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Total number of comments: 37 (since 2013-11-28 15:36:19)


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  • Iran Alleges Saudi Plot Story is MEK Sting
    • o Though Iranian news agencies (be they pro or anti government)and websites aren't reliable, MKO involvement is inherently plausible, certainly more so that Iranian government involvement. The MKO may have tried to perform the assassination while leaving some clues leading to Iran. Picking an incompetent person like Arbabsiyar would fit nicely in that plan.

      o Putting the word Jihadi in their name as a translation for mujahideen is not technically wrong, but it seems a bit unfair, as it implicitly treats mujahideen as a dirty word, and it buys into fashionable MSM terminology and caricaturing of the world. The group's history should speak for itself, and it is not necessary to focus on their name to make a point.

      o The MKO before the revolution: To the gentleman who in the comments claimed a heroic past for the MKO before the revolution: not really, unless one considers killing enemies heroic. MKO leaders didn't even have mercy on their own members. When two of the three leaders converted to Marxism and atheism, they assassinated the third, Majid Sharif Vaghefi, who had remained an Islamist, and they also killed some Muslim associates of Sharif.

      As for other violent leftists, like the Fadayian-e Khaq, I fail to see what is so heroic about murdering policemen and soldiers during the Shah's reign. Non-violent leftists like the communist Tudeh party were definitely more worthy of respect, though as atheists their support base was more among the intellectuals and university educated class than the general public, and they simply could not mobilize the masses in the way the clerics could.

      o The same commentator hinted that the MKO played a big role in bringing about the revolution. Actually, by the time of the revolution the organization had been almost completely liquidated. Its Muslim leaders had been killed by the Marxist members, and the Marxist leaders had been killed by the Shah (except those still in prison from many years earlier who had been spared execution due to cooperating with the Shah). The few surviving MKO Marxists had changed their organization's name to Peykar. It was actually the revolution that gave new life to the MKO, not the other way around.

  • News that Makes you Go 'Hunh'?
    • Blaming Wall Street is like blaming the fox for going after the hens. The blame goes to the government, i.e., the hen keepers whose allegiance is to the fox. The Democrasts are indebted to the big corporations no less than the Republicans.


  • NATO Refuses Ground Troops for Libya as "Friends" Conference Opens
    • Now I understand what you meant about China. But since China has never been keen about military intervention or even economic sanctions on a human rights pretext in the cases of other countries, one could say that its approach to Libya has been merely consistent with its attitude more generally. By pointing this out I'm not trying to dismiss your explanation. Different considerations may have independently pushed China in the same direction. There is no reason to believe that China is any more dis-interested and just than any other big power.

    • "The eagerness of China to do business there is never mentioned."

      That is perhaps because the issue of the conflict of interest does not arise with China. It arises only with countries that overthrew Libya's government.

      Best wishes,

  • Rebels Consolidate Control over Tripoli as Qaddafi's Mass Killings Discovered
    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      The mainstream press, like the New York Times, have been reporting on massacres on both sides. For once, the mainstream press seems not to push under the rug evidence that is inconvenient for U.S. policy.

      On the other hand, since the war is almost over, this is largely a moot point. Now, it's easy to talk about what the rebels did in the past. One always learns new things about wars after-the-fact. For example, in 1992 we were told Iraqi civilians escaped harm thanks to miracle precision weapons. Later, UN surveys revealed 9,000 destroyed Iraqi homes, including entire populated city blocks in Basra blown up.

      I just have a difficult time believing that the thousands of soldiers on the government side who were killed were "bad" and the thousands on the rebel side who were killed were "good."

      Things are a lot more complex than that, as confirmed by persistent reports of pillaging and revenge killings by the rebels.

      Best wishes,


  • Top Ten Myths about the Libya War
    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      I agree with almost all of your points. But there is one objection that you do not address, and it is a rather important one, since it cuts to the heart of the justification (in my view, pretext) for the NATO bombing of Libya.

      I believe this is a myth:

      "More people would have died than this if NATO had not bombed the Libyan forces."

