Popular blogger, author Juan Cole talks Middle East foreign policy amid presidential election
October 23, 2012
Historian, scholar and blogger Juan Cole spoke Monday night about the two presidential candidates and their views on foreign policy in relation to the Middle East.
Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan and a Northwestern alumnus (WCAS ‘75), delivered the 23rd annual Leopold Lecture to a nearly packed auditorium in Harris Hall.
Cole contrasted the points of Middle East policies outlined by President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He characterized Obama as embracing a pragmatic approach, occasionally transitioning into humanitarian internationalism. The Obama administration withdrew from Iraq and intends to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
"He puts all of this in the passive voice," Cole said. "He says the tides of war are ebbing. He doesn't say that he is making the tides of war ebb. He almost wants to convince the public that this is a natural development and has nothing to do with him."
Cole said an example of Obama's foray into humanitarian internationalism included the intervention in Libya.
Leila Tayeb, a doctoral candidate in performance studies, is writing her dissertation about Libya and has family that lives there. She said this was part of why she decided to attend the lecture.
"I know Cole has done a lot of past work related to Libya," Tayeb said. "He seems to know a lot of the Libyan-American scholars whose work I really respect."
Cole characterized Romney as "neoconservative lite." He criticized the candidate for saying that he regrets Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq.
"Governor Romney's critique of this process seems to assume that if only President Obama had tried harder, if only Biden had tried harder, if only if they would have gone and wished upon a star that somehow the Iraqi parliament could have been convinced to allow 30,000 U.S. troops to stay in the country," Cole said. "Some neoconservatives still talk as though the Iraqis like us and wanted us there. We always talk about war in Iraq and not the war on Iraq, which is how it is said in Iraq."
Communication Prof. Joe Khalil, who teaches on the Qatar Campus, attended the lecture and said he follows Cole's blog, Informed Comment, and has read some of his other work.
"It's very hard to pin him down, that's what's good about him," Khalil said. "He didn't shy away from criticizing (former President George W.) Bush so we know where he's coming from."
History Prof. Carl Petry also attended the lecture and pointed to Cole's scholarly works in both contemporary and historical contexts.
"He runs one of the most widely tuned-in blogs that exists around the world and, needless to say, the reaction to it ranges totally across the spectrum from people who enormously admire it to those who find it absolutely extricable," Petry said. "That's what makes it so darn interesting, and he welcomes that. His attitude is: This is something that ought to be out there."
Cole's talk took place while the two presidential candidates debated foreign policy. McCormick civil and environmental engineering researcher Mohanned El-Natour (MEAS '09), a Palestinian, attended the lecture for this reason.
"I think it's very interesting to hear somebody like Juan Cole's opinions," Elnatour said. "I was interested to see how he analyzes Obama's actual policy and what he practically did versus the Democratic and Republican ideals and where reality lies in the middle."