To Juan Cole


posted to on January 19, 2005


Dear Professor Cole,


I had a feeling that something was up when I discovered that Chris Bertram had included a link to your article "The Third Baath Coup?" ( on the Crooked Timber blog ( It was intended to shore up pro-occupation opinion on the left, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation. Bertram was cheered by your ambiguous observation that in face of Baathist attacks on government officials you fear that "the US is stuck in Iraq." I say that it is ambiguous because you don't make clear whether you are for this or not, although those astute in the studies of ambiguity might hazard a guess that you favor staying the course.


Bertram also includes a link to "an open letter circulated by Labour Friends of Iraq to protest against the silence of Britainís Stop the War Coalition in the face of events like the torture and murder of Hadi Saleh, International Officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions on January 4."


When you go to the open letter, you will discover that some of the key figures behind it have been heavily involved in pushing for the imperialist domination of Iraq from the beginning--like Peter Tatchell, David Aaronovitch and Norman Geras. Geras, as you probably know, is an ex-Marxist who now treads the same sorry path as Christopher Hitchens. I was also not surprised to see that Branka Magas and her husband Quintin Hoare were signatories as well. It appeared to me long ago that justifications for the invasion of Iraq were an outgrowth of those mounted on behalf of Nato's war on Yugoslavia, which Hitchens, Magas and Hoare all waved pom-pom's for.


Bertram, of course, has a trajectory very similar to Magas and Hoare, who were both associated with the New Left Review before drifting off into Hitchensville. On the Crooked Timber website, we learn that Chris Bertram "was until recently the editor of Imprints: A Journal of Analytical Socialism, now (2002) in its seventh year of publication and before that was once on the editorial committee of New Left Review, before resigning, along with nearly everyone else." He adds, "These days I find the description 'egalitarian liberal' fits me better than 'socialist', but there's lots of complicated autobiographical, cultural and theoretical stuff there which I won't go into here." I'd say thank goodness he didn't go into all that "complicated" stuff, for at least to these ears "the god that failed" was a stale tune by the 1960s, although obviously good for career advancement in the intelligentsia.


On the question of Hadi Saleh, I am gratified to see that you have not jumped on the bandwagon to condemn the antiwar movement for not having "confessed" to the crime of supporting the CP leader's killing. If indeed you are interested in reading a powerful defense of the antiwar movement, I'd refer you to the Friday, January 14, 2005 entry in the Lenin's Tomb blog ( titled "In Defense of the Stop the War Coalition." It opens:


The recent spate of attacks by Johann Hari, Nick Cohen and Labour Friends of Iraq on the Stop the War Coalition is interesting for a number of reasons. They share the following characteristics:


1) Proximity in time (choreography).


2) Repetition of false claims (reading from a script).


3) Hysterical tone (histrionics).


I just want to conclude with an observation about the need for the left in general and leftist academics to eschew ambiguity. Turning to your blog entry, you say, "The police chiefs of many cities have been killed or kidnapped, or members of their family have, such that many more have just resigned, often along with dozens of their men. The US is powerless to stop this campaign of assassination." Then, at the conclusion, you also say, "Sistani clearly fears a Sunni Arab coup, as well, and this is one reason he has not acted forcefully to end the military occupation, which he deeply dislikes. Is the Neo-Baath Coup scenario one that the US could live with?"


Am I projecting too much into your analysis when I say that you insinuate that the US might be accepting a Sunni Baathist regime in the same way that it supported Saddam Hussein? If so, this seems to disregard both the open ideological enmity and the systematic violence directed against "Baathism" in Iraq. I put "Baathism" in quotes because there is little evidence of a programmatic bid to re-institute the status quo ante in the same fashion that the NLF promised a socialist Vietnam. A video purportedly produced by the resistance has been circulating on the Internet. If it expresses Baathist values, then they are too subtle for me to discern.


In any case, I do hold you in the highest regard even when you are ambiguous or wrong.