      It seems to me that if government troops had been allowed to kill the rebels within a week or two, *a* *lot* of lives would have been saved, as a six-month civil war would have been avoided.

      The following deaths would have been avoided:

      1-All the rebels and civilians killed by Libyan troops due to the prolongation of the war beyond a few weeks

      2-All the government soldiers killed by the Libyan rebels due to the prolongation of the war beyond a few weeks

      3-All those civilians killed in the villages that the rebels burned down to the ground, and the Blacks and migrant workers that they killed out of xenophobia.

      4-All the civilians caught in the cross-fire as the cities became a battleground between the warring parties

      5-Civilians killed as the Libyan TV stations were bombed

      6-"Collateral damage" in NATO bombing

      7-All the government soldiers killed by NATO.

      This last item alone, government soldiers killed by NATO, must include thousands of deaths! That is because there were thousands of NATO bombing operations.

      Best wishes,

  • The Great Tripoli Uprising
    • If this means that there will be peace now, this is excellent news.

      My heart goes out to the victims of this war--not only the rebels and the civilians caught in the cross-fire, but also government soldiers who were killed in large numbers by the most powerful air forces in the world.


  • Tripoli Surrounded, Cut Off
    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      Thank you for this report on Libya.

      I am sure you have seen the persistent reports by Western human rights groups and Western journalists about the abuses by the rebels. These include pillaging and destroying loyalist houses and villages, looting villages regardless of the loyalties of the residents, revenge killings, assassination, racial attacks against blacks, at least one instance of rape, and fuel blockades against civilian populations.

      To me, this is only to be expected: war is inherently corrupting. Even if one of the sides in a war has a "just cause," after a while this "righteous" side ends up killing as many people as the original aggressor. That happened in WWII and the Iran-Iraq war, for example.

      If the goal is protecting civilians, the solution is to call for an immediate negotiated cease-fire and peace-keeping troops from the U.N.

      But I think we both know that the goal is political, namely, the removal of Qaddafi. And the thousands of deaths caused by the pursuit of this political goal is deemed an acceptable price.

      I'm not even sure that your desired goal of democracy-at-any price is a likely fruit of the current violence. Sure, the rebels have said what the Western public would like to hear: they're for human rights. But an opposition faction that is used to solving its problems with violence may continue to do so after victory. After Qaddafi falls, the factions with the biggest fire power may purge the others, and the professors who have spoken eloquently for democracy in Libya may be set aside by the Generals.

      Best wishes,


  • Top Ten Mistakes in the Libya War
    • Thank you for the reply, Prof. Cole. I certainly don't assume that Qaddafi is a moral person (nor do I make that assumption about many other heads of state), but I do assume that self-interest and the demands of realpolitik could make amoral leaders reach a peace agreement. Now that so much force is being used against the Libyan government, it stands to reason that there is considerable leverage against Qaddafi, enough that could make him take an interest in a negotiated peace settlement revolving around expanded civil rights, power-sharing, or perhaps federalism, provided he retains some power. The negotiated peace could be monitored by peacekeeping forces. This way, NATO, instead of pouring death on people from above, would actually be helping save lives.

    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      There seems to be a contradiction in your positions. On the one hand, you say that the purpose of intervention is to protect civilians (i.e. not overthrow Qaddafi per se, a goal which would violate international law). On the other hand, you complain that NATO has not coordinated well with the rebels, whose goal is nothing short of overthrowing the Libyan government. Which is it? Is this war intended to overthrow the government of a sovereign nation, or is it intended to protect civilians?

      Also, if protecting civilians is the point, why do you not urge the parties to enter into negotiations in order to establish peace? I have consistently gotten the sense that you don't want peace unless Qaddafi is overthrown, and it doesn't matter how long the war lasts, how many people die, how many people are displaced, and how many cities are destroyed, as long as that political end is achieved.


  • Women to Protest Driving Ban in Saudi Arabia
    • I want to see a scientific poll documenting what most Saudi women think about the driving ban. Until then, I will pay no attention to what the media, academics, and activists say on this topic.

