The New York Times
Engaging the Muslim Worldby Juan Cole
With clarity and concision, Juan Cole disentangles the key foreign policy issues that America is grappling with today--from our dependence on Middle East petroleum to the promotion of Islamophobia by the American right--and delivers his informed advice on the best way forward. Cole's unique ability to take the true Muslim perspective into account when looking at… See more details below
With clarity and concision, Juan Cole disentangles the key foreign policy issues that America is grappling with today--from our dependence on Middle East petroleum to the promotion of Islamophobia by the American right--and delivers his informed advice on the best way forward. Cole's unique ability to take the true Muslim perspective into account when looking at East-West relations make his insights well-rounded and prescient as he suggests a course of action on fundamental issues like religion, oil, war and peace. With substantive recommendations for the next administration on how to move forward in key countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, Engaging the Muslim World reveals how we can repair the damage of the disastrous foreign policy of the last eight years and forge ahead on a path of peace and prosperity.
* Al-Qaeda is not a mass movement like fascism or communism but rather a small political cult like the American far right circles that produced Timothy McVeigh.
* The Muslim world is not a new Soviet Bloc but rather is full of close allies or potential allies.
* There can be no such thing as American energy independence, we will need Islamic oil to survive as a superpower into the next century.
* Iran is not an implacable enemy of the U.S.--it can and should be fruitfully engaged, which is a necessary step for American energy security since Tehran can play the spoiler in the strategic Persian Gulf.
* America's best hope in Iraq is careful, deliberate military disengagement, rather than either through immediate withdrawal or a century-long military presence--in other words, both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates are wrong.
The New York Times
University of Michigan history professor and blogger Cole (Sacred Space and Holy War ) takes aim at the Bush administration's "Islamophobic discourse," highlighting that some of the very people who promulgated the phobia (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) once sang a different tune. He calls instead for evenhanded and pragmatic policy changes, not least a reckoning with the heterogeneity of the Muslim world. Yet for all his expertise, Cole fails to source some of his harshest accusations; moreover, for a scholar championing greater subtlety of thought, he too often discards nuance himself. To the extent that Cole argues against painting the Middle East with overly broad strokes, he brings a constructive addition to public discourse; his failure to be consistent is a lost opportunity. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
One of the most talked about but least successful undertakings by Western countries in recent years have been policies designed to engage the Muslim world. Similarly, the Muslim-majority countries have largely failed to change stereotypes of Islam and the Middle East in the West's subconscious. In this excellent book, Cole (Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History, Univ. of Michigan), a leading American expert on the Islamic world, seeks to dispel many of the persistent myths about Islam and the Middle East. The author systematically analyzes many major topics, such as terrorism, oil, Wahhabism, and the Iraq war, and highlights popular myths and prejudices associated with these issues. Cole convincingly demonstrates why one should not confuse Muslim activism with hidebound fundamentalism. The chapter dealing with Iran is particularly informative and evenhanded, and the analysis of myriad issues in U.S.-Iran relations is a welcome antidote to the barrage of alarmist commentaries on Iran in much of the U.S. press. This readable and intelligent book is a must read for policymakers and the informed public. Highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.
Cole has delivered an important book that members of the administration would be wise to read en route to the Middle East.
[A] balanced and effective antidote to oversimplified Western views of Islam. . . . manages to prick western misconceptions without taking extremist movements entirely at their own estimation.
Intelligent, clear and erudite. This is a timely and incisive retrospective of the Bush administration's calamitous encounter with the Muslim World by one of the most noted scholars of the subject. Cole looks deep into what went wrong to show the way forward to a new engagement of the Muslim World.
Juan Cole, distinguished specialist on the Muslim world, delivers his most comprehensive and erudite commentary to date -- covering imperialism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, American oil politics, radical Islam and Middle Eastern terrorism. Engaging the Muslim World is the book every educated American should read.
Engaging the Muslim World is a MUST read, the right book at the right time for anyone who wants to understand 'What went wrong, why, and where do we go from here.' Juan Cole is uniquely qualified to provide a critical, incisive, provocative analysis and commentary that will be welcomed by experts, policymakers and concerned citizens.
