Professor: U.S. has allies in Middle East

Despite the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a scholar on the Middle East told a crowd of about 75 people Tuesday that he remains optimistic about U.S. engagement with the Muslim world.

Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, said in his presentation at the Kelly Alumni Center that one of the biggest problems concerning the United States’ relationship with the Muslim world is the misunderstanding. He said that while many Americans believe that the Middle East is full of terrorists, the number of countries whose governments support the United States is overwhelming.

“I can’t find this enemy we are all talking about,” Cole said. “I find allies.”

Cole has written extensively on the topic of U.S. relations with the Muslim world, including several books and a regular column on He has appeared on Nightline, Anderson Cooper 360, the Today Show and will be a guest on the Colbert Report on March 18.

Cole attended the American University of Cairo.

Cole said he does not deny that many individual citizens in the Muslim world do not approve of the U.S. He said that the reason for this is the ongoing military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the continued statelessness of Palestine.

These difficulties can be overcome, Cole said. According to opinion poles in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, citizens of these countries desire a better relationship with America, he said.

In regards to the war in Afghanistan, Cole said he believes the reason the Taliban have returned is because of the long-term U.S. military force’s presence in the area. Trying to control Afghanistan is “like trying to control the Rocky Mountains,” Cole said.

A country with more than 25 million people, Afghanistan has a GDP of about $9 billion, and 33 percent of that is generated by the heroin industry, Cole said. The Taliban captures 40 percent of that money, he said.

Cole said he doesn’t know if 17,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan will calm things down.

Most Americans see news as another form of entertainment, and when the Taliban attack a village in Afghanistan, the American public doesn’t seem to take interest, Cole said.

“There is no U.S. press in Afghanistan, no Kabul Bureau of CBS,” Cole said.

In terms of going forward, Cole said people must dispel the myths in Washington. It is based on incorrect information that real policy is often made, he said. Also, U.S. military presence in these countries has backfired and will continue to do so, he said.

“We probably wouldn’t be talking about al-Qaeda if we hadn’t invaded Iraq,” he said.