David Sanger Finds Wisdom in Conspiracy-Monger's Book on Muslim World

Professor Juan Cole calls Israel "racist" and "fascist" on his blog. He now has a book out, and the Times' David Sanger thinks Bush should have "mulled over such material."

In the Sunday Book Review, chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, who loathed Bush's assertive foreign policy while covering that beat, gave a favorable review to University of Michigan professor (and conspiracy-monger) Juan Cole's book, "Engaging the Muslim World."

Cole is in the habit of calling Israel "racist" and "fascist" on his popular blog and, according to Jonathan Calt Harris of Campus Watch, has a "fundamental belief in a conspiracy of Jewish 'neo-conservatives' that largely runs U.S. policy toward the Middle East."

And Sanger thinks Bush should have listened tohim.

In October 2005, with the war in Iraq headed off the rails and his own visions of a democratizing Middle East crumbling,George W. Bushtried to rally the nation with a call against a new global enemy: "Islamofascism." In a series of speeches, he described America's disparate enemies as a united force, bound together by a common vision. Unless America rose to the challenge, he argued, jihadists would realize their ambition to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia."

Bush's effort to equate America's amalgam of new enemies to the Axis powers of World War II quickly fizzled. Even some in the White House admitted privately to embarrassment, and the word "Islamofascism" was stricken from presidential speeches. Evil? Yes. But not an organized force - and Bush's speeches quickly came to be regarded as a huge mistake because they inflated the power of America's enemies rather than dividing them by playing off their longstanding rivalries. After all, it wasn't so long ago that the Iraqis and the Iranians were fighting a bitter war. And Bush was lumpingOsama bin Laden's Sunni extremists withMahmoud Ahmadinejad's vision of a nuclear-capable Persia.

Juan Cole's "Engaging the Muslim World" maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material (in fact, much of it was contained in his briefing papers) before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began. Like Lawrence Wright's remarkable"Looming Tower,"published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms. Along the way, Cole, a historian at theUniversity of Michigan, explores what he sees as the twin dynamic of "Islam Anxiety" in the United States and "American Anxiety" in the Arab world.

Sanger eventually finds things to criticize in Cole, such as comparing the 9-11 hijackers toTimothy McVeighandTerry Nichols:

George W. Bush may have overinflated the power of Islamofascism, but certainly the radical Muslim movement, in all its incarnations, has a membership that is bigger and better financed than the American fringe groups, and with a presence in more countries than those home-grown extremists who threaten domestic terrorism.

But Sanger concluded by praising Cole's "very pragmatic approaches - confidence-building with Iran, and the kind of wooing of enemies that allowed Gen.David Petraeusto begin to tame Iraq."