Cole provides a comprehensive alternative analysis of the current situation in the Muslim world and reveals how new U.S. policies might succeed in bringing peace where wars now rage. He proves the key role of oil interests in American foreign policy and demonstrates how incorrect or exaggerated ideas now prevalent in the U.S. are about the intrinsic militancy of Islam, and the aggressiveness of Iran. Everyone should read and ponder the facts he presents and the solutions he proposes.
Juan Cole's depth and breath of knowledge on the Middle East has made him the most prescient analyst of the region's politics. It might infuriate the neocons who are proven wrong again and again, but Cole's insight is invaluable to anyone interested in the truth.
Juan Cole's 'Engaging the Muslim World' maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began. Like Lawrence Wright's remarkable 'Looming Tower', published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms.
The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole's, because he's smart, well-informed and sensible -- in other words, I often agree with his take.
The Obama administration, as it seeks to correct a decade of self-fulfilling phobias, will find no better guide than this nuanced, clear-headed, visionary book.
I cannot improve on Juan Cole's thorough and excellent debunking of the results [of the Iranian Presidential Election].
Provocative and sweeping . . . Of the three books, Cole's is the most critically rigorous and empirically informed. Agree or disagree, one cannot ignore cole's historically and sociologically driven analysis and moral courage.
Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book. One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes. The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read.
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Read an Excerpt
Engaging the Muslim World
By Juan Cole
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2009 Juan Cole
All rights reserved.
THE STRUGGLE FOR ISLAMIC OIL
THE TRUTH ABOUT ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
Among the major drivers of Islam Anxiety is the dependence of the United States and its major allies on petroleum and gas produced in the Persian Gulf. As the twenty-first century unfolds, and as oil producers with shallow reserves exhaust them, and as those producers with growing economies export less and less, the world will increasingly depend on Islamic oil. The United States' status as a global superpower was built on the basis of cheap energy, including coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Petroleum underpins America's entire transportation system, and hence our way of life. America is a nation on the move. Entire social formations such as suburbs make no sense without cheap fuel. Petroleum is historically and still by far the least expensive and most efficient way to move a vehicle forward at seventy miles an hour. All this is not to mention the nearly 60 million domestic and international passengers carried every month by American airliners powered by jet fuel made from petroleum. Hotel, restaurant, and other tourism and travel businesses depend on the money these passengers spend.
The U.S. military depends heavily on petroleum, too, whether in fighter jets flying over Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan or in tanks and armored vehicles on patrol in Baghdad. The U.S. combat missions in southwest Asia are estimated to consume 1.3 billion barrels of petroleum every year, more than the consumption of the entire country of Bangladesh (population 150 million). Without access to this essential fuel, the United States could not remain a superpower, and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and elsewhere would also be much weakened. We are in some sense dancing through life immersed in petroleum: It fuels our vehicles, transports our goods, grows our food and brings it to us, and provides the raw material for our plastics and even our synthetic clothing.
Despite its indispensability, petroleum is currently unpopular with the public. More and more consumers now realize that using petroleum products contributes to global warming and pollutes the air, and that the need for this fuel makes us beholden to foreign—especially Middle Eastern—suppliers. For this reason, many policies made by politicians to ensure that the United States and its allies have access to oil and gas are dressed up for the public as being about vague ideals such as patriotism, democracy, or deterring allegedly threatening regimes. In short, our leaders have figured out that we despise our bondage to black gold and so they go out of their way not to mention it as a cause of action. Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, told the Washington Post in 2007 that he had made a case to Washington insiders in 2002 that removing Saddam Hussein from power was essential to U.S. petroleum security. He was told, he said, by one official, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil."
The fact is that we are likely to become more dependent on Islamic oil in the coming decades, not less. Eleven of the top fifteen oil exporters in the world are states with Muslim majorities, and five of the most important are in the Gulf. In fact, the Persian Gulf has nearly two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves. Saudi Arabia has the world's largest proven reserves and is the biggest exporter of petroleum. Another vital Muslim-majority petroleum player, Kazakhstan, abuts the Caspian Sea, the world's other big oil slick. Muslims are big in the gas business as well—the tiny Gulf peninsula of Qatar, the home of the Al-Jazeera satellite television channel, has 15 percent of the world's proven natural gas reserves and may be the wealthiest country per capita in the world. Turkmenistan, in Central Asia, has another big chunk of the world's natural gas, and Iran's gas reserves are estimated to be extensive.
