Juan Cole: Iraq in 2006

Is the US project in Iraq “all over but the shouting” when the Bush administration decides not to extend reconstruction funding — as reported in the Washington Post today?

Can we foresee the shape of a new Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad — Iraq’s third in three years — reflecting the democratic hopes of December’s voters?

Do we really know who in our Pentagon, State Department and White House are calling the crucial shots on troop levels and US investments in Iraq?

The indispensable Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and the Informed Comment blog is our guest tonight to start Calendar Year Four of the war in Iraq.

Juan Cole is a lifelong student of the languages and religious cultures of the Middle East. His critical reading of the Arab press and multitudinous public and scholarly sources every day of this war is surely one of the great blessings of the Web era and the Web spirit in journalism: a tough-minded, independent, faithful commentary from one who makes some controversial calls and takes the heat for them, but never strikes a personal or nasty tone. If there’s a writer on Iraq who lives up to the prophetic standard of I. F. Stone’s Weekly on Vietnam, I think it might well be Juan Cole. One of his readers has suggested that the CIA should simply be dismantled so that the world could rely instead on Juan Cole. But of course he is too free and incisive a spirit for any institution, including our commercial media.

Cole’s summing-up at the end of 2005 is not quite as witheringly cold as Simon Jenkins’s review in the Times of London of “the self-delusion, vainglory, ineptitude and cruelty of this venture.”

But one way to prepare your own questions — and to feel Juan Cole’s range and tone — is to scan his review of the US agenda and his ten fearless forecasts for 2006.

Juan Cole

Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan

Blogger, Informed Comment

Nir Rosen

Fellow, The New America Foundation

Journalist specializing in the Middle East (articles available here)

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  • A little yellow bird

    Cheney Construction Corp. and Killem, Brawn & Loot have already built the four permanent military “mega-bases” they were overpaid for–so what’s all this about unfinished construction? They’re done, right Prof. Cole? We’ve been in Germany and Okinawa for six decades–why not Iraq for as long–or ’till our oil runs out? Actually, we can just stay forvevr, and dump all of our depleted uranium and other goodies there!

  • anhhung18901

    When energy prices are high, petroleum companies and countries in the Middle East benefit from their increased profits. President Bush has strong petroleum companies ties, and he doesn’t want to harm them when he can avoid it. If Bush likes to see the petroleum industry do well (and in turn the Middle East do well) with higher energy prices, does this hinder his administrations aims to fight terror and promote democracy in a region that is undemocratic and somewhat sympathetic with Al-Qaeda’s cause?

  • Potter

    I just finished reading the links to Juan Cole’s blog above: the review ( for which I am grateful) and the forecast for ’06 and I want to say thank you to him for his tireless efforts and comments but especially this review. I had lost my appetite to follow the daily accounts on the blog ( so depressing the situation is for me) and needed to catch up.

    There is a lot to ponder but it does seem like unintended consequences is the overall forecast, pretty gloomy ones at that for the US.

  • John

    My questions:

    * If you were to redefine victory in Iraq–what would it be?

    * I can’t see Bush pulling a Nixon and flying to Iraq to meet with…well, people who are insurgents. But who is available to potentially begin the brokering of some sort of stability? Who has credibility in Iraq?

    * Have you seen Syriana…and is it at all useful in helping Americans make sense of the region?

  • A little yellow bird

    I don’t believe that any of what is happening falls under the category of unintended consequences. Barely-contained chaos is a part of the neocon plan to destabilize the region enough to justify nearly any invasive and/or holding actions and budget shenanigans. The same thing is happening here: I’m taking bets on the timing, severity, and form of the next “terrorist” attack (the terrorists meaning the same ones who brought down building #7 of the World Trade Towers without help from a plane and eight hours after the other two…) that will be used to slam the police state gates the rest of the way shut. All wagers and payoffs will be in gold, of course…

  • Potter

    “We’ve given democracy a bad name”- Nir Rosen

  • Nikos

    I’m afraid I suspect that ALYB’s take in this thread’s opening post is a strong possibility—in that any ongoing insurrectionist violence would necessitate a lengthy U.S. military commitment and thereby a convenient excuse to build the permanent bases required for an American ‘big-footprint’ supervision of Iraq—and, vitally—of its ‘strategic’ petroleum commerce.

