How Conspiracy Theories Took Us To War

Peter Bergen, a professor of international studies and author of a recent book about Osama Bin Laden, takes a look at Laurie Mylroie of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whose theory that Iraq was behind Al Qaeda exerted strong influence on the Bush administration's decision for war. "She is a conspiracy theorist whose political conceits have consistently been proved wrong," Bergen says. "So why were Bush and his aides so keen to swallow Laurie Mylroie's theories on Saddam and terrorism?" Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East studies, says part of the answer lies in the role that think tanks like AEI play in pushing ideas forward: "In the academic world," Cole observes, "we don't get to publish our books at academic presses without peer review. When Princeton University Press considered my book, written out of the Egyptian National Archives, on the 19th century Urabi Revolt, the editor sent the manuscript to eminent experts in 19th century Egyptian history. Now, I lived in the Arab world for 6 years, have a degree in Arabic studies from Cairo, and had a Fulbright grant for my research. I spent a year working almost daily in the archives in Cairo. I had an academic position in a major department at a major university. But Princeton University Press did not trust me. They still had the book refereed. In contrast, the American Enterprise Institute publishes anything Mylroie hands into them, no matter how fantastic. She does not speak Arabic, has never been in any Iraqi archive, and has no standing in the Middle East field. Her books don't have to be refereed, apparently. ... And then the mere fact of the book's existence can become a reference-point in political debate. ... I guess if you have the backing of enough incredibly rich people, you can get away with almost anything."