It would be irrational to resent our dependence on foreign petroleum only because we dislike being reliant on imports. Journalist Robert Bryce points out that the United States is dependent on imports for 91 percent of its platinum, 72 percent of its chromium, 76 percent of its cobalt, and 88 percent of its tin. Several of these commodities are important to defense industries, so our need for foreign sources is a security issue. Yet there is no clamor for chromium independence. Also, few Americans can remember a time when we imported relatively little petroleum, so the explanation probably does not lie in nostalgia for a bygone time. And yet our energy dependence on the Muslim world generates a good deal of Islam Anxiety. It is possible that petroleum is wrought up with gender and race in the American imagination in a way that cobalt and tin are not. Gasoline fuels automobiles and motorcycles, and American men view these vehicles as symbols of freedom and of masculinity. Being reliant on foreign lands for gasoline, and having its price determined by faraway events, is galling and even perhaps felt as castrating. The foreigners who control the sources of American manhood and liberty of movement are largely Arabs and Iranians, among the more disliked ethnicities in the United States.
Some of the causes of September 11 can be found in the competition for petroleum resources. In the late 1990s, Usamah Bin Laden wrote a letter (which was subsequently intercepted and published by the U.S. government) to Taliban leader Mullah Omar outlining the importance of overthrowing the Saudi ruling family and taking Arabia for al-Qaeda. He said that, first of all, the Muslim holy places at Mecca and Medina are located on the Saudi peninsula, which is thereby a pivotal source of Islamic prestige. But that was not all. "Likewise," he added, "75 percent of the petroleum in the world is found in the Gulf region, and whoever has dominion over the oil has dominion over the economies of the world." Bin Laden pointed to petroleum as the reason the Americans had sought to station troops in Saudi Arabia and why they were happy not to have been forced out of the kingdom when the Gulf War ended in 1991.
Bin Laden was obsessed with the idea that the United States had strong-armed Muslim oil producers such as Saudi Arabia into pumping enough oil to keep the price low. Moreover, the American-sponsored order in the Gulf allowed princely families to usurp the lion's share of profits. The al-Qaeda declaration of war on America was intended to draw the U.S. military into an unwinnable guerrilla war against the Muslim mujahideen who had already defeated the Soviet Union. Bin Laden told British-Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan during the latter's visit to Afghanistan in 1996, "I can't fight the Americans on the American mainland. It is too far. But if I succeed in bringing the Americans where I can find them, where I can fight them on my own terms, on my turf, this will be the greatest success." Bin Laden thought that in the aftermath of its inevitable defeat, the United States would be forced from the region, and Muslim radicals could then overthrow what he considered American puppet regimes and consolidate the Middle East into a new Islamic Empire, with all the oil riches of the Gulf and all the human capital of countries such as Egypt.
* * *
The United States was not always so dependent on fossil fuels from the Middle East or so focused on the Muslim world as a policy issue. During the cold war, Washington concentrated on countering the Soviet Union and its allies, and put its major resources into NATO and shoring up allies in East Asia. In the Middle East, the United States was mainly concerned that Gulf petroleum should continue to flow freely to its allies—Japan and Western Europe—and that the Soviet Union should not become influential in the area. America itself imported relatively little petroleum from the region.
Although the United States avoided heavy military involvement in the Middle East during the first three decades of the cold war, concern for the energy security of its allies impelled the United States to mount a series of covert operations, including the fomenting of coups that led to a destabilization of the region over time. The Truman administration overthrew the elected government of Shukri Quwatli in Syria in 1949, installing military dictator Husni Za'im, because Quwatli opposed the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, or Tapline, that would take oil from Saudi Arabia to the Lebanese Mediterranean port of Sidon. Following the regime change, the oil flowed freely across those deserts until 1983 (when the development of the supertanker and turmoil in Lebanon killed it). Syria's politics did not soon recover from the intervention. Za'im was overthrown after four and a half months, and Syria spiraled into constant instability and further military coups.
