I know that I've recently been writing about Juan Cole too much. Informed Comment is becoming, increasingly, an easy target. During the Bush administration, Cole opposed some of Bush's policies regarding the Middle East and also offered rationales for his opposition that I, maybe mistakenly, interpreted as anti-imperialist/anti-colonialist positions on his part.
So more than other analysts, and maybe more than is fair, seeing Cole now present himself as a full-fledged advocate for the US' nominally indirect colonial control of the region is disconcerting for me. That's my explanation for emphasis I've given here recently to one English-language blog. On the other hand, I don't know of another blogger today as influential on US Middle East policy as Cole. And beginning at latest by the US intervention into Libya, that influence has been pretty much entirely negative. That influence has been used pretty much entirely to justify efforts to sustain the orbit of colonies the US maintains in the region over countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.
Anyway, Cole once again shocked me yesterday with his rationalization of Egypt's dictator Tantawi's efforts to ensure that Egypt's voters could not alter the relationship the US has established with Egypt's military. Which would mean that Egypt's voters would not be able to overturn foreign or military policies dictated from the US embassy in Cairo.
As the military has taken steps that angered the Brotherhood, that cozy relationship has faltered. The SCAF issued constitutional guidelines, which may make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to change Egyptian law further in a religious direction. And the military postponed the beginning of elections until late November, a step that benefits the secular opposition."May make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to change Egyptian law further in a religious direction." A person either respects majority rule or does not. Saying elected representatives should not write the constitution, for any reason, directly contradicts the essence of democracy.
So the protests on Friday demanded not just that the military step down by next May but that it withdraw those constitutional guidelines.
The question of military rule has all along been the other shoe waiting to drop since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February. The Egyptian military hopes for a co-existence with the civilian government once it is established next year. Friday’s protesters want a subordination of the military to the civil state.
What if the people of Egypt want to change Egyptian law in a religious direction? Who is Cole to say they should not be able to do that? Portugal's voters, analysts or academics cannot impose same-sex marriage on the voters of the United States. And Portugal does not have either the agenda or history of distorting and manipulating political systems that the US has regarding the Middle East.
When the people vote for a different policy is when that different policy should happen. And if you want to see a change in policy, you make your most convincing argument to get the median person in the political system to agree with you. This is not a foreign concept to Juan Cole.
And beyond that, this focus on religious rule is dishonest. Cole has not once said the United States should withdraw cooperation from or take any tangible action regarding Saudi Arabia, today the most restrictive religious-based government in the world. Cole is not justifying popular non-participation in Egypt's constitutional process for the sake of religious rights. He is justifying it for the sake of maintaining Egypt's unpopular cooperation with Israel despite that cooperation being indefensible in terms of the values of the Egyptian people.
But as bad and dishonest as that is, I've seen it before. The stunning statement was "the Egyptian military hopes for a co-existence with the civilian government once it is established next year". "Co-existence"? Cole comes from a country where the highest general salutes the civilian president who often has never served in the armed forces the same way that general would be saluted by any second-month private in the army.
Subordination of the military to civilian rule is widely understood in the West (and by Cole) to be a foundational pre-requisite of democracy. It's actually a cliche. People who don't know anything about politics know that you cannot have democracy without civilian control over the military. To see Cole describe a situation where there is no civilian control over the military as "coexistance" is bizarre.
Juan Cole, just like Barack Obama, has become a great illustration of my contention that across its political and ideological spectrum, the United States is a profoundly negative, even a profoundly evil - in terms of the US' own moral system - influence on the Middle East. This is not a factional problem. Cole and Obama represent the left wing of US policy thought the way Cheney and Bush represent the right wing, but their disdain for the rights of the people of the Middle East is identical.
The United States actively works, constantly and in many ways, to subvert the political rights, sabotage the economic systems and physically attack the over 400 million non-Jewish people of the Middle East ultimately in hopes that fewer than six million Jewish people can more firmly grasp an enforced Jewish political majority state in a region that sees that state's creation and perpetuation as an injustice.
Until at least one faction emerges in the US political system that opposes Zionism, there will be no principled US support of the other values the US claims to uphold. Obama's statement that "sometimes short term interests will not align perfectly with our long term values" is a direct expression of that.
Eventually there will be another Republican US president. Juan Cole's criticisms of that Republican president's policies may give the impression that Cole has any concern at all for the rights, values or lives of non-Jewish people in the Middle East. The same may be true for some future Democratic-party challenger to that Republican president. I won't be fooled again. I regret to admit that it seems I was fooled the first time.