August 27, 2004

Cole's Excesses

I've gotten a good deal of E-mail of late asking me why I continue to blogroll Juan Cole given some of the Counterpunch style excesses of his animus towards George Bush (not to mention large swaths of the Bush Administration generally).

I haven't replied to those correspondents as a) I don't really buy into de-linking campaigns and b) I'm behind on E-mail generally. So let me just say here that I keep him on because I respect his regional expertise and evident passion about developments in the Middle East. This, however, I found quite beyond the pale:

The history of alcoholism and possibly other drug use is a key issue because it not only speaks to Bush's character as an addictive personality, but may tell us something about his erratic and alarming actions as president. His explosive temper probably provoked the disastrous siege of Fallujah last spring, killing 600 Iraqis, most of them women and children, in revenge for the deaths of 4 civilian mercenaries, one of them a South African. (Newsweek reported that Bush commanded his cabinet, "Let heads roll!") That temper is only one problem. Bush has a sadistic streak. He clearly enjoyed, as governor, watching executions. His delight in killing people became a campaign issue in 2000 when he seemed, in one debate, to enjoy the prospect of executing wrong-doers a little too much. He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq. Drug abuse can affect the ability of the person to feel deep emotions like empathy. Two decades of pickling his nervous system in various highly toxic substances have left Bush damaged goods. Even for those who later abstain, "visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover." That he managed to get on the wagon (though with that pretzel incident, you wonder how firmly) is laudable. But he suffers the severe effects of the aftermath, and we are all suffering along with him now, since he is the most powerful man in the world. [emphasis added]

"He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq"?

Think about that statement for a second or two. How offensively unmoored from any evidentiary support or rational appraisal! Cole does himself no favors engaging in such hateful screeds and rank hyperbole.

By the way, Cole's link that discusses some of the negative long-term impacts of alcohol abuse includes the below information too (which Cole doesn't mention):

Despite the grim realities described above, the situation is not hopeless: With abstinence there is functional and structural recovery...

Predictably cognitive functions and motor coordination improve, at least partially, within 3 or 4 weeks of abstinence; cerebral atrophy reverses after the first few months of sobriety.

Indications of structural pathology often disappear completely with long-term abstinence.

Hyper-excitability of the central nervous system persists during the first several months of sobriety and then normalizes.

Frontal lobe blood flow continues to increase with abstinence, returning to approximately normal levels within 4 years.

In general, skills that require novel, complex, and rapid information processing take longest to recover. New verbal learning is among the first to recover. Visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover. There may be persistent impairment in these domains, particularly among older alcoholics [over 40]. However, even this population may show considerable recovery with prolonged abstinence.

I'm not a medical professional or expert in such things (and Cole certainly isn't either). But I do have common sense and am happy to try to be judicial in considering such matters. Bush quit drinking when he was 40. He hasn't had a drink in around 15 years. Does anyone seriously think a bottle (nay, hundreds of them) of Jack Daniels imbibed circa. 1985 impacts war room cabinet decisions with regard to Fallujah a score or so years later?

Of course not.

But, more apropos, should a prominent academic be suggesting that Bush's previous history of heavy drinking is a contributing factor in Bush's alleged gleeful massacring of Iraqis on a "large scale"? Is that serious, professional discourse?

No, it's not. Not by a long shot, I fear. It will earn Cole some appreciative high-fives amidst the Ann Arbor, Berkeley and Cambridge sets--but does his reputation no favors in more sober circles.

Posted by Gregory at August 27, 2004 01:04 PM

Cole himself has commented on his perceived need to join the Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill:

Those who log onto his blog receive a mixture of news summary and opinion — something that a person trained to be an “objective” historian doesn’t offer lightly. He worries that offering pointed commentary could damage his academic credibility, but at this point he feels a moral obligation to point out “the very bad foreign policy mistakes” the United States continues to commit.

“The fate of my country is in the balance,” says Cole. “That is more important than objectivity.”

Now, I'm only going to note in passing, Greg, that you have not disputed the substance of Dr. Cole's far more level-headed commentary on Iraq. I think if you go back and look at his record he has gotten far more right than wrong. More so, no doubt, than Paul Bremer & co.

Posted by: praktike at August 27, 2004 02:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've notice many academics who have excellent credentials for their field, lose it fully when discussing Bush. The inner "hack" seems to find its way out (see Krugman as an example), yet you will not see much in the way of peer criticism, even when their invective is so totally flawed as Cole's. I could respect some of what Cole has said about the Iraq situation, because he is knowledgable about the region, but its been his long Bush hate agenda that has soured me from even attempting to look at his analysis seriously anymore. His inner motives make you question his analysis.

Posted by: Gabriel at August 27, 2004 03:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That his predictions about Iraq seem to have been borne out by the press reports from the region should surprise no one. What one might question are the press reports from the region. After speaking now to a good many soldiers returned from Iraq, I tend to doubt any word but theirs.

We're talking about a complete disjoint from reality here, and they share an agenda with Juan Cole. Small wonder he seems so prescient.

