The two critics of Prof. Cole whom I have run across are
- Tony Badran, whose weblog is Across the Bay, and who identifies himself as a "Ph.D. candidate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies with focus on Semitic Linguistics, Ancient Levantine history, religion, and ethnicity studies"; and
- Martin Kramer, whose eponymous weblog is subtitled "alternative readings of Islam and the Arab World," and who is "a senior associate (and past director) of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University," and the author, among other works, of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Dr. Kramer graduated summa from Princeton, earned M.A. degress in History and Near Eastern Studies, respectively, from Columbia and Princeton, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton.
The first charge that caught my eye was that Prof. Cole had committed a "gaffe" in connection with the London bombing and then concealed it by altering his weblog without noting the correction.
On July 8, 2005, Prof. Cole wrote in Informed Consent "according to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians." Specifically,
Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless.
Notably, Jenin cannot have motivated 9/11 because it took place months after the attack. Prof. Cole seems to have revised his weblog entry to eliminate the reference to Jenin, but without noting the correction. See here. (Kramer cites this source to support the claim that Prof. Cole thereby violated blogger etiquette.)
Knowing Cole's habits, I saved the original posting. It's here. (And at the time of this posting, Google's cache still records the original version.) The doctored version is here. Blogger etiquette demands that substantive errors be fixed by adding or posting an explicit correction. Cole exempts himself, as he must, given the gross inaccuracies that plague his weblog. So you quote him at your peril: his words might change under your feet. Here, for example, is a poor Cole admirer from Pakistan who quoted Cole Sahib's Jenin revelation. I don't have the heart to notify him that his hero got it wrong.
Prof. Cole substituted for the Jenin reference the claim that "Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to Sharon's crackdown in spring of 2001." (Substitute language italicized.)
I have not read the Commission report, but according to Kramer, "There's not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon's (or Israel's) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report's narrative definitively contradicts him."
Kramer then provides a time-line, citing pages 153-154 of the Report, to show that the plan was "fully hatched" by 1999. Kramer adds, citing page 250, that, contrary to Prof. Cole's revised claim regarding moving up "the operation" in response to Sharon's conduct, the Report "says Bin Laden may have considered speeding up the operation to coincide with a planned Sharon visit to the White House."
Intrigued, I next looked at Kramer's and Badran's claim that Prof. Cole supported the invasion of Iraq before it happened as "a noble enterprise, but subsequently claims to have protested it.
In a November 28, 2004, critique of George Will, Prof. Cole wrote: "Thinking that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq (as I said repeatedly in 2002 and [early in 2003 (non-working link)], even as I admitted Saddam's atrocities) was defined as out of the mainstream and unpatriotic." (Emphasis added.)
Badran proceeds to cite "five posts (in crescendo), all from 2003 (when, according to Cole, he was busy opposing the war on Iraq and letting everyone know it's a bad idea), that put a huge dent in Cole's claim (emphases added [by Badran])":
My analysis is not meant to support an anti-war or pro-war position. Like most people, I have mixed feelings about all this (I despise the Baath Party).
The Iraq war has resulted in many human casualties that make any humane person want to weep. I hope the human sacrifice will have been worth it; certainly Saddam's regime was virtually genocidal and it is a great good thing that it is gone.
I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country (Milosevic did not kill nearly as many people). If it is true that Chirac thinks the Baath party can be reformed from without, he is simply wrong.
I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides. The rest of us have a responsibility to work to see that the lives lost are redeemed by the building of a genuinely democratic and independent Iraq in the coming years.
I don't think this Iraq war was a last resort, and I became increasingly uncomfortable with the way the war fever was whipped up with very dubious claims by powerful Iraqi expatriates and the right in Washington. However, and this is the big "H," I have lived with Baathist Iraq since I got into the Middle East field, and being a specialist in Shiism and a friend to Iraqi Shiites meant that I knew exactly what the Saddam regime had done to them. So, I refused to come out against the war. I was against the way the war was pursued--the innuendo, the exaggerations, the arrogant unilateralism. But I could not bring myself to be against the removal of that genocidal regime from power.
Prof. Cole's apparet response is to write: "I can produce witnesses to my having said that if the UNSC did not authorize the war, I would protest it. When Bush threw aside the UNSC, I became a critic."
Kramer now takes up where Badran left off. First, Kramer brings an April 1, 2003, i.e., after the war began without UNSC sanction, comment by Prof. Cole, in which he calls the war a "noble enterprise":
But I hold on to the belief that the Baath regime in Iraq has been virtually genocidal (no one talks about the fate of the Marsh Arabs) and that having it removed cannot in the end be a bad thing. That's what I tell anxious parents of our troops over there; it is a noble enterprise to remove the Baath, even if so many other justifications for the war are crumbling.
Kramer notes, however, that, on April 23, 2004, over a year later, Prof. Cole wrote: "I would not have been willing to risk my own life to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power. And, I would certainly not have been willing to see my son risk his."
Prof. Cole's dismissive attack on his "Neocon critics," noted above, evidently responds to Kramer's post. Substantively, Prof. Cole writes that, leading up to the invasion, he had "two values":
One was justice I believed that the Saddam regime was genocidal and that the international community had a responsibility for doing something about it. That is why I said that removing Saddam would be a noble enterprise. In and of itself, it was, and I stand by that.
But the other value is the rule of law. The United States is signatory to the UN charter, and can't just get up in the morning and decide to go about invading other countries. I all along maintained that an Iraq war would be legitimate only if there were a UN Security Council resolution authorizing it.
According to Prof. Cole,
until early March of 2003, I was not forced to choose between Justice and the Rule of Law because it appeared entirely plausible that the UNSC would pass a resolution authorizing the war, or that a majority, at least, would vote for it.
When the UNSC did neither, however, Prof. Cole says that he "chose the rule of law over justice," i.e., he opposed the invasion.
But we have already seen, courtesy of Dr. Kramer, Prof. Cole's April 1, 2003, characterization of the war as "a noble enterprise," and his July, 2003, statement that "I refused to come out against the war. I was against the way the war was pursued--the innuendo, the exaggerations, the arrogant unilateralism. But I could not bring myself to be against the removal of that genocidal regime from power." (Emphasis added.)
Moreover, on February 4, 2003, Prof. Cole seems to have balanced justice against the law and chosen justice:
Persons may argue in good faith about whether his resort to weapons of mass destruction in 1988 justifies forcible regime change now. My own knowledge of the horrors Saddam has perpetrated makes it impossible for me to stand against the coming war, however worried I am about its aftermath. World order is not served by unilateral military action, to which I do object. But world order, human rights and international law are likewise not served by allowing a genocidal monster to remain in power.
As I wrote at the outset, I hope the dKos community can help evaluate these criticisms of Prof. Cole.
I should add, perhaps, that I write as someone who was persuaded by Tom Friedman to oppose the invasion: In one of his columns in support of the coming war, Friedman made the point that Saddam could be deterred from using the weapons of mass destruction that many of assumed he had. For me, the possibility of deterrence negated the case being made for going to war then. But I also should say that, if the case being made at the time relied was for humanitarian intervention, then I might have been open to supporting an invasion.
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