      While the Saudi driving ban may not fit my personal values, it is up to the Saudi people (including Saudi women) to structure their society as they see fit, and to change their society or let it stay the same as they see fit. Foreigners like me should come down from their high horse and mind their own business.


  • Libya not a War for Oil
    • I don't believe the war was motivated by oil. But I suspect the oil factor means that the West wants a speedy end to fighting (so that the oil companies can resume their work and oil can flow again). Hence the West's exceeding the mandate to protect civilians. That and the fact that Qaddafi is not a puppet made it an easy decision which side to support in the conflict.

      As for the morality of the war, the bottom-line is that a lot more people have died and a lot more of Libya has been destroyed than would have been the case if the West had not attacked government forces and supported and encouraged the rebels.

  • Taliban, al-Qaeda Flee N. Afghanistan as Morale Collapses with al-Qaeda admission of Bin Laden's Death
    • I doubt the events in Kunduz have anything to do Mr. bin Laden's assassination. There are also fresh Taliban offensives as we write these words. I think the Taliban will be neither strengthened nor weakened, since their base of support is different from that of al-Qaeda.

  • Obama right not to Release Usama Photo
    • I agree with everything you have written.

      I wish, though, I could say that it were a sense of decency and concern for the dignity of the dead that prevented the publication of the photos. We can safely rule that out. If decency & dignity were at play, the body wouldn't have been dumped in the sea. Rather, pragmatic considerations of the type you have outlined explain the decision to not publish the photo (*and* the decision to dump the body in the sea). Fortunately, this is one case in which the pragmatic option is also the more humane option.


  • Top Ten Myths about Bin Laden's Death
    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      CNN and other news agencies have noted that the earliest claims about the raid contradict later claims:

      link to

      This raises an issue that I mentioned in an earlier comment of mine, one that I was disheartened to see was not approved for posting. The issue is this: how can you be confident about the details of what happened given that we have only Pentagon's word, a source that is generally unreliable?

      Best wishes,

  • Libyan Opposition: 'Extremely Happy' at Bin Laden's Death, Combatting al-Qaeda
    • Human nature being what it is, communities become "extremely happy" only when something happens that affects them directly. They will be at best merely "happy" when the event does not concern them directly. Why would the Libyan rebels be "extremely happy," as opposed to merely "happy"? Are they expressing extreme happiness in order to impress a nation that unlike them was directly affected by bin Laden?

  • Qaddafi Using Cluster bombs on Civilian Areas
    • Joe: How is the continuation of wartime atrocities proof that war is saving lives? The war is a cause of the atrocities, and that is why it is important to negotiate for peace rather than reject negotiations and thereby prolong the war.


    • Mr. Barkell: When a person identifies with a national state, they'll need to accept a number of myths to make themselves feel better about the crimes, even mass murders, committed by that state. You acknowledge zero American culpability in WWII. Yet even on your premises one cannot coherently consider at least the bombing of Nagasaki as justified. Incidentally, history refutes your comforting myth that Japan would have never negotiated for peace: a nation that eventually accepted *surrender*, would have negotiated for something less than surrender. In fact, Japan did *not* fight to the death. That is proof enough that the idea that Japan intended to fight to the death is a myth.

      To bring back the discussion to Qaddafi, although it's a fair guess that he might not accept surrender unless he is nearly defeated, there's no reason to think he will not accept terms short of surrender right now. There is no reason to think he would not negotiate for peace, power sharing, expansion of civil rights, or at least granting rebels immunity if they laid down their weapons. None of this interests the US and its allies. They have a *geo-political* goal rather than humanitarian one, namely ousting Qaddafi and steering into power a government in the oil & gas-rich nation that is more friendly to US demands. This war is all about the US remaining the empire that it is.

