University of Michigan professors are making their opinions heard and putting their expertise to work for the Obama Administration in a variety of ways. A few University professors have been named to positions close to the president. Some share their advice for the president’s agenda through the lecture circuit and books.
History Prof. Juan Cole is doing the latter.
Cole spoke last night to a crowd of about 30 people on many of the topics included in his new book, “Engaging the Muslim World.” He talked about a variety of subjects ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Israel-Palestine peace process and the Obama administration’s potential to negotiate with Iran.
Cole said he offers strategies in the book for moving forward from the past eight years of foreign policy. He started his speech by reading from one of the chapters of the book, which illustrates this theme.
“Whatever we have been doing the past eight years, it hasn’t worked,” Cole said.
He added that the Bush administration, and specifically former Vice President Dick Cheney, have perpetuated lies that negatively impacted the world’s perception of the United States and caused needless bloodshed.
But Cole said he’s optimistic the situation will improve under President Barack Obama’s leadership.
“I like President Obama quite a lot,” Cole said. “He’s doing what he can to change the dynamic.”
One of the changes Cole cited was Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran.
“Obama wants to open Iran just as Nixon opened China,” he said. “I think he has a 50-50 shot at succeeding.”
But Cole did not spare Obama from his criticism either. He said Obama’s plan for a military buildup in Afghanistan is misguided because the United States’s presence in the country won’t help fight the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cole said one of Obama’s speeches promoting the buildup contained similar rhetoric to that of President George Bush.
“I found that speech eerie — a Bushification of Obama,” he said.
Cole said U.S. government officials aren’t the only ones to blame for tensions between America and the Middle East, claiming Americans are aware of their government’s actions in Iraq.
“It is the United States that turned Iraq into a hell hole,” he said.
Cole added that there is a “lack of proportionality” in the way Americans evaluate world events. He said Americans see individual terrorist acts in the Middle East as evidence that the region is unstable. But he said if the United States was evaluated using a similar metric, America would be considered unstable due to the acts of violence in this country like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
But Cole said people in the Middle East also hold misconceptions about Americans. He cited a Lebanese book fair he attended last summer, which had more than 17,000 books, but less than two dozen were related to America.
“I have long been annoyed that they don’t have books about us,” he said. “There’s nothing.”