U.S. petroleum security and the interests of U.S. oil majors were also implicated in the Central Intelligence Agency–sponsored coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953. Mosaddegh had made the error of trying to nationalize Iran's petroleum, foolishly arguing that it belonged to his country rather than to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, which later became British Petroleum and then BP). The American oil majors were afraid that Iran's action would set a precedent, threatening their assets throughout the world. Mosaddegh and his fellow Iranian nationalists complained that Iran received only a small royalty on its own oil, pursuant to an outdated agreement made in the early 1930s. In fact, by the time Mosaddegh became prime minister nearly two decades later, the British government received more in taxes on the AIOC than Iran received in royalties. After the 1953 coup, the United States installed dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlevi as shah, and U.S. corporations received a favorable position in the Iranian petroleum industry. The shah's police state enraged the Iranian public, which overthrew him in 1979, initiating decades of bad relations between that country and the United States.
In 1958 the Iraqi military staged a coup, deposing the young king Faisal II and his wily old pro-British prime minister, Nuri al-Sa'id. The king and his entourage were expelled from the palace and then shot. The next day al-Sa'id was captured attempting to escape in women's clothing. He was shot and buried, but furious nationalist mobs, charging that the old regime had sold them into subservience to the West, dug him back up and dragged his corpse through the streets. One of the first inquiries Washington cabled to its embassy in Baghdad concerned the future of the Iraq Petroleum Company under the new regime.
In 1957 the term as president of pro-American Lebanese leader Camille Chamoun was coming to an end. If his party did well in the parliamentary elections that year, however, he could hope to extend his term of office. Chamoun, a Christian, had opposed Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser during the 1956 Suez War and was considered a pillar of opposition to pan-Arabism and potential Soviet influence in the Levant. Part of Lebanon's importance lay in the aforementioned Tapline. The CIA helped buy votes in the Lebanese 1957 parliamentary election for the benefit of Chamoun. The fraudulent elections were recognized as such, however, by Muslim activists, who revolted against Chamoun in the northern city of Tripoli and elsewhere in 1958.
When Syria joined Abdel Nasser's Egypt in the United Arab Republic (UAR), Lebanese Muslims and leftists demanded that Lebanon also become part of the UAR. In July 1958, a day after Colonel Abdul Karim Qasim overthrew the pro-Western monarchy in Iraq, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent fourteen thousand marines to invade Lebanon in support of the beleaguered Chamoun, in large part as a way of underlining that the Iraq crisis would not be allowed to impede the export of petroleum to the West through Lebanon. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had warned that if Washington did not react to the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, the Soviets would be emboldened and the Middle Eastern countries near to it would acquiesce in its leadership. Eisenhower had told his cabinet after the coup in Baghdad, "We have to act or get out of the Middle East."
A few days after the marines landed at Beirut, CIA director Allen Dulles wrote Eisenhower to tell him that "there are three million barrels of oil stored at Sidon. The Secretary [of State, John Foster Dulles] thought perhaps we should move up to guard this oil (although this will have bad connotations)." As it happened, no marines were sent there (the Tapline outlet had its own security arrangements, being well guarded by the Lebanese army), but this passage reveals the United States's oil-based motives behind the invasion. It also shows U.S. politicians' reluctance to allow the public to see that motivation.
Eisenhower concluded in the aftermath of the 1958 crisis that Western Europe was dependent on Middle East petroleum because it was cheap and nearby, and that market forces would ensure that that dependence continued, so it would just have to be accepted. A memo of a National Security Council meeting noted of the president, "He was not aware of any practicable thing we could do we were not already doing in connection with Western European dependence on Middle East oil."