    • Mr. Barkell: When an individual identifies with a national state, any state, he/she will need to accept a number of myths to make themselves feel better about the crimes, even mass murders, committed by that state. You acknowledge zero American culpability in WWII. But not even in your worldview can one coherently consider the bombing of Nagasaki justified, as by then it was clear Japan was surrendering. Incidentally, history refutes your comforting myth that Japan would have never negotiated for peace: a nation that would eventually accept *surrender*, would would have accepted to negotiate for something less than surrender. The Japanese did *not* fight to the death. That is proof enough.

    • Is it possible any more to coherently claim that the war is benefiting the civilian population and saving lives?

      We have seen such dynamics in many wars before. In the Iran-Iraq war, Iran argued that because Saddam was an evil war criminal who had started the war, Iran should fight until he was overthrown. This resulted in countless deaths and unspeakable suffering for the two nations.

      In WWII, the US insisted that it would fight Japan until it was defeated. This, of course, required genocidal bombing of Japan. Negotiating for peace was not considered.

      Now, the U.S. and its allies declare that they'll fight until Qaddafi steps down (which would lead to his execution). In other words, negotiating for peace is out of question. It doesn't matter how many people die in this war: Qaddafi must step down. Is there any other proof required for the fact that saving lives was not the intent of the Western intervention?


  • Free Libya plans Tripoli Uprising as Doha Conference Urges More Help to Civilians
    • It's heartbreaking how the people of Libya are suffering, and how everyday the death toll rises. To the victims, it doesn't really matter who started it first. Punishment and retaliation will not bring back the dead.

      The most humanitarian thing to do is to stop the violence. How can deaths be minimized? It can be done if rebels negotiated with Qaddafi for power sharing, or for expansion of civil rights, rather than demanding that he step down: Obviously, Qaddafi will not step down, and so the fighting will continue. Alternatively, the rebels can unilaterally end the rebellion and melt into the population or go into exile. Some of them will be hunted down and killed by Qaddafi, but by putting an end to civil war they will have avoided far greater bloodshed.

  • Thomas Jefferson in Arabic
  • Libyan Rebels Aspire to Democracy
    • Paul: it's common for Islamists to talk about women and equal rights, also about democracy.

      Sometimes such language is genuine and sometimes it's lip service. We don't know which is the case here. The US State Dept has already impressed on the rebel leaders that they need to project a democratic image if they're to enjoy Western support. The rebels have every motive to tell Western audiences what they want to hear.

  • Westbrook: Half-Measures in Libya will Fail
    • Dear Professor Cole,

      The following question is at the heart of discussions about the morality of the various options:

      Which option entails the least amount of death and suffering? The options are as follows:

      1) Inaction. (My preferred position)
      2) No-fly zone and neutrality. (Your preferred position)
      3) Direct support for the rebels. (Your guest's preferred position)

      Among these, I think #2, no-fly zone plus neutrality, will be the most costly in terms of lives and suffering, for the reason that it will entail a protracted civil war. Many will die in battles on both sides, and perhaps many others will die as a result of a general state of lawlessness and insecurity (as in Iraq after 2003).

      You probably would disagree with this assessment, saying that #1 (inaction) will entail the greatest suffering. I admit that inaction would have led to the killing of many rebels who continued to fight--maybe hundreds of them--plus many civilians caught in the cross-fire, though most of the rebels would have melted into the population as they realized they could not win. So, yes, inaction would have been costly in terms of lives, but it is hard to imagine that it would be as costly as your preferred option 2. It is a fair guess that already hundreds of pro-Qaddafi fighters have been massacred through aerial bombing, and reports indicate that civilians and rebels continue to die in the civil war.

      As for your option 2, I wonder if it is not academic: while it is true that the allies and the UNSC have officially espoused this option, all the evidence shows that it is a false pretext and cover for option #3. What the allies are debating now is the extent, nature, and mechanisms of support for the rebels, not whether the allies should support them at all. That question seems to have been settled on day 1. In other words, I don't think your "neutrality option" has ever *really* been on the table. The reason why it was never considered is probably that the allies don't want a civil war that drags on for many months or even years, creates refugees, destroys the oil industry, creates a no-man's land that al-Qaeda could use as haven, etc.

