When good news arrives from Iraq, most Americans celebrate. But not the Middle East studies professors who are often quoted in the mainstream press. For them, good news is bad news.
Testimony from General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is one of an increasing number of reports that the troop surge there has led to tangible improvements — so much so that even some of the most outspoken opponents of the war acknowledge that things are looking up.
Anti-war lawmaker John Murtha, fresh from a four-day visit to Iraq, recently admitted, "I think the surge is working." Newsweek's Rod Nordland wrote that, "things do seem to have gotten better...IED attacks across the country are at their lowest point since September 2004, down 50-percent just since the surge peaked last summer." The Red Crescent Society confirms that some 28,000 Iraqi refugees who fled Iraq have recently returned. Baghdad even hosted a vintage car exhibition, according to the ash-Sharq al-Awsat website.
Yet as positive reports roll in, many of America's most prominent Middle East Studies professors are discounting the good news. After saturating the media (TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) with predictions that Iraq will implode, their reputations as sages and prophets can only decline if the surge succeeds. In light of this, some of them appear to be hoping for a reversal of fortune and rooting for the surge to fail. Among these are Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, and Fawaz Gerges.
Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, has been writing for years about the failures of Iraq on his blog, "Informed Comment." Despite the documented improvements, he wrote a recent piece at Salon.com asking, "How much longer can Iraq limp along as a failing state before it really begins to collapse?"
Even if one accepted the official Iraqi government statistics, the average number of Iraqi deaths directly attributable to political violence in the past three full months has been around 700 per month. That pace, if maintained, would work out to about 8,400 deaths a year…Perhaps only Somalia and Sudan witness killings on that scale, and no one would say that ‘good news' is coming out of either of those places.
Cole claims that, "the orgy of violence in Iraq has displaced 2 million persons abroad and another 2 million internally, and left tens of thousands dead." No mention of the some 28,000 Iraqi refugees who have returned home in the last two months, encouraged by the good news they receive from their families.
Cole concludes that, "The lack of virtually any good political news from around the country is what drives the war boosters to cite death statistics."
But, given that numerous good news stories citing other statistics and empirical data are filed from sources that would never be described as "war boosters," such as ash-Sahrq al-Awsat and the BBC, it would appear that Cole is hoping for the collapse of Iraq, or simply refuses to look at new evidence that might contradict his long-standing conclusion that the sky is falling in Baghdad.
But Cole is not alone. Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Palestinian history and one-time Palestinian Liberation Organization spokesman, also appears to be cheering for the insurgency to prevail. Khalidi has also made a name for himself as a scholar who thinks that American foreign policy is failing — particularly regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is only too happy to point out possible failures in other parts of the region to bolster his long-standing arguments. He recently wrote in the Washington Post:
America is the greatest power in world history. But that will make not a whit of difference to the outcome in Iraq. We will not - we cannot - force the Iraqis to do what we want, any more than the British could toward the end of their own attempt to rule Iraq, although they managed to hold on for much longer than our doomed occupation will.
Ignoring the potential impact of the good news reported in recent weeks, Khalidi continues to insist that America has, "done incalculable harm to that tragic country and to our position in the world."
Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College also insists that there is no way for America to win. "The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we help al Qaeda spread its ideology and tactics," he said on PBS.
Gerges, a Lebanese who has appeared on Hezbollah's al-Manar television channel, insists that America will lose what he calls a "fight to subjugate… the Arab and Muslim world and control its resources."
We can count on Cole, Khalidi, Gerges, and other professors of Middle Eastern studies to continue to make dire predictions about Iraq. They have capitalized on the bad news in Iraq since 2003, and will likely continue to push that line in the face of changing data. If the surge works and America prevails, their reputations will almost certainly be damaged — and they can return to the relative obscurity from whence they came.