In a lecture yesterday, Juan Cole, professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University and an expert on the Middle East, discussed how a band of militants in Iraq were foiled many of the plans the U.S. political and military officials had for the country.
The event, sponsored by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, introduced Cole as the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor in History, an honor acknowledging the accomplishments of the most senior faculty members at the University.
The lecture — entitled “Collective Action in American Iraq: Can the People Thwart Empire?” — detailed the Bush administration’s actions in Iraq and how its plans and policies were thwarted by groups of militants.
Cole said officials in the U.S. government didn’t anticipate that their goals would be challenged in Iraq.
“The Bush administration had a set of goals in Iraq which, they didn’t announce publicly….and they gave interviews, and if you are good at Lexus Nexus you can find out what they thought they were up to,” he said. “And those goals were undone by Iraqis of various sorts, including slum doctors and poor people and workers and union members and so forth.”
He went on to discuss the role of Iraq’s unique culture in the conflict. The country houses regional resources which, when taken over by militant groups, funded their efforts. He cited hijacked petroleum and looted antiquities as the main revenue sources.
“It was not well known by the people who planned this occupation but it has certain features, which made it a poison pill and made it particularly difficult to occupy, dominate, exploit,” Cole said.
Cole added that he thinks President Barack Obama doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of the details that he outlined in his lecture, but that he is well equipped to handle the situation in Iraq.
“I don’t think (Obama) probably knows these details about Iraq but I think he knows what colonialism was and the damage that it did to people’s psyches,” he said. “And so I think his instincts on this are good.”
Cole also said though the military is somewhat divided on the withdrawal, many military officials are looking for a way out.
“I do have some contacts in Washington, my own feeling from them, is the senior officers, they’re really sick and tired of Iraq and they think it’s breaking the army and they want out,” he said.
Ann Arbor resident Peter Bertocci, who attended the lecture, said he found it to be informative and thought provoking.
“What he did was essentially package everything in a way which made it coherent and gave you something to think about what happened,” he said.
Rackham Graduate School student Andrea Wright, who is studying anthropology and history, said the lecture gave her the resources to evaluate the U.S. presence in Iraq.
“I think it confirmed suspicions and gave me information to be able to critique and think about the U.S.’s role and think through its goals and what ideological positions informed those goals,” she said.