I don’t know if anyone Stateside listens to Democracy Now; it always has very interesting perspectives on world happenings, and you can catch it online. If you don’t get the chance to listen to anything else, spending 1 hour on this will fulfill your world news fix for the day. Yesterday, Amy Goodman interviewed Juan Cole, a well respected historian and author, on the topic of his new book, “Engaging the Muslim World.” You can read the transcript or listen to the audio. It will break your heart at times, and definitely give you something to reflect on.
Snippets to give you an idea of the interview:
AMY GOODMAN: So, would you say the surge worked?
JUAN COLE: No, I think the—you know, I take nothing away from the US military. I think they tried to do their best in tamping down the really apocalyptic rates of violence that were there in places like Baghdad in early 2007. But I think the main reason for which the rate of civilian death has fallen dramatically in the past year and a half has been because the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Shiite militias against the Sunni Arab population of Baghdad succeeded. And the recent provincial elections indicate to me that Baghdad may be as little as ten or 15 percent Sunni now. It used to be 50/50 before the Americans came. So there aren’t any Sunnis around in most Shiite neighborhoods anymore to be killed.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan Cole, the first chapter of your book, “The Struggle for Islamic Oil: The Truth about Energy Independence.” What is the truth?
JUAN COLE: Well, you know, I like President Obama a lot, and I’m very green. I’m all in favor of alternative energies. But the physical limitations are there, and the likelihood is, by 2050, we still will get probably a majority of our energy from hydrocarbons. And this is undesirable, but there are severe limitations to what can be done. And so, the deep reserves of hydrocarbons, oil and gas, are in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, so, over time, as the shallower reserves are used or people start using their own oil, as we expect to happen in Mexico, the United States is going to be actually much more dependent on hydrocarbons in the Muslim world than it is now.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is that going to mean for each country?
JUAN COLE: Well, we’d better have good relations with them. I say, find a Muslim, make a friend. You know, the Venezuelans now are starting to try to make a pipeline to the Pacific so as to export more to China, because they want to diversify away from the United States, because they have such bad political relations with the US. If we have bad political relations with the countries of the Muslim world that are producing the hydrocarbons—you know, increasingly it’s a seller’s market—they could sell it to China or India instead, and the United States could end up really not having the energy that it needs.
And then, later on:
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece, Juan Cole, called “Obama’s Vietnam,” talking about Afghanistan. Explain.
JUAN COLE: Well, you know, Lyndon Johnson was bequeathed this police action in Vietnam, and he became very invested in it. You and I remember those days. And it was again, you know, was to shore up the South Vietnamese government, and we kept putting in troops, and you ended up with 500,000 over there. And, you know, they did search-and-destroy tactics, which alienated the population. They didn’t realize they were fighting a kind of nationalism. So, I think, in the same way, you know, there’s a danger of Obama committing so many resources to Afghanistan in the wrong way that it can turn into a major quagmire. And then, just today, a poll came out that 40 percent of Americans now are thinking this was a mistake.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think Obama should be doing here? The same as Iraq, pulling out?
JUAN COLE: Well, again, I’m not so worried about the timetable for withdrawals; I’m worried about what they leave behind. So, you know, 80 percent of all insurgencies in modern history have been settled through negotiations of various sorts. Obviously, the people of the south of Afghanistan, there are substantial numbers of them who are not happy with the new situation. So, you know, Obama was a community organizer. What do you do as a community organizer? You go in, you ask people, “What do you need? Why are you unhappy? What can we get for you?” So he needs to do that with the Pushtuns. He needs to find out what they want and to see if there is not a peaceful way of getting it for them. And I think, you know, it’s hard to say these things at a time when the US economy is so badly damaged, but very substantial foreign aid is needed to rebuild Afghanistan.