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Truthdig Radio: Osama bin Laden and Nuclear Meltdown

Posted on Mar 16, 2011
Photo illustration from an image by Colin Grey

(Page 4)

Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig. I’m Peter Scheer, here with Kasia Anderson and …

Kasia Anderson: Hello.

Peter Scheer: … somewhere lurking in the background, Josh Scheer. And we’re joined by Juan Cole. He is a Middle East scholar who is fluent in Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. His Informed Comment blog is read by all informed people, and his Truthdig column appears every other Tuesday. Juan, thanks for being with us.

Juan Cole: It’s my pleasure.


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Peter Scheer: I want to ask you about your column this week, which is called “People Power vs. Washington.” And you refute the claim advanced by some neoconservatives in light of the Arab uprisings that President [George W.] Bush’s foreign policy somehow worked after all, and the invasion of Iraq unleashed this torrent of Democratic feeling as it was meant to, or as they claimed it was meant to, at a certain point. Can you just summarize that view for us?

Juan Cole: Well, sure. The problem with that claim is that it’s all magical thinking. It’s not … there’s no causal link or evidence put forward, and indeed, you know, the whole discourse of the Bush administration was kind of one long episode of magical thinking. So let me just do a thought experiment: If opening up Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, starting parliamentary elections in Iraq were to have an impact on the region, what would that look like? Well, wouldn’t it come in the aftermath of the events? Wouldn’t it come in 2004, 2005, 2006? Whereas if we look at the region in that period, ah! Most people were afraid of Iraq, were afraid of what was happening there, with regard to sectarian fighting and foreign occupation. So finally, in 2011, we get some movement in Tunisia and Egypt, masses in the streets demanding democracy. Well, if Iraq were important to them as a model, wouldn’t they say so? Wouldn’t there be columns, wouldn’t there be tweets that said “Oh,” you know, “they accomplished this in Baghdad; we can do it here.” But there were none. None. Nobody instanced Iraq as a model. In fact, where I saw Iraq mentioned in the Twitter feed for Tunisia or Egypt was people saying “Be careful, guys. We don’t want to have happen here what happened in Iraq.”

Peter Scheer: And in fact, as you point out in your column, there’s some uprising, there’s some protest in Iraq now that’s going largely unreported.

Juan Cole: Well, that’s another thing, that if Iraq were this big success story and the shining beacon on the hill that’s inspiring other people, then why is it subject to the same kinds of mass demonstrations, criticisms of secret police, authoritarian governments, corrupt elections—as are going on in the other countries? That is to say, even the Iraqis, or a very large number of Iraqis, don’t seem to see what they’ve got as a success story.

Kasia Anderson: Hi, Juan. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about … if there’s any evidence that the right wing is drawing from to substantiate this claim that Iraq is somehow, you know, an inspiration for other countries in the Middle East. Are they citing any particular sources, or are they just kind of gesturing at what’s happening as evidence?

Juan Cole: Yeah, they’re just gesturing. They don’t … they never have had any evidence about the Middle East. I mean, almost everything anybody among the neoconservatives has said about the Middle East is wrong and often just fantastic. I mean, unconnected to reality in a way that makes an informed person laugh.

Josh Scheer: Hey Juan, this is Josh. I was wondering what the U.S. role should be now with what’s going on in the Middle East.

Juan Cole: Well, you know, the U.S. has intervened quite a lot in that region, and often to bad effect. So, as everybody knows, the U.S. overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953, ever since has been harping on “why don’t those Iranians have democracy.” In the Middle East, people are very touchy about foreign intervention. They’ve had a lot of it. The American public doesn’t get taught in high school about the history of colonialism, so we don’t tend to know that the French were in Algeria from 1830 to 1962, or that the French took Tunisia in 1881, or that the British took Egypt in 1882. So we’re not aware of the way in which white Christian people have been in those countries making the laws, telling people what to do; and nobody wants them back. So I think the U.S. should avoid being heavy-handed. It should give what help it can to progressive forces, but I’d hate to see it take these movements as a pretext for imperial intervention.

Josh Scheer: Could there be some way of protecting the people who are getting killed, or … you know, with the protesters and things like that, or would that be too much intervention?

Juan Cole: I don’t know how you would do that. That is to say, the kinds of deaths we’re seeing among the protesters in, say, Yemen or Bahrain, which are among the worst episodes, you know … you would have a couple of people killed yesterday, you would have a few wounded; sometimes a lot of people wounded. But when the United States occupied Iraq—when it had 150,000 troops in the country, and they were doing regular military patrols—there were still a lot of people being killed. So what makes us think that, if the U.S. could occupy Iraq and still not be able to prevent … and in some instances there were 3,000 civilians dying a month under U.S. rule in Iraq. If we can’t … if U.S. troops can’t stop that when they’re in occupation, then how would they stop it from the outside? And I think this impulse to intervene is noble in some ways, because of course some of what the protesters want is very much in accordance with our values. But the practicalities, the diplomatic practicalities of it and the military practicalities of it, are something that people should give a lot of attention to before they go rushing in.