      The choice, then, is really between options 1 and 3.

      Option 3 has various problems other than the humanitarian one. First, it's illegal: the use of force to overthrow the Libyan government is not permitted by international law. Second, if such aggression becomes acceptable, it will have terrible long-term consequences in other conflicts. Third, as Geoffrey Kemp has argued, Libya has shown that a country cannot gain security & integration by giving up its nuclear industry. If Libya had nuclear arms, it would not have fallen victim to foreign aggression. North Korea is taking notes. Fourth, for Muslim and Arab populations, the specter of the West, in a coalition in which Arab **dictators** play a symbolic supportive role, attacking yet another a Muslim country has all the resonances that I need not rehash. It won't help the image of the West.

  • An Open Letter to the Left on Libya
    • You're right. I should've referred to French as the protectors of the "genocidaires"--i.e. those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

      To hear France talk about protecting civilians now in an oil and gas-rich country is amusing.

    • You write, "Using this argument, Ghandi was 50% responsible for the Amritsar massacre."

      Ghandi would have condemned the rebel's taking up arms. That's where the difference lies.

      Civil war by definition involves two groups that are using weapons to attack each other.

      The Libyan rebels are no pacifists. They are rebels. They have guns. They shoot those guns. They kill people.

      If you want to argue that their cause is just: fine. I might not disagree. But portraying them as non-combatants is just nonsense.

    • Who do we trust to intervene with force on supposed humanitarian grounds? The United States, France, and Britain? Did these powers not cause the death of 100,000+ people in Iraq? Did the US not cheer the birth of a "new Middle East" as a thousand Lebanese civilians were killed by Israel? Didn't these countries stand by as Israel sent its tanks into Gaza and used white phosphorous in urban areas?

      In Libya, remember that civilians can be combatants. The rebels are mostly civilians, but they're also combatants. You mask that fact when you talk about "civilian" deaths. The non-combatants who are dying are caught in the cross-fire between the rebels and the government.

      There would be no war if the rebels did not take up arms. Without a rebellion, we'd just have a classic police state, no doubt with *some* violence, but nothing like a civil war and its inevitable horrors. It's the civil war that is causing the death of civilians, and the rebels bear 50 % of the responsibility for the civil war.

      The UNSC is dominated by the allies. It's a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. But oddly enough, the allies don't even intend to honor their own UNSC resolution. They've already gone far beyond the mandate established by the UNSC. All the evidence shows that the bombing is not intended merely to protect civilians--it is intended to help overthrow Ghaddafi.

      This disagreement does not diminish my respect for you.


  • Wikileaks on Israel, Iraq and the Iranian Specter
    • No, I don't think there'll be a major outflow of Jews if Iran gets the bomb.

      Currently, the Israeli media and politicians talk as if Iran's goal is to attack Israel with nuclear arms. Naturally, this has created hysteria. Just as the mass media & politicians can create hysteria when it serves their purposes, they can calm the population when the old propaganda has outlived its purpose.

      In any case, this discussions is moot, since it's very unlikely that Iran is seeking atomic weapons. Iran prefers integration into the world economy to being a target for invasion.

  • O'Donnell SNL Spoof
    • OK, that was funny and made me laugh. But, really, how relevant is it that a 40-something candidate dated somebody in high school who was into paganism--a perfectly valid religion, by the way--without she, herself, having converted to that religion anyway? Are we all to be evaluated for silly things we may have done or said decades ago?

  • Blogfather in Iran sentenced to 19.5 years for Dissent
    • Somebody in the judiciary must have really hated him, since his sentence is much harsher than those of reformist figures convicted for the recent disturbances. His trip to Israel seems to have raised the suspicions of espionage, and there is no lack of paranoid conspiracy-theorists in Iran's intelligence services. His self-avowed atheism wouldn't have endeared him to the judiciary either. The sentence is an incredible travesty. I only hope that it will be cut down upon appeal. The sad thing about all this is that politically he was practically a nobody. Many reformists hated him and called him a spy of the regime and worse, while the conservatives were not fond of him either. This is yet another sign of the closing of the Iranian society and politics during this last year and the strengthening of the radical fringe within the conservative camp. PS I don't believe "Blogfather" is the translation of پدر بلاگ but I've forgotten the original epithet. Whatever it was, people stopped calling him that when his politics changed!

