the war, while still thinking that it would be a great thing to see Saddam go. And according to Cole, the latter would make the "sacrificies about to be made on all sides" worth it. But nothing in there comes even close to his claim, even the modified one!

The (only) other link he provided is a variation on the same theme. There Cole laid out the costs and benefits of the war. Under the "risks of peace" (i.e., not going to war) he had this to say:

"The risks of peace therefore include: continued lack of good security in the Persian Gulf region, imperiling both the people who live there and the assured access to energy supplies on the part of the US and its allies; the continued brutalization of the Iraqi population by a totalitarian regime that has conducted virtual genocide against Kurds and Shi'ites; the continued demonization. of the United States in the region and in the Muslim world for the negative effects of the sanctions regime; the possibility that Iraq will develop enough in the way of weapons of mass destruction to break out of containment and to attempt to gain popularity by attacking yet another of its neighbors, perhaps Turkey or Israel. The aggressive, militaristic nature of the Saddam Hussein regime makes such a scenario, however unlikely, at least plausible."

As for the "risks of war," it was the usual stuff: Shiites might turn to Khomeinism, Sunnis might turn to Salafism, and the country's factionalism might impede any effort of building a democratic state. Then Cole lays out some regional scenarios. Of course that has to include the possibility of Israel using the Iraq war to annihilate the Palestinians (or, as the letter circulated by some MESA figures before the war -- and signed by Cole -- had it: the Israeli government might use the Iraq war as a pretext to "ethnically cleanse" the Palestinians). Also, if Israel retaliates for a Scud missile attack, the war could be seen (you got it) as a joint "colonialist and Zionist" effort. Yawn.

But then comes the relevant passage:

"Those who support an Iraq war argue that the potential negative fall-out consists of improbable scenarios that are no more likely to come to fruition than did the dire forecasts about overthrown Arab regimes in 1990. They argue that if we can get a genuinely democratic, modern Iraq out of the war, its beneficial effects will radiate throughout the region. They may be right. But it is worth remembering that we were promised a democratic Kuwait in 1991 and a democratic, stable Afghanistan in 2002, and have yet to see either." (Emphasis added.)

I see. So here are some possible scenarios (most of them of course jabbing at Israel on one end, and somewhat defending Arab nationalism on the other) although the pro-war faction's scenario may be equally right. Now that's conviction! I mean, boy, did he think it was a bad idea! He stood up to be counted! Actually, he simply went along with some reservations (like most of us) conceding the potential benefits of the war, while holding his breath on possible negative fall-outs. This isn't standing up and repeatedly shouting out "this is wrong." At best, this is squirming in your seat a little, and mumbling under your breath: "I hope this works out. It would be nice to see Saddam go." This is as "marginal" as you're going to get.

If I may, I'd like to go on a tangent here. I couldn't help but notice this statement by Cole that I'd like to share with you:

"The final defeat of the Baath Party will be seen as a defeat of its ideals, which include secularism, improved rights for women and high modernism."

Priceless... Arabism deluxe. And we know that that's exactly what the modernists in Iraq thought, right?! Now that's expertise!

Update 2: It dawned on me while reading the paragraph quoted above under "risks of peace" that before the war, Cole really made a cool-headed, and agreeable analysis based on a mix of "realism" and "idealism" (Wolfowitz, whom Cole attacks with unusual venom, would have been proud of it as it mirrors his own views). The real interesting question is why does he now seek to completely dissociate himself from that serious consideration, claiming that he "repeatedly said it was a bad idea"?