Kasia Anderson: Since you are fluent in these regional languages, are you seeing stories on blogs or on papers online and things like that, that are not really, obviously … probably not getting across the ocean to English-language papers and outlets? What do you see going on online, if anything?

Juan Cole: Well, there’s a lot of missed stories here. I think the really central role in Egypt of labor unions, both blue-collar and white-collar, are entering Tunisia as well, to these protests. That among the big demands being made was that the government allow people to form unions at will, allow them to engage in collective bargaining. That element, which was so central in Tunisia and Egypt, got very little reporting in the American press; and certainly on mass media, I don’t think it was even mentioned. And it doesn’t fit with the emphases of American corporate news, which has stopped covering most labor actions in the United States. So that’s a missed story. And all the talk about Egypt or Tunisia was, you know, the danger of Muslim fundamentalism and so forth, whereas the fundamentalists had very little to do with those revolts. They were very much labor revolts, youth revolts; the emphases were what we would think of as secular.

Peter Scheer: You write in your column, “Their ideals are far closer to FDR’s New Deal than to W.’s white tie society.” I thought that was an interesting point about the collective bargaining. …

Juan Cole: Yeah. Well, you know, when Bush went into Iraq they tried to abolish the public sector in Iraq, which was like 80 percent of the economy. And they did a lot of damage, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran showed in his book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.” Whereas, you know, if you ask Egyptians in polling “what’s the government good for,” 80 percent of them say it’s to take care of people. So where these guys’ heads are at is completely different from the Bush administration. And my reference to the “white tie society” was that scene in Michael Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which Bush is addressing a soiree of billionaires and they’re in white tie, which we don’t see so much on television, and he’s saying that those are his constituents. So that’s not what’s going on in the Middle East.

Peter Scheer: Speaking of things that we’re not seeing, you talk in your piece about developments in Algeria, Oman, Morocco, and the protests in Iraq that we’ve heard less about. You know, can you just touch on some of those, since we’ve heard so much about Tunisia, Egypt, Libya?

Juan Cole: All right. Well, of course, thousands of people in the street is dramatic footage, and you can understand why television would favor it. But a lot of things are going on in the region that would be difficult to capture with a camera, but which are nevertheless very important. So there’s a lot of side effects of these protests, changes that are being made by governments that are pre-emptive in hopes of forestalling a big movement against them. They’re changing the face of the region. So in Morocco, you have had, since independence in 1956, its independence from France, you’ve had a fairly strong, if not absolute, monarchy. There have in recent years been parliamentary elections; you’ve got a parliament, but it’s curbed by the … power. And darned if the king hasn’t just announced that he’s going to allow the prime minister to be elected from parliament, which is how it usually happens in parliamentary regimes, rather than be appointed by himself. And he’s going to devolve some real powers on the prime minister away from himself.

So it’s not as though the king is becoming a figurehead; I think he’ll still be an important political player, but he’s taking firm strides towards becoming a constitutional monarch. And if this idea catches hold, if it’s a success in Morocco, if it spreads to, say, Jordan, and other Arab publics in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are making similar demands, this is very important as a model. In Algeria, since the civil war began after the abrogated elections in 1991, there’s been a state of emergency. So these … such as they are, that are mentioned in the constitution, have been set aside. So the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, had put to the parliament a measure to abolish the state of emergency, and on Sunday that passed. So these are very important steps towards and opening up of civil rights and more democratic governments in the region.

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Thurston's avatar

By Thurston, March 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Fine interview with Micheal Scheuer, although one must wonder whether his seeming free-wheeling commentary is not part of an intelligence propaganda initiative.

Look forward to future broad-/podcasts.

Wondering why the TruthDig Listen Now player has no volume control, as almost all analogous players now do?

And why TruthDig favors direct subscription to iTunes but not to other standard feed readers (again, unlike so many other analogous sites do)?

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By Lucy Berbeo, March 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment

Hi peaceinhand and all,

There was a technical error on the audio file, but we’ve fixed it—it downloads perfectly to iTunes now. Just click here to subscribe. Thanks for listening to Truthdig Radio!

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By Marshall, March 21, 2011 at 1:19 am Link to this comment

“our goal should be to make sure that the coming generation of young Muslim
males have less reason to focus on the United States, and that the only way to do
that was to deny them the motivation of our foreign policy”

So the foreign policy goal of the US should be to placate teenage muslim fanatics? 
That’s a ridiculous statement and so smacks of abdication of values as to be an
epic FAIL.  Why don’t we just put them in office so they can make our foreign
policy directly and cut out the middle man?