  • Americans are always Shouting About Religion But Don't Know Much About It
    • "It isn’t odd that atheists and agnostics know a lot about religion."

      The survey doesn't show that atheists know a lot about religion. It only shows that Christians know even less.

  • What would Martin Luther King Say? Mosques and the New Jim Crow in America
    • Should Iraqis ban all Churches? Almost every town and neighborhood in vast parts of Iraq has suffered loss of life and devastation that is comparable to 9/11. If a similar logic is applied to Iraq, wouldn't that entail the banning of Churches in most of the country? I suspect, though, that Iraqis will not stoop to such lows.

  • The Closing of the Zionist Mind
    • The issue of Biblical Minimalism is marginal to the larger argument, but here's a question anyway: I have my doubts about the claim that *only* religious believers in the Bible are not minimalists. One imagines that one can be a non-minimalist without thereby being a maximalists who accepts every little detail in the Bible about the period at hand?

      Also, making an issue of a scholar's religion in this kind of context is an ad hominem argument. You're accusing maximalists of refusing to go where the evidence leads due to religious motivations. But once we allow ad hominem claims, they can be slung in every direction. For example, minimalists could be accused of willfully ignoring all literary evidence due to an anti-religious motivation. (Not that I think either this accusation or the other is true, or that if it is true, it matters. Ultimately what matters is the quality of the argument, not the motives.)

      It's worth keeping in mind that there are examples in which collective memory has been shown to preserve genuinely archaic information, initially dismissed by some, but later vindicated by the evidence of epigraphy or radiocarbon-dated manuscripts. There are examples relating to ancient Greece, pre-Islamic Arabia, and early Islam. As the cliche goes, absence of (documentary) evidence is not evidence of absence.

  • US Ally Maliki & Octavia Nasr Both Praised Fadlallah
    • Let me see. If an journalist said they admire Obama, Bush, or Netenyahu, would CNN fire them?

      No. Yet all these three people have blood on their hands.

      This incident shows that CNN is biased. If they were objective, either they'd fire nobody about their political views, or they'd fire everybody.

  • Iran Announces Breakthrough Nuclear Exchange Deal
    • Prof. Cole: With regards to what you found "mysterious":

      What is different about this agreement is that Turkey has guaranteed that if the West does not deliver the 20%-enriched fuel as promised, it will return Iran's 4%-enriched uranium to Iran.

      Formerly, Iran worried that the West might take its 4% fuel without giving it the promised 20% fuel.

      But the main thing that has changed is that Ahmadinejad has succeeded in convincing the Iranian establishment to go with the deal. Ahmadinejad supported the swap from the beginning in an unconditional fashion and argued strongly in its favor. However, his decision was attacked vigorously both by moderates/reformists like Hasan Rouhani and by fellow conservatives, like Ali Larijani. He seems to have finally succeeded in convincing the Leader, Khamene'i.

  • US Troop Withdrawal in Iraq on Track
    • Mr. Obama runs the U.S. partly according to his Christian ethics. Mr. Bush ran the U.S. partly according to his Christian ethics. I see nothing objectionable about this per se, but I imagine a Rawlsian liberal might disagree?

  • Iran Quiz
    • Unlike Sunnism, Shi'ism does not consider attending Friday Prayers a religious duty. Most people find it more convenient to just pray at home. So, the percentage of people attending Friday Prayers is less significant than one might think. A good test of religiosity would be the percentage of people who perform daily prayers. Most Iranians do perform their daily prayers, as shown by the WVS surveys. However, there is also evidence that young people in Tehran and university students are increasingly less religiously observant.

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