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A book Obama should read before more troop commitments ... and yet
on October 27, 2009
Cole provides a good overview of the Middle East, and does a good job teasing out the difference between Islamic influences, oil influences, poverty influences, and more. He also does a good job of distinguishing hot just between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, but some of the major trends within each, in the different countries of his focus.
Most valuable is his take on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If President Obama DID read this book, he'd not send one more boot on the ground to Afghanistan, would give Pakistan primarily non-military foreign aid, and would rethink other things.
First, although Cole touches on poverty here and there, he writes this whole book without touching on the explosive birthrate in the Middle East, surpassed only by some sub-Saharan African countries. If I were the American Prez, "engaging the Muslim world" would start with a frank talk about birth control, which, of course, comes in fair part from empowering women.
That, in turn, is something else Cole glosses over. He talks a bit about patriarchy, but there's no depth.
Second, he's either naive, or whitewashing, with two countries, to various degrees. (And, no, I don't count Iran as one of the two, really.)
They are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Page 83, for example, he accepts at face value Prince Turki's claim that bin Laden chose Saudis for most of his hijackers so as to sour Riyadh-Washington relations. Next page, he flat-out claims that Wahhabism is not a sect, denomination, or whatever within Sunni Islam. Of course, he does that to preserve his "big tent" understanding of Sunni, only saying that the big tent doesn't go that far to the "right." Nonsense. Just as not all Sunnis are fundamentalists, neither are all Christians Pat Robertson, etc. But, SOME Sunnis are fundamentalists, just like some Christians.
Next, Pakistan and its formation. Cole claims Muhammad Ali Jinnah was worried about the tyranny of the Hindu majority in a united post-British India, citing comments by Gandhi as proof. He ignores that Nehru, et al, ignored Gandhi's call for a peasant India, all at the spinning wheel, and that Gandhi himself was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist. He also ignores the complexity of Jinnah's gradual embrace of a separate Pakistan that included selfish political reasons. Cole also doesn't mention that Pakistan originally included, of course, East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh and that, especially there, the issues were much more complex than Hindu-Muslim ones. (Ironic, coming from someone who wants to stress the complexity of "engaging the Muslim world.")
So, Cole can be a good starting point. Just make sure to have several grains of salt handy,