Monday, July 19, 2004

Juan Cole interview on Iraq debacle: "my argument was that the post-war handling of Iraq has been a huge catastrophe. I have to say that I can think of few attempts by one country to administer another in modern history that have been so plagued by incompetence and a lack of understanding of the local society. Administering another country is always a very tricky proposition.... When the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is a very major figure and has enormous power in Iraq, issued a ruling, or fatwa, on June 28, 2003, that any delegates to a constituent assembly that wrote the new constitution would have to be popularly elected, Paul Bremer the US civil administrator of Iraq, refused to take Sistani's ruling seriously and is said to have asked someone to get another cleric to issue another fatwa that would rebuke Sistani. Well, Shiite Islam is hierarchical. Sistani is a grand ayatollah. There aren't other persons who can overrule him in that system.... I believe that the American administration of Iraq has been arrogant, has pursued policies that are illegal in international law and has been ignorant and incompetent."

"I believe that there were people in the current administration who would very much have liked to take care of Iraq quickly, stabilize it, reduce forces there to about a division - that's 20,000 people - and then go on to Syria and Iran and pursue an objective of American conquest, reshaping the region by force. I think those voices have been marginalized. It's inconceivable to me that Congress would authorize such a thing. And the military, particularly the officer corps, would not go along with the idea of trying to conquer and occupy Syria or Iran at this point. The United States simply doesn't have an army large enough to make that possible to begin with. But it is also very clear what would happen if we tried. Iran is three times bigger than Iraq. I think that the super-hawks in the administration have lost. Iraq has turned into a nightmare for them. I don't see a good exit strategy, and I am worried about that because, whereas when things got extremely bad, the United States could simply leave Vietnam, get on helicopters and fly away, Iraq is a major petroleum producer at the head of the Persian Gulf and could not be allowed to fall into chaos. I think it's very unlikely that the US administration would allow that to happen or remain in power for very long if it did. So even if there is a change in November, I don't see what way the US can get out of Iraq now."

"Question: We're also seeing inroads into academia of groups like Campus Watch, which has singled out you and a few other academics for being "too political" in the classroom....

"I reject the argument that balance is achieved by making sure that you have both sides of the story. This is very common in journalism, especially television journalism, and it appeals to politicians and the public. There are not "sides to a story" when doing research. There is evidence, and there are explanations that the evidence reveals. One would not want a cancer institute at a major university to be forced by the government to make sure that they had a balanced view of the causes of cancer and to be forced to hire some researchers who insisted that smoking does not cause cancer. I don't accept the argument of people like David Horowitz that the government should impose some sort of predetermined political balance on academic research. We would end up with a lot of academics in that kind of situation who would maintain that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, which was what was being maintained by think tanks and talking heads on television and government officials, precisely because they did have this flawed idea of "balance" that they were trying to pursue. If actual research had been done, then this error could have easily been exposed."

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