    Yet I wonder if the Pentagon’s farcical post-invasion ‘planning’ wasn’t less a design of deliberate neglect and more an unwanted yet predestined failure of neo-con ideology. Like this: maybe the failure to plan for the occupation was an extension of the Bushies’ vapid domestic philosophy, wherein Chalibi stood in as the model’s requisite ‘entrepreneur’ while the power vacuum created by Bremmer’s dismantling of the Baathist state was the ‘tax cut’ that would encourage all the political/nationalist/monetary investment necessary for a ‘blossoming of freedom’ (requiring no real effort by Washington).

    That penultimate phrase, in (sarcastic) quotes, I would decode to mean: American-led transnational corporate capitalism – the very parasitism that a few brave ‘renegade’ Southern hemisphere governments are lately labeling ‘economic imperialism’. The point is that if you view the world through such a strictly ideological lens—especially one as myopic as that of the neo-cons—EVERY situation will seem ripe for the very same trickle-down programmatic approach.

    Opinions, anyone? (I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to become welcoming and eager for corrections of my disillusioned lefty skepticism.)

  • Potter

    “Wreckless” and “clueless” are the words that come to mind when I think of the White House cabal discussing the rosy scenarios this adventure would produce. We have had revelation after revelation about this. Had they taken off the blinders, we would not be here. Why would they have wanted to make this country ( and them personally) weaker?

    If Clinton’s sex life and lying about it warranted impeachment why are we the people willing to pass on a president who took us to war on lies and deceipt, damaging our security, reputation and our economy in the process?

    I can’t stop asking this question and the more disturbing questions: Why was he re-elected? Why was it even so close?

  • desertrose

    Since when any elections held under foreign occupation was considered legal, or produced legitimate governments? Didn’t the Germans do that in France in ww2? Déjà vu!

  • A little yellow bird

    “desertrose”: Right! History repeats itself like a skipping record. Of course, there’s hardly such a thing as a free election–we don’t have a real choice in the US of Amnesia either. There’s not really such a thing as consent of the governed–no truly free people wish to be governed. Besides, any elections in Iraq are part of the show; part of keeping the right questions from being asked, as Pynchon said. There was never any intent to spread democracy–that’s a ruse to get people to sit back and mumble about how lovely are the New Boss’s clothes–there was only the plan to expand empire and feed the insatiable Warligarchy, the Corpocracy. “Please allow me to introduce myself–I’m a man of wealth, and taste…And I was ’round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.” Dey ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.

  • anhhung18901

    I’m glad that Juan somewhat addressed my question about how high gas prices are helping governments in the Middle East, which are not necessarily pro-American. However, I’m still wandering if the Bush Administration’s friendliness with the energy industry is thwarting its attempts to combat terror in the Middle East.

  • Raymond

    Nikos: I have read the last line of your post three times, and each time burst out laughing. I am wondering what corresponding New Year’s resolutions I can make. Any suggestions? (Yes, I know, I am asking for it.)

    ALYB: Can you give ma a hand in understanding your main idea? I’m not getting it. Are you primarily saying that the goal in Iraq was permanent military bases? Or that the neo-cons intended to destabilize Iraq and even encourage terrorism against the US to reduce personal liberties? Or that the US government exists only to expand the US empire and act solely in the interest of US corporations?

    Potter: Why was Bush re-elected? I can tell you that when I voted for Bush, I found neither he nor Kerry compelling, and had to settle for a variety of uninteresting differences to make a choice. I did not expect much from this administration, and have still been disappointed. I am cynical in that I do not think a Kerry administration would have been as dramatically different as you seem to think. The question that I keep coming back to is this: why does a country as large and capable as the US produce such uninspiring candidates for president?

  • Nikos

    Raymond: GOOD! I considered ending my post with a winky-smiley, but my success with making those from semicolons, dashes, and crescents is only about 50-50, and since I already had a paranthetical closure on my last line, I thought I should let its implied humor fail or succeed on its own. I’m glad to have given at least one person a chuckle. Laughter is such a lovely human gift.