Posted by: spongeworthy at August 27, 2004 04:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I used to know Juan Cole fairly well from a long-term email discussion group, but I don't recognize this man at all. His diatribe against the president looks a lot like a portrait of himself and the rest of the hard left opposition to George Bush.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at August 27, 2004 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That's funny Sponge because the soldiers I speak to, including my sister, a Captain in the US Army, seem to indicate that the situation is much closer to the appraisal given by Juan Cole than that you find on Fox News, CNN or the major networks. Please elaborate on what you mean.

I take it you are suggesting that the situation is going quite well, but Cole and others are making it look bad. Maybe Cole and others are fabricating the mounting casualties too. Maybe they really stopped after the hand over of "sovereignty" but the liberal media, Juan Cole, and the commies in Rumsfeld's Pentagon have been circulating false rumours.

Maybe we are really in control of Fallujah, and maybe al-Sadr doesn't really exist. What else?

Posted by: Eric Martin at August 27, 2004 05:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One thing about some academics, is that because they are experts in a particular field, they come to believe they are intelligent enough to deliver opinions on things they read a book about once. Perhaps this is the case here.

I got this from my wife, who is an academic herself.

Posted by: JammerJim at August 27, 2004 05:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For fisking of Cole and other Arabist thinkers you only need to read Tony Badran, a Lebanese Doctoratal candidate in MEast studies. He lives in the US right now.

Posted by: Mike at August 27, 2004 06:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually Bush did mock, most cruelly I thought, Carla Fay Tucker's pleas for clemency from execution while still Governor of Texas.
That was my first exposure to the man-a guy not afraid to make fun of those about to die.
Later when he cited Jesus "Judge not.." Christ as his favorite political philosopher in an early debate, I thought "This guy is either a cynical manipulator or a downright idiot."
Four years later...I still don't know.

Posted by: martin at August 27, 2004 10:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Winston Churchill. End of argument.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at August 28, 2004 03:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That infamous 'bring 'em on' comment also suggests a man who relishes the prospect of violence a good deal more than is appropriate.

Posted by: Angela at August 28, 2004 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Maybe Cole and others are fabricating the mounting casualties too. " Mounting casualties? I wish we had zero casualties, but...

We went to the other side of the Earth, invaded and liberated 2 countries, and have what, less than a thousand deaths?

Isn't that some sort of world record for fewest casualties for this type of war? I thought the 'academics' et al predicted tens of thousands of casualties. I thought Baghdad was the next Stalingrad. How come we never hear the people who predicted StalingradII answer for their mis-predictions?

Posted by: Les Nessman at August 28, 2004 03:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

After having spent nearly a half-century in the academic biz (English literary studies, where the academic feminists first hatched) I have a quicky on the subject of why academics hate G. Bush. Academics can be vain, arrogant, narcissistic, and infantile beyond belief. What particularly annoys them is when someone whom they view as stupid, ignorant, inferior gets the start of them and succeeds. Whether this happens when someone else publishes a higly-praised piece of scholarship, or gets elected to the U. S. Presidency while still being a Republican from Texas who cuts brush for a pastime: they are a darkly envious lot, full of spleen and anger. They hate Geo. Bush because he's Geo. Bush and also has All That Power. You'd hate him too if your whole sense of personal worth was bound up in the notion that intellectual prowess is what makes you superior to everyone else.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at August 28, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael McCanles, what part of what you posted would you take seriously in a debate? That's some compelling methodology there.

If academics are on the whole opposed to the president, might the reason have to do with the ever-shrinking Republican interest in facts borne out by science? That's the deepest root of my own disgust with all things right-wing.

Posted by: djangone at August 29, 2004 12:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Anent response by one djangone:

My post is the result of my experience of people in academe. If your experience is different, fine. I don't see a debate shaping up in any worthwhile fashion here, let alone anything so academically belligerent as a "methodology." And if "science" be the norm for judging what any president does--politics is after all the art of the politically (not scientifically) possible--then those such as yourself who find Bush wanting in deference to academic scientists would seem to put themselves within the reach of some of my original remarks.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at August 29, 2004 01:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the total lack of anything close to objectiviy in academia, ie: the total absence of a conservative viewpoint in nearly all major academic areas, says a great deal about their opinions. A group think mentality seems very real in my dealings with "academia". When you have like minded individuals citing each other as proof of concept without any kind of outside review other then themselves, I can't see how you cannot question their conclusions.

Posted by: Gabriel at August 29, 2004 03:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like-minded individuals, for the love of god. Sorry, Gabriel, too many conservative viewpoints are simply inane and unworthy any credentialed academic. Stem cells, faith-based government, mercury levels, CAFE standards, healthy forests... need I go further? Anything in there you're particularly proud of?

Michael: Thanks for the dose of cynicism. Let that be your gird against critical thought. I'll take my consensus of Nobel-winners and you can have your cynicism, and we'll call it a day.

Posted by: djangone at August 29, 2004 04:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The current abject state of much of academe surely must trace to the infiltration of so much 1960's scum into those previously hallowed halls. Perhaps even worse than the actual remnants from that earlier era are their ideologically trained heirs now inhabitating universities.