After the 1958 revolution that brought him to power, General Qasim in Iraq became a thorn in the side of the United States and the United Kingdom because he opposed the Iraq Petroleum Company's monopoly on Iraqi development and production and was willing to deal with the Iraqi Communist Party and the Soviets. He put communist "sympathizers" on his cabinet. Current public discourse would lead us to think that Islam has always been a central issue in American relations with the Middle East. But although Iraq was a Muslim-majority country at the time, "Islam" as an issue played no part in U.S. policy toward it at all in the 1950s and 1960s. The question was rather how likely it was to go communist or become a secular, leftist, pro-Soviet stronghold. Qasim headed the only major oil country with a left-nationalist orientation, which made him seem especially menacing to the United States and Western Europe. A CIA unit colorfully called the "Health Alteration Committee" attempted to eliminate Qasim in 1960 by having a poisoned monogrammed handkerchief delivered to him.
Royal Dutch Shell, the French Petroleum Company (later Total), the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and a consortium of American companies (including Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony Mobil) had each received 23.75 percent of the shares when the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) was formed in the 1920s. In late 1961 Qasim issued a decree that may have sealed his fate. He demanded that IPC give the Iraqi government 55 percent of its profits and grant it a 20 percent share of ownership of the petroleum company. When IPC rejected these demands, Qasim issued Law 80 setting February 1963 as the date on which the IPC consortium would lose its undeveloped concessions and be left with only the northern fields that were already pumping. It would also be subject to high taxes and face competition within Iraq from the new Iraqi National Oil Company. In response, the oil majors in the IPC kept Iraqi production down, compared to what the consortium partners were willing to do for friendly regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, thereby making the government poorer and weaker than it would otherwise have been.
At the same time, Qasim was making claims on oil-rich Kuwait, which became independent from the British Empire on June 19, 1961. Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century and was administered indirectly through the governor of Basra Province, in what is now Iraq. Qasim claimed that Iraq was the successor state of the Ottomans in that region and so had a claim on Kuwait, but his argument was rejected both by the Arab League and by the international community. He angrily withdrew from the Arab League over its stance on this matter.
In late December 1961 National Security Council staffer Robert Komer wrote a memo about the Qasim problem to President John F. Kennedy's special assistant for national security affairs, McGeorge Bundy. Komer had previously served in the CIA. (He later became known as "Blowtorch Bob" for his role in the Phoenix "pacification" campaign in Vietnam.) He concurred with the view that the initiative on policy making should not be left to Qasim. He gloated that "Kassim is increasingly isolated" and that "rumors of a nationalist coup are recurrent, and best guesses around town are that one might occur at any time." Although this assertion is not proof that the CIA was already trying to overthrow Qasim, it is proof that the U.S. government was in touch with dissident officers from whom they heard the rumors of an imminent coup. Komer was especially worried that if Qasim "can add Kuwait production (largest in ME [Middle East]) to that of the IPC, he'll have stranglehold on ME oil. Sovs [the Soviets] would have much to gain." He suspected that Qasim was coordinating with the Soviets and that the dictator had released "Commies" from jail as part of the deal. The National Security staffer disliked the tendency in Washington to defer to the United Kingdom on Kuwait and Iraq issues. "But we own 23.75% of IPC and Gulf has 50% of Kuwait Oil Company." The "we" he was referring to was the American consortium. Gulf Oil was another of the American "Seven Sisters" and, at the time, the eighth-largest manufacturing company in the United States; its assets in Kuwait were being menaced by Qasim.
In the meantime, the Arab socialist, nationalist Baath Party (its name means "resurrection") had infiltrated the officer corps, and in February 1963 its leadership overthrew Qasim and promptly executed him. Komer revealed that he had foreknowledge of the coup, and he was ebullient about the opportunities for cooperation. He sent a memo over to Kennedy: "While it's still early, [the] Iraqi revolution seems to have succeeded. It is almost certainly a net gain for our side." The United States characterized the new government as anticommunist, as not in Nasser's pan-Arab orbit, and as "Baath-Nationalist." Komer was sure that the IPC could be persuaded to extend the Baathists a loan. While the Baathists were willing to play ball with the United States in other ways, however, they insisted that Qasim's Law 80, which took away the IPC monopoly over Iraq's petroleum while leaving it with its already-developed fields, was not subject to negotiation.
Excerpted from Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole. Copyright © 2009 Juan Cole. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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