    Now, let me say that I’m glad to see your input here, despite the likelihood that you and I won’t ever agree on political issues. (It’s my feeling that any society’s prime function should be to care for all its members, through sharing, instead of venerating ‘individualism’ — even though such veneration supposedly leads to equitable enrichment. I’d rather live in a poorer but fairer society whose morals stem from empathetic communitarian principles than one like ours, where a hard-hearted pursuit of personal wealth effectively serves as the secular religion. [Oops! I suppose that this part of this post belongs more to the ‘Latin America’s New Socialism’ thread than to this one. Maybe I’ll figure a way to contribute the core of it to that thread after hearing our 9PM Pacific Left Coast broadcast tonight. Or not…])

    Anyway, glad to see you here. Please comment freely and frequently.

  • A little yellow bird

    “Raymond”: Yes. You do understand–all that and more. And it’s not new in history. I’ts part of a continuum. Have you never heard of the premier neocon think-tank, http://newamericancentury.org/ ? I am doing you the courtesy of taking you seriously, even though you clearly are just repeating my words back to me and not misunderstanding at all. You’re saying, passive-aggressively, that you disagree. To your probable credit, you are most likely a decent sort, and so cannot believe people could be so conniving, but Team Bush (and its predecessors) are power-mad. While you and the majority find their actions unbelievably evil, you still do not apprehend its depth and breadth. They’re attempting to take over the world. Have you ever read, or re-read recently, “1984”? It is terribly relevant now, and is largely, though not entirely, in effect in real life.

  • Nikos

    Double oops: I guess my last post wasn’t quite complete, in that I should have included a logical conclusion that anyone who views society’s prime function as that of sharing wealth instead of hoarding it is highly unlikely to ever vote for someone of Bush’s philosophy. And this despite my own dismay over Kerry and Edwards, and even Clinton/Gore a few years back. Which gets to Raymond’s question over the uninspiring candidates (even though you didn’t ask it of me). In a system limited to two parties, the only real battleground is the center. Kerry was (probably mistakenly) viewed as the most acceptable candidate for the Dems’ wooing of the political center. My own proposed solution would be to amend the constitution to vote for party slates instead of individuals (a parliamentary system). But that’ll happen when pigs fly because this country’s biggest sacred cows are the ‘Founding Fathers’ and the constitution they cobbled together.

    Sorry, this has little to do with Iraq. Enough already.

  • Potter

    Raymond please elaborate on your “variety of uninteresting differences”.

    Many of us who voted for Kerry were alarmed by Bush and could not imagine that Kerry would be or could be worse. Where we are now was very visible last Fall. Are you happy about where we are now?

  • A little yellow bird

    “anhhung18901”: The only way to combat terror is to not create it. The US has endlessly intervened forcefully all over the world. The Islamic world has a beef with us because we won’t leave them alone. We overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected leader, a Mr. Mossadegh, in the early fifties, when he’d made Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” cover. We occupy Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia as infidels and we have funded the racist, terrorist state of Israel (I’m Jewish, thank you) which has now built a concentration camp–“The Wall”– around the Palestinians. Even if all that were not true, it is not in the interest of this nation, according to the Founders, to intervene in the affairs of other nations. Terrorism isn’t some fruit that is native to the Middle East–it’s a reaction. There aren’t any “insurgents” in Iraq–just men defending their country against an unasked-for invasion by liars murderers, thieves, rapists, and torturers.

  • A little yellow bird

    “Nikos”: BTW, I AM ignoring you, in case it seemed so–since we’re virtual-reality drinking buds, and tend to clog the blog. If the Founders were sacred cows, instead of long-forgotten carcasses, none of the current mess would be in effect. The fact that slick-talkin’ office seekers (like that idjit Hillary who is sucking up to the “booboisie”, as Mencken put it, with a flag-protection amendment) invoke the names of the Holy Ones while ignoring and subverting everything else about them, it doesn’t make them sacred cows–just convenient code words to rouse the rabble. If you want a soviet socialist state of, Vermont, let’s say, why don’t you join the secessionist movement there? The Founders never would’ve stood for the war on drugs and would never have begun building a wall along the Mexico border or felt up women at the airports.

