The other day, I took a crack at Juan Cole for this post. I read Cole every day, and find him a valuable resource. But sometimes I think he just gets something wrong, and this is one of them. In the offending post, Cole recommended another blogger’s post which indulged in some dark and baseless speculation about the motives and backing a few Iraqi bloggers. I don’t think he should have done that – not without better evidence.
Anyhow, out of curiosity, I poked around a bit on some right wing sites and found that his comments had infuriated a lot of people. Indeed, a consensus appears to be forming in some quarters around the assertion that Cole is “pond scum” – which is, I think, really not a nice thing to call someone. Perhaps the most repeated claim about Cole is that his remarks show that his brain has been marinating in shrill anti-Americanism for so long that he can’t bear to hear any good news, which is what the Iraqi bloggers in question apparently provide. But a) that’s clearly false; and b) if ever there were a lot who couldn’t bear unwanted news, it’s the lot currently accusing Cole of being unable to bear unwanted news.
Cole has responded to the criticisms, and I think at the weakest point of the argument against him:
My allegation that the IraqTheModel website is far outside the norm of Iraqi public opinion as measured by polling has caused a stir in the weblogging world among, apparently, dittoheads who can’t read polls.
Here are the results of an April, 2004, Gallup poll, which was scientifically weighted and involved over 3000 face-to-face interviews all over the country.
On Balance, do you think of the Americans mostly as Occupiers or liberators?
Occupiers: 71 %
(43% reported that in April 2003, they had thought of the Americans as liberators).
How have the US Forces Conducted themselves?
58% said “fairly badly” or “very badly.”
Asked if the US was serious about establishing democracy in Iraq:
50% said “no.”
12% said “don’t know.”
Asked if attacks on US troops could be justified, 52% said “sometimes,” “somewhat,” or “completely.”
The United States had an unfavorability rating of 54% (and there wasn’t a significant difference between the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs).
Only 31% favored a separation of mosque and state! (But 66% of Kurds did).
Only 30% of the Arab population favored a multiparty parliamentary democracy!
So far, so good. Most criticisms of Cole skirted past the awkward fact that most Iraqis are (justifiably) pissed off at the U.S. right now, and that the right’s habit of holding up its favourite Iraqi bloggers in order to deflect attention from this is sort of pathetic. (I’ve been toying with the idea that it’s a bit like depicting pre-War Iraq in a documentary by showing children flying kites.) But then there is this:
I drew attention to Martini Republic’s questions about the independence of IraqTheModel without actually expressing any opinion myself one way or another, except to say that they are out of the Iraqi mainstream. The dittoheads who read them and can look at the above polling figures and come to a different conclusion are just innumerate (if only they were also so illiterate as to be unable to figure out my email address).
I think that’s just silly. Go back and read the post to see if you think that Cole offers a plausible interpretation of his own post. I think he doesn’t. He drew attention to the Martini Republic’s questions in a way that seemed to clearly imply approval, and he juxtaposed speculation about the blog with speculation about other nefarious doings. When the Instapundit pulls this kind of nonsense, we all know to call bullshit on him. We should know enough to call bullshit on Cole in this case too.
Howls of outrage (12)