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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Intelligence is so very comforting

Informed Comment

Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Jonah Goldberg Embarrasses Himself Once Again

Jonah Goldberg attacked yours truly in a column recently.

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

Jonah Goldberg was a cheerleader for the unprovoked, unilateral US attack on Iraq. The reason he repeatedly gave was that Iraq was close to having a nuclear weapon.

Jonah Goldberg: We've just seen this last week what a problem North Korea is once it has a nuclear weapon. Once a county has a nuclear weapon, it becomes almost impossible to deal with it using military force. And then that country can basically blackmail the world for whatever it wants, and that's what North Korea is doing today.

. . . we do not want to take -- to ignore problems in the world before they become insurmountable, and that's why it is a proactive approach to try to keep Saddam Hussein from becoming the North Korea of the Middle East, and he would be extremely dangerous if he did that.

December 17, 2002 Tuesday

Extremist rightwing hawks like Jonah Goldberg used their privileged position as pundits to terrify the US public that Iraq was a threat to the US. He repeatedly said in the buildup to the war that Iraq was a menace to the US, and he repeatedly brought up North Korea's nuclear weapons as a reason for a preemptive attack on Iraq.

Iraq never has had nuclear weapons. Iraq never has been as close as two decades from having nuclear weapons. Iraq dismantled all vestiges of its rudimentary and exploratory nuclear weapons research in 1991. Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program in 1992, 1993 and all the way until 2002, when Jonah Goldberg assured us Americans that we absolutely had to invade Iraq to stop it from imminently becoming a nuclear power just like North Korea.

By the way, I am in print in January 2003 saying that I did not believe Iraq posed a danger to the United States. It did not.

If Jonah Goldberg had asserted that he could fly to Mars in his pyjamas and come back in a single day, it would not have been a more fantastic allegation than the one he made about Iraq being a danger to the United States because of the nuclear issue. He made that allegation over and over again to millions of viewers on national television programs, to viewers who trusted his judgment because CNN and others purveyed him to them.

Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue. And besides, he was just plain wrong about one of the more important foreign policy issues to face the United States in the past half-century. It is shameful that he dares show his face in public, much less continuing to pontificate about his profound knowledge of just what Iraq is like and what needs to be done about Iraq and the significance of events in Iraq.

Goldberg criticizes me for saying that the 1997 presidential election in Iran was more democratic than the Jan. 30, 2005 election in Iraq. His complaint is that the four candidates for president were vetted and approved by Iran's Guardianship Council.

It is certainly the case that although Iran has elections, they are flawed because many candidates are excluded on ideological grounds. To say that, however, is not to say that the popular will can never unexpectedly make itself known in Iran. In the 1997 election the vetting was lax, and a relative liberal, Muhammad Khatami, was allowed to run. He had earlier been fired as minister of culture for being too liberal. He wrote about Habermas and civil society and democratization in Iran (he had lived in Germany several years and read Habermas in German).

The four presidential candidates in Iran were all known by name, unlike the candidates for Iraq's parliament, most of whom remained anonymous to voters in the weeks leading up to the election. I'd say that is a sign of greater transparency in Iran. The Iranian participants were not in danger if they campaigned or ran, one of the criteria of a successful democratic election according to international watchdog groups. In this respect, too, Iran in that year was superior to Iraq in 2005.

Khatami's victory in 1997 was a big surprise. He was put in by the youth vote and the women's vote, against the wishes of the hardline clerics. If a candidate wins who wasn't expected to, that is a sign of lack of manipulation of the results.

Khatami was elected by 69% of the Iranian electorate, and 76 percent of eligible voters voted. The latter number is higher than will be true for Iraq.

In every way, from the transparency of candidates and platforms, to safe conditions for voters, to unexpected results, to the percentage of eligible voters who voted and the percentage of the electorate that directly chose Mr. Khatami, his election was more democratic than the elections just held in Iraq.

The reason Mr. Goldberg is alarmed that I pointed this obvious fact out is that he wants to kill thousands of Iranians and thousands of US troops in a war of aggression on Iran. If the American public knows that there is a lively struggle between hardliners and conservatives in Iran, and that an American intervention there would be a huge disaster and would forestall the natural evolution of Iran away from Khomeinism, then they might not support Mr. Goldberg's monstrous warmongering.

That is why he attacked me.

So let me propose to him that we debate Middle East issues, anywhere, any time, he and I.

Otherwise he should please shut up and go back to selling Linda Tripp tapes on Ebay.

[In his smarmy reply, Goldberg says he wanted a war with Iraq because it did not have a nuclear weapon. This is just arrant nonsense. The point is that he kept trying to give the impression that Iraq was about to get a nuke, just as North Korea did, and that was why a war had to be fought. Iraq was not just about to get one. And even George Tenet told Bush that. By the way, I Lexis-ed him, so he should be careful about denying that he made this point repeatedly; it can be documented. Goldberg did not name any book he has read on Iraq, and admits he knows nothing about the 1997 election in Iran and will have to "check with someone." Wouldn't the time to do that be before he went into print criticizing me for saying something knowledgeable about it? He is openly admitting that he speaks without having the slightest idea what he is talking about! I have to deal with this maroon, and I have spent a lifetime studying this subject and know Persian. Goldberg also seems very afraid of debating me in person, since he did not respond to my offer.

A reader wrote in complaining about my suggestion that people who speak publicly on a subject try to know something serious about it, as elitist. I replied:

"If you saw an hour-long piece on al-Jazeerah about the reality of the United States, with English subtitles, and the reporter speaking on the U.S. had never been to America, had never read a book about America, did not know a word of English, and moreover said all kinds of things that were complete fantasy and altogether wrong, would that man be someone you would recommend to others as having an important opinion on the matter that millions of people should be exposed to on NPR and CNN every other day?"

A reader wrote in:

' "... let me propose to him that we debate Middle East issues, anywhere, any time, he and I . . .

"I wouldn't rush to pack your bags. But if you actually do get an oppurtunity to verbally castrate this weasel, ask him if he truly meant "In the weeks prior to the war to liberate Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost every day, "Why aren't we killing people yet?" And I never had a good answer for him. Because one of the most important and vital things the United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people." '

He looks to be of military age. Ask him why his sorry ass isn't in the kill zone."]

posted by Juan @ 2/5/2005 06:23:27 AM


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