  • Nikos

    AYLB: I don’t despise the constitution’s drafters; I simply see them as wealthy men who created a republic the served not merely their interests but the interests of a democracy they hoped to found. That’s certainly laudable and noble, but hardly worthy of secular sainthood. They did, after all, legitimate slavery in their new republic. They were just bright guys doin’ their best in the society of that era. I neither venerate nor deplore them.

    None of this is especially vital to the question of whether the republic has evolved anti-democratically (which you and I seem to agree on). The country’s economic and social conditions are unrecognizably different to conditions at the time of the constitution’s drafting. It’s important to recall that the founders’ job was to unite 13 state governments under a single federal government that gained its legitmacy from 13 states’ citizens (and that said citizens were only white males ‘of property’).

    I’d love to carry on this train of thought — but I, like you have been restraining my urges toward digression. If Brendan ever opens an Anything Goes O.S. Pub Tangent Thread, well, then we can resume our drinkin’ buddy gabbing. (Please, pretty please, Coach!) I’ve got tons of responses, both amused and bemused, to stuff you post (including the dropped topics we had goin’ on x-mas eve) that would shamelessly clog the web-page.

    Anyway, see ya’ later on the Latin-Socialism thread (probably).

  • Nikos

    For the second time today, I stupidly sent a post-while-distracted. My point to ALYB was that veneration of the ‘Founding Fathers’ is a constitutionally-conservative equavalent to Hillary’s jingoistic flag amendment. Invoking the ‘Founding Fathers’ in the ways politicians usually do conveys an implication that their constitutional creation is above reproach and impossible to improve upon. Yet their creation is simply outdated — an 18th century republic in a 21st century world. It may have been a model democracy in its day, but no longer, especially when compared to modern parliamentary systems. Unfortunately, the founders simultaneously made any sort of meaningful constitutional overhaul a near impossiblity. And their secular sainthood makes any such criticism into a secular sin.

    I hope eventually ROS devotes an entire show to this issue. It’s certainly timely.

  • Raymond

    Thanks for the courtesy of your response, ALYB! It is odd that I thought I was extending you the same courtesy.

    To be candid, I cannot understand the substance of your comments or perceive their relevance to the topic sufficiently to be able to disagree in any interesting way. My approach was to state so, try repeating what I heard, and hope for the best.

    Apparently, one point you hoped to make was that the neo-cons intended to encourage terrorism in order to advance their ends. Which neo-con(s)? Please name them. And how do you know their intentions? You make the statement as fact, but provide no evidence. By all means, please do so.

  • A little yellow bird

    “Raymond”: It has taken me years of reading news and blogs and links, including the one I included above: The Project For A New American Century think-tank. And which neocons? All of them–they’re a team. The Christian Science Monitor has an archived special section on them, along with mini-bios. You’ll have to readup on this–it won’t do to try to stuff it all into this space. And I don’t know what you mean by saying that what I have written here isn’t relevant to the discussion at hand… I feel you are being deliberately obtuse, and cannot imagine why. By all means, do some reading.

  • Raymond

    By way of clarification, ALYB, I indicated that __I__ did not understand the substance or perceive the relevance of your comments. Am I being obtuse? Possibly. I make no special claim otherwise. Are you making statements of substance and relevance? I am not sure. Here is what I have learned so far from you in our dialogue: Dick Cheney, signer of the Statement of Principles for the Project for the New American Century, and hence a neo-con, has intentionally acted to increase terrorist acts against the United States, since all neo-cons have, in order to restrict individual liberties and take over the world. By way of evidence for your accusation of treason against the vice president, you offer years of reading news, blogs and links. Oh, and some bios on the Christian Science Monitor site. Again, to be candid, I cannot find __any__ coherence in your argument.

  • A little yellow bird

    Gotcha, Raymond…

  • desertrose

    A little yellow bird: I agree with you on that one. Spreading sh*tocracy, freedom, and the usual blah blah, is made for domestic consumption: to pacify the pacified. And to that I say charity begins at home. I have never seen a supreme court intervening in any election in any democratic society. This couldn’t happen in Germany or any EU country. Didn’t the constitution ask for the separation of powers?

    Whatever dreams the hawks might have had about conquering the world through their manifesto of the Project for the New American Century have been DASHED by the situation on Mesopotamia, and by the reluctance of the international community to participate and issue a check for such madness. As for the Coalition of the Killing, it has already started to disintegrate.