Posted by: A.J.L. at August 29, 2004 03:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In retrospect its un-nerving that Mr. B. was piloting so many millions of dollars of supersonic hardware while an active alcoholic. Ah well,, bygones and all that. Concerning recovery, The character traits and attitudes that contribute to one becoming an alcoholic don't disappear when someone stops drinking. That is why AA insists that its members refer to themselves as 'recovering alcoholics' as opposed to cured alcoholics. Some former alcoholics, while dry for years, retain unchanged the very conflicts that helped make them alcoholic in the first place. Perhaps the most prominent of these is an egocentricity of outlook, and a cooresponding disregard for the welfare of others. To be sure, many sober alcoholics do mature out of their cniflits and moral limitations with the passage of time

Posted by: Dick Mulliken at August 29, 2004 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do wonder if a fully recovered alcoholic, if indeed that was the situation, isn't better than a self-confessed war criminal who admits to all manner of atrocities.

Posted by: A.J.L. at August 29, 2004 10:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know why people are praising Cole for his presience.

Here are his pre-war predicitions for Iraq:

Spectacularly wrong on almost everything.

Posted by: ronb at August 30, 2004 12:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

oop, make that

Posted by: ronb at August 30, 2004 12:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In retrospect its un-nerving that Mr. B. was piloting so many millions of dollars of supersonic hardware while an active alcoholic." Heh - here's a tidbit aside. One of our best F-14 pilots taught Tom Cruise how to flip bottles (and "eat" Bacardi 151 fire) on a guest bartending stint in Mission Beach while shooting "TopGun". This led Cruise on to the wretched "Cocktail", so I guess is a cautionary tale after all.

Posted by: rhodeymark at August 30, 2004 02:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Martin Kramer has a few issues with Cole as well.

(In Kramer's site --- --- search for "cole".)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at August 30, 2004 03:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Someone needs to read Tom Wolfe's explanation in *The Right Stuff* about Flying&Drinking and Drinking&Driving. ("I don't recommend it, mind you, but it can be done. (Provided you have the right stuff, you miserable pudknocker."))

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek at August 30, 2004 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Juan Cole was, when I personally knew him in the late 80s/early 90s, one of the very best American experts on the Shi'a world. His recent writings, though, seem abnormally slanted in favor of a view that the Shi'a can do nothing wrong and that anything that harms the Shi'a is intrinsically bad.

I've found his commentary on Iraq to be singularly unenlightening--and mostly wrong.

Posted by: John Burgess at August 30, 2004 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael and Gabriel,

The meme that the academia is dominated by liberals, without conservative voices having access is just a myth. A well constructed one that is coalescing into puclic opinion, but a myth nonetheless.

Do you have anything like empirical evidence to back this up? Or just the repeated laments of anecdotal evidence?

How about this: "In 2000, Bush led all presidential candidates with more than $1 million raised from education interests. Democrat Al Gore collected nearly $968,000."

Posted by: Eric Martin at August 31, 2004 12:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I just read that Juan Cole link, and I'm trying to figure out what exactly you mean by "spectacularly wrong on almost everything."

Do you want to provide specifics, because there is much prescient analysis that I picked up. Here are some observations that have either come to pass, or appear likely in the future:

"The regional costs of a US war on Iraq are potentially great: The war will inevitably be seen in the Arab world as a neo-colonial war. It will be depicted as a repeat of the French occupation of Algeria or the British in Egypt-or indeed, the British in Iraq. These were highly unpopular and humiliating episodes. The US, even if it has a quick military victory, is unlikely to win the war diplomatically in the Arab world."

"As a result of resentment against this neocolonialism, the likelihood is that al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations will find it easier to recruit angry young men in the region and in Europe for terrorist operations against the US and its interests...The Sunnis of Iraq could well turn to groups like al-Qaida, having lost the ideals of the Baath. Iraqi Shi'ites might become easier to recruit into Khomeinism of the Iranian sort, and become a bulwark for the shaky regime in Shi'ite Iran."

"A post-war Iraq may well be riven with factionalism that impedes the development of a well-ensconced new government. We have seen this sort of outcome in Afghanistan. Commentators often note the possibility for Sunni-Shi'ite divisions or Arab Kurdish ones. These are very real. If Islamic law is the basis of the new state, that begs the question of whether its Sunni or Shi'ite version will be implemented. It is seldom realized that the Kurds themselves fought a mini-civil war in 1994-1997 between two major political and tribal fac- tions. Likewise the Shi'ites are deeply divided, by tribe, region and political ideology. Many lower-level Baath Party members are Shi'ite, but tens of thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites are in exile in Iran and want to come back under the banner of ayatollahs.

Internal factionalism is unlikely to reach the level of Yugoslavia after the fall of the communists, since US air power can be invoked to stop mass slaughter. But there could be a good deal of trouble in the country, and as the case of Afghanistan shows, the US cannot always stop faction fighting."

"Shi'ite political parties may well turn to Tehran for funding. A US-occupied country where the Iranian ayatollahs have substantial influence is a disaster waiting to happen."

What about those predictions is spectacularly wrong in every way? Seems that much of what he said is dangerously close to fruition or has already come to pass.

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