Troubling Developments over at “Informed Comment”

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Juan Cole’s blog has, for years, been a useful source of information about world affairs, in particular those concerning the Middle East. Since The NATO intervention in Libya, though, the blog has become more militaristic and cheerleading, with near-constant reports of how the rebels are winning the war on Qaddafi.

The problem I have with Cole’s coverage is not that he’s clearly siding with the rebels but that he rarely, if ever, considers the problems that may come. As long as Qaddafi is gone, then Libya is saved. This despite the glaring examples of interventions gone awry that history provides. I’m sure he has these doubts—he’s proved in the past to be a nuanced and worldly thinker—but reading his blog lately reminds me more of reading Christopher Hitchens during the run-up to the Iraq War (and beyond). Naturally, being a scholar, he has discussed how Libya is different but the complete lack of doubt with which he exits his line of argument is difficult to accept. The similarity to Hitchens is worrying, though.

The post, Qaddafi was a CIA Asset by Juan Cole (Informed Comment), for example, includes the following ending paragraph:

“So how delicious is it that those who supported Qaddafi, or opposed practical steps to keep him from slaughtering the protest movement (such as A. Cockburn and his hatchet man John Walsh), were de[-]facto allies of the CIA themselves– and not just allies of the analysts, who try to understand the intelligence, but allies of the guys doing “rendition,” i.e. kidnapping suspects off the street and having them “interrogated.””

He’s positively giddy and pretty much incoherent—or I’m too out-of-touch to follow the intended meaning without repeat readings and deeper analysis. The part that caught my eye was “So how delicious is it that those who […] opposed practical steps to keep him from slaughtering the protest movement […] were de[-]facto allies of the CIA themselves”. The accusation there is hard to miss and the tone and hyperbole would seem more appropriate on Rush Limbaugh’s blog or perhaps Glenn Beck’s. My way or the highway, as it were and to back up his argument? Why, that he was right, of course. That Libya is currently free of Qaddafi and the future is full of sunshine and roses. The opportunity is theirs to seize and seize it they will. It’s the overarching conviction and lack of doubt that sticks in my craw here—especially from someone who should have a healthier skepticism to argumentation of just that sort and who knows enough history to know that it would be better to wait a year or two to see what really evolves—or is allowed to evolve—after these many Arab Springs. That oil concessions have already been tidied away is far from an encouraging sign.

Other hackles were raised in the comments; here are two examples:

“I hope you are not putting everyone who objected to the means by which Qaddafi’s regime was opposed into the the category of those who “opposed practical steps to keep him from slaughtering the protest movement.””
“Yes Juan, everyone against what NATO is doing in Libya is a Qaddafi supporter and ally of the CIA. Just like your opposition to the Iraq war made you a Saddam supporter and ally of the CIA.”

But Cole has his own hatchet man by the name of “Joe from Lowell” who is more than happy to shoot down these heretics. Read through the comments to see what I mean.

This new attitude of Cole’s is by no means limited to a single blog post; just a few posts later, there’s this one, China offered Qaddafi Armaments in midst of war by Juan Cole (Informed Comment), which includes the following logic (see if you can guess who originated it):

The Globe and Mail reports that documents discovered in mid-July show that state-owned Chinese weapons companies offered to sell Libya weaponry. The plan was to move items from Algeria or South Africa.

“China has denied the report, but officials of the new Libyan government say the evidence is air tight.

So it isn’t a question of interventionism. The question is who’s (sic) intervention you support.[1]

The first alarm bell should go off when you notice that the unimpeachable sources to which Cole points are the Globe and Mail, which has about the same slant as the Wall Street Journal i.e. strongly rightward, pro-big-business and thus pro-intervention and “stability”. That’s OK, though, because the days-old, proven-to-be-trustworthy-through-their-opposition-to-Qaddafi “new Libyan government” says the evidence is air-tight. Well, that’s a relief; I was worried that the accusation against China might be an unsubstantiated dig by the West in a near-constant attempt to move China in as the next big enemy, the yellow peril, as it were. I’m not saying that this is the case, I’m just saying that it was my initial suspicion. Which has been allayed by Cole and his unimpeachable sources.

The kicker is the final highlighted phrase, which puts anyone who didn’t wholeheartedly support the NATO intervention firmly into the camp of those who support China’s takeover of the world. Well done, Cole, well done. Somewhere George Bush is smiling because you’ll probably end up paying him royalties for paraphrasing his now-famous, “you’re either with us or you are with the terrorists”. It’s tough to be ironic these days; everyone beats you to it.[2]

[1] As evidence of just how unhinged and excited Cole is when he writes his posts now, I offer the fact that he used who’s when obviously whose was intended. It’s almost as if someone else is writing some of these blog posts for him. Or perhaps he’s just posting from a mobile device that helpfully auto-completes words for him. It’s not that long a post, though, so proofreading wouldn’t have taken that long.

America Gets Set To Enjoy Month Or So Of Libya Seeming Like Symbol Of Freedom (The Onion) does a good job, though.

“We’ve got a nice four weeks of thinking Libya represents a triumph of liberty before the situation begins to deteriorate and some new form of authoritarianism inevitably asserts itself. […] Other Americans, however, said that after a month of looking to Libya as a symbol of freedom, they planned to simply stop paying attention to the nation altogether.”