  • Potter

    Raymond, after you finish with ALYB, if you would, please elaborate on why you chose Bush over Kerry.

  • A little yellow bird

    Hey! Speak of the devil–there’s an extensive review of the life and mouth H.L. Mencken from 1962 or so here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard19.html ! The man had a propensity for putting society’s foibles into a full-nelson with words–or better, he served at ringside as commentator as society punched itself in the schnoz over and over through the ages.

  • Raymond

    Potter, I simply do not see describing, and then defending, my vote for Bush in the last presidential election as leading to an interesting discussion.

    But I do not want to ignore your question. I can tell you that I was not voting _for_ the war in voting for Bush. Were you voting _against_ the war in voting for Kerry?

    You say that you cannot imagine Kerry would or could be worse than Bush. What you did not say is that you were certain that Kerry would be much better. And this is exactly what I concluded: neither candidate was compelling.

  • Potter

    Raymond, When I voted for Kerry I was voting for someone who I felt would be first of all a president of all the people as opposed to what we have now, a partisan president. I was also voting for someone who I was certain would collect around him people of better quality than the ones we see around Bush. Think Michael Brown as head of FEMA, a disaster. I thought Kerrry would listen better to all points of view BEFORE he acted ( misconstrued, mischaracterized and consequently apparently believed as indecision and weakness). In an interview in the Atlantic Monthly Kerry espoused a philosophy of how we should be dealing with terrorist threats that I agreed with. He did not think making war in Iraq was the way to go but he felt that now that we were there we had to be responsible. I did not agree with him about what that meant. I don’t think Kerry would have favored tax cuts for the rich and advocated trickle down economics. I think he would not have been so beholden to big business and the money crowd or to the religious right. I think we would have, or be on the way to having a better energy policy, if indeed we have one now. I think Kerry has more respect for the environment, much more. I think Kerry would have worked better multilaterally on global problems, political and environmental. he would not be so arrogant and hubristic. I don’t think the rest of the world would think so poorly of us as they do at the moment. Kerry would not have been antagonistic towards the UN and certainly not have nominated a Bolton for instance. Regarding Supreme Court nominations I think they would not be so conservative.

    And finally we would have a better check and balance in our government. At the moment one party rules without much concern for the other half.

    So yes I was certain as one can be that Kerry would have been much better though believe me he was not in my mind ideal.

  • Potter

    Raymond, I forgot to say that Kerry seemed to me to be much more intelligent, more interested in the problems of government and the law. This was clear from the debates. Bush seems like an empty suit to me. Without a script, he’s nowhere. Notso Kerry.

  • Nikos

    Speakin’ of suits, don’t forget that star-trek-communicator puppet-string thingie stickin’ up from the back of Dubya’s suit in the debates! Karl must have been on the other end of that bit of weirdness.

    I don’t much care for the president-as-head-of-state-like-a-king thing we’ve got in this child-of-a-royal-system republic, but since we’re stuck with it, I think I’d prefer a king — I mean prez (sorry!) — who can think on his own two feets. Not to mention speak in articulate, multi-syllabic sentences. Don’t they teach that stuff up at Yale?

    😉

  • A little yellow bird

    “Nikos”: Didja see The Onion thing on the voice of God in W’s ear actually being Cheney on the intercom? http://www.theonion.com/content/node/43189/print/ Also, there’s a hysterical site of animation shorts that chews up and spits out the Bush misAdministration: http://www.toostupidtobepresident.com/. You really need a fast WWW connection to not want to drop-kick the box as they download; but even with snail-service, it’s worth it. Wait ’til you see “The Wrath of Condi: The Voyages of the Starship Enron’s Prize” (on a multi-year mission to seek out new petroleum reserves, natch…). Bring Kleenex. And Valium. And sit on the floor.

  • Nikos

    Did anyone hear the All Things Considered segment on Monday, Jan.23rd by Lourdes Garcia Navarro (sp?) quoting Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (former honcho of the US forces in Iraq) predicting the onset of civil war? Followed by a slew of stuff that utterly vindicates Juan Cole’s “overactive imagination” (to paraphrase his neocon critics)?

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