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By johnscriv, March 20, 2011 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

I really enjoyed this debut podcast from Truthdig.

The interview with Micheal Scheuer was particularly titillating. While his narrative is sprinkled with tidbits of truth, I find his description of America’s nemesis, the Saudi millionaire blamed for 9/11, to be comical in the extreme.

This portrait of bin Laden, as some sort of magnificent, omnipotent immortal, capable of commanding supernatural forces, really is fanciful. The notion that al Qa’ida could surreptitiously evade western intelligence agencies, remotely suspend North American air defences and magically pulverize New York skyscrapers, is little more than a figment of paranoid imagination.

On the issue of bin Laden, Scheuer is either a propagandist, or a deluded fanatic.

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By Gerald Sutliff, March 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hate playing the role of Casandra.  I told my fellow members of a conservative (apolitical) service club that it was very risky to go into Afghanistan; God has it been more than 10 years ago?  I got some hostile comments for saying it.  Obviously it was a “mouse trap play” but like the “tar baby” we keep trying to get out by going in deeper.
BTW just what do they teach in poly science in Harvard, Yale?

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By Alan, March 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“von” Hippel was quoted in an NYT “debates” section a day or so after the event.  He gave a
somewhat ra-ra don’t get excited damage control spiel.
He has been a consultant for TEPC which, it turn out,
has been falsifying reports on its operations for

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By Robert Hennecke, March 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The internet permits setting up a quickie radio station with great reach and little costs. Good move. OBL seems to be playing three dimensional chess with the west playing on only one level not realizing that we are in fact playing into the strengths of the Islamists (or whatever the hell they want to be called) on another level. The followers of Osama Bin Laden have one foot in this world and another in the next and that is at cross purposes to the limitations of the plane of existence that the west exists in. Energy alternatives are critical and I would usually at this point say that nuclear needs to be a part of this (even if that pissed of Mr. Scheer) but given what’s hapened in Japan I think that natural gas has to be a part of that plan. That and making plastic out of agricultural waste as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce dependance on oil in general. Natural gas is the big winner this week as a result of Japans misfortune this week.

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By alturn, March 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

If we wanted to disempower Bin Laden, we would make food a universal right and ensure every person had sufficient food to eat every day.  We would put humanitarian aid before military expenditures.  We would incentivize alternative energy development and de-incentivize oil and nuclear power.  But those who control the debate and hold power would no longer do so.  Bin Laden to them remains a useful bogeyman to keep us in fear and forget that we are all brothers and sisters. Yet the time is drawing near when a new approach based on sharing will be our only sane choice.

“Soon your brothers in My centre will know that among them now is a simple Man of God, a Brother among brothers, a Spokesman for them: to place before the nations the needs of all men for a world at peace, for Just Sharing of resources, for laughter and Joy, for the creation of a New World built on the Pattern of God.’
- from “Messages from Maitreya the Christ”

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By Shenonymous, March 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

KPFK plays perfectly on my iTunes (iMac).  Access website at
Truthdig Radio plays Wednesdays at 2:00:PM

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By peaceinhand, March 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For some reason this episode won’t download into iTunes due to some “unknown error.” Anyone else have this issue? Or have any ideas? I’d love to read the transcript or listen online but have no time. And thanks regardless Truthdig…No doubt my favorite blog on the Net.

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By gerard, March 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

Truthdig, if you want the content of articles to be as widely available as possible,
please don’t put them in video format because some of us don’t have access to
that method all the time.

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By TDoff, March 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment

Anyone who doubts that Osama bin Laden is the winner in the contretemps he started, consider just this one amusing fact. Because of Osama, in the right-wing, bible-belting, ‘christian’ US of A, with it’s absolute antipathy toward gays, it is now acceptable for male TSA agents to pat-down the ‘junk’ of male air travelers, and for female TSA agents to massage the mammaries of female passengers.

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By tropicgirl, March 17, 2011 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

I’m sorry, former bin Laden hunter Michael Scheuer, what are we losing?

Bin Laden is as real as Mickey Mouse.

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kogwonton's avatar

By kogwonton, March 17, 2011 at 2:03 am Link to this comment

Who needs Osama Bin Laden when we have nuclear power plants? Even a dirty bomb has nothing on them. Don’t even get me started talking about military nuclear testing. These people don’t give the tiniest shit about actual radioactivity, but they’ll damned sure use fear of it to go after people they want. Let a power plant melt down and watch these same assholes play it down like it’s nothing.

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