Thursday, June 30, 2005

Juan Cole Countered

...and hat tips for his posting of these. (Well, that only means he is an honest academic; but I dream of journalists and bloggers with the same standard.)

Item #1: I blogged about an account of the first open rebellion against the Americans in the Northwestern Iraqi town of Teal Afar, last September. (The author also predicted that "Mosul will blow next", which when happening took so many by surprise two months later.) From the eyewitness account it was clear that this was a Sunni town and a local rebellion, but Juan Cole repeatedly described the conflict as one of local Shi'a Turkomen and Sunni Arab insurgents trying to take over. I'm not an expert, so this discrepancy nagged in my head for long. It turns out, Cole was just assuming from the fact that most Trukomen are SHi'a - as he is told here:

the Turkmen in Tel Afar are actually Sunni, not Shia'. They are nearly all Ottoman-era Sunni migrants, rather than Shia' descendants of the Akqoyunlu and Karaqoyunlu tribes who make up a majority of Turkmen in Kirkuk.

Read the rest, it is interesting.

Item #2: Cole drew up the image of total regional disaster after a US pullout from Iraq, and then made his unrealistic proposal: to bring in UN troops and give them US air support[*]. (This wishful thinking, no it's more: congitive dissonance - proposing what he reports to be unworkable - is very apparent in this post: he reports in the middle about a Shi'a province wanting even the Brits out, but harkens back to his illusoric position in the end.) He got a number of negative responses, and the last one stands out - I'll quote longer parts from University of California Santa Cruz professor Alan Richards:

...I am troubled by what I perceive as a tacit assumption--a very American assumption,--underlying most of the discussion. It seems to me that even "pessimists" are actually "optimists": they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some "solution", some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

...I can see no course of action which will prevent widespread violence, regional social upheaval, and economic hammering administered by oil price shocks. This is why so many of us opposed the invasion of Iraq so strenuously in the first place! We thought that it would unleash irreversible adverse consequences for (conventionally defined) US interests in the region. I am very sorry to say that I still think we were right.

...As Patrick Cockburn has pointed out (London Review of Books), the Kurds destabilized Iraq for half a century, and the Sunnis can certainly do the same. No Sunnis, no deal, no way-as you have repeatedly stressed. ...The insurgents, and many Iraqis, want us out, by any means. Our continued presence cannot succeed.

...I can see NO possible way for outsiders to defuse this: not with the U.S. in Iraq, not with the U.N., not with a power vacuum. People from outside the region (U.S., E.U., U.N., India, China, whoever) can do very, very little about this.

...there is a tacit assumption in the discussion so far that low oil prices, including current levels, are viable. I don't think this is true, for at least two reasons. A) The terrifying truth is that how we consume energy now both in the U.S. and elsewhere is entirely unsustainable for environmental reasons. Denial is the national past-time on this; and it is deeply destructive. Global warming is a reality, it will get worse, and the consequences will be extremely serious. I now work surrounded by biologists and environmental scientists, many of whom would cheer (even as they paid a heavy price in lost jobs and income) if the price of oil hit $100 a barrel [as would I the Ed.], because they are in a panic about the consequences of our current profligate behavior. B) The jury is still out on the "Hubbert's Peak" or "Peak Oil" hypothesis, but the viewpoint is hardly silly. If it should prove to be correct, oil prices will rise, steeply-until we get serious about fostering the kind of changes in consumption and technology which are necessary, in any case (see A). To repeat: assuming that low oil prices are viable is very dubious at best, and at worst, constitutes a species of denial. one, from either party, in the political arena is saying anything even remotely commensurate with the threat which most scientists see to the future of the planet. No one with any power is talking sensibly about energy use, global poverty, and their interrelationships. No one at all.

...So let me close where I began: I think it is delusional to imagine that there exists a "solution" to the mess in Iraq. From this perspective, the folly of Bush, Cheney and Company in invading Iraq is even worse than most informed observers of the region already think. Starting an avalanche is certainly criminal. It does not follow, however, that such a phenomenon can be stopped once it has begun.

[*] My short take on this: even if the US government would be willing to completely cede control, (1) most Iraqis are beyond the point of trusting any foreigners, (2) all of the foreign countries that would be needed for a UN army in necessary numbers (i.e. beyond one million in my estimate) can'd do that due to domestic complications or recognise (1).


At 5:15 PM, Blogger josh narins said...

I never thought he was perfect, but I hope he's a little brighter now.

Actually, my complaint about Cole stems from a certain project he has, to translate great works into Arabic.

I love the idea.

But his plan is to begin with one of the most quintissentially American figures, Th. Jeffferson.

The ideas that form the foundation of America are manifold, but I think the Iraqis (as you mentioned, currently not in the most trusting of moods), would appreciate something a little less "Gee, and look how great America _also_ is, aren't we faboo?" than Jefferson.

I recommended Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws. Montesquieu was the Oracle of American Republic. He was French. There are many, many Arab-French speakers available for translation. It will jar less on the nerves of the Iraqis. ("Something French? I guess you guys aren't as self-satisfied as your leader's words suggest.")

Cole's not bad at all, but I rarely read him.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger DoDo said...

Agreed, Cole is not bad at all - I wouldn't nitpick these points if I wouldn't read him regularly :-)

Your idea of what to translate into Arabic sounds a good idea.


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