Informed sniping

Informed sniping

: Over at Michael Totten’s site, Mary Madigan rounds up the bugs buzzing around Prof. Eeyore, Juan Cole, starting with this from The New Republic (free but irritating registration required):

Having done hardly any independent research on the twentieth-century Middle East, Cole’s analysis of this era is essentially derivative, echoing the conventional wisdom among Arabists and Orientalists regarding Islamic and Arab history, the creation of the modern Middle East in the wake of World War I, and its relations with the outside world. Worse, Cole’s discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently veers toward conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This is hardly the “informed” commentary Cole claims it to be.

Among the Arabist orthodoxies to which Cole subscribes is the view that external powers are responsible for the Middle East’s endemic malaise.

[thanks, Ruth]

  • franky

    Wow, where to start – a blog post quoting criticism of another for not doing original research. You feel confident on your middle eastern history, do you Jeff?
    And the old canard that an opposition to Israeli policy makes one anti-semitic. Let me just put the question out there – is any criticism of the state of Israel allowed?
    Let me give you a hint as to how you spot the difference between an anti-semite and grounded criticism of Israel. The anti-semite will always refer to “Jews” because they see no difference between a Spanish Jew or an Argentine Jew or an Israeli Jew, criticism of Israel will mention Israel by name, recognising that Argentine Jews or Spanish Jews have nothing to do with the conflict in the middle east.
    I hope this is clear now. Let’s move on to something more substantial.

  • Tony T.

    Madigan: what a feeble load.
    “Among the Arabist orthodoxies to which Cole subscribes is the view that external powers are responsible for the Middle East’s endemic malaise.”
    Uncompelling dim bulbs like Madigan are a dime a dozen. she whines that Cole does “no research” yet she makes the above sort of statement with a straight face and expects anyone with even a basic knowledge of the middle east to buy it?
    Firstly, some specifics would be appropriate. middle eastern countries where oil wealth is more equitably distributed can hardly be suggested to be suffering from “malaise”,
    If she or anyone wants to talk about Iraq, then please be prepared to explain the disconnect: i.e. Donald Dumbsfeld shaking Hussein’s hand and the notion there have been no external forces involved in Iraq.

  • Jeff, you make an ass out of yourself every time to refer to Juan Cole as Professor Eeyore.

  • You’re quite welcome. Okay, so maybe Madigan is a little self-serving, but she’s not the only one who thinks Prof(it) Cole might be less than the ultimate authority on the middle east.

  • Jack

    Let me leap quickly to Jeff’s defense (and to Totten’s) from the slogging they’re taking thus far in the comments. I’m an academic like Cole, in fact my graduate degrees are from Michigan. I take little pride in that fact. I also work in Mideast studies, primarily Afghanistan and can state with confidence that Cole would be nearly invisible in this field were it not for his obnoxious statements on his blog. (More evidence for Jeff on the power of the blogosphere in shaping the discourse.) Cole is a long distance sniper. While the rest of us are on the ground for months at a time every year to enhance our knowledge and bona fides, Cole sits in his barcolounger offering his trite and repetitive thoughts to the blogworld. What most should realize (and I trust they do) is that Cole is now addicted to the attention–twenty years of deserved anonymity now dissolved into international notoriety. If he didn’t continue to promote his political extremism, he’d certainly now miss the exposure. He’s stuck on a roundabout now…forced constantly to up the ante of the outrage quotient on his followups to 9/11 or risk being anonymized. People on the left aren’t listening to academics unless (vide Churchill) they’re shriller and more paranoid than Chomsky. For a Cole-check on reality, read his post- 9/11 predictions on Afghanistan, then compare to prognostications of sharp journalists like Mark Steyn. It appears that Steyn (and many others) took a crash course on the Middle East and now easily surpass Cole in expertise. Just as the MSM is now fact-checked by citizen journalists, so too is the academic racket exposed by civiian bloggers, some, like Totten, who actually do the work professors used to do: that is, visit the world and make first-hand observations before publishing opinion.

  • EverKarl

    Criticizing Israeli policies is not the same as anti-Semitism (though Martin Luther King, Jr. would disagree). Of course, equating Paul Wolfowitz and Saddam Hussein isn’t really criticism of Israeli policy, is it? Casually accusing Douglas Feith of treason isn’t really a criticism of Israeli policy either. And while comparing Sharon to Milosovic might be construed in some circles as criticising Israeli policy, the two cases are hardly comparable, as explained in the prior link. Suggesting that the U.S. government is being controlled by a Zionist or Jewish cabal is not really criticism of Israeli policy or anti-Semitism so much as it is donning the tinfoil hat.
    BTW, setting aside Prof. Cole, while anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, some people will dress up their anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, because the latter won’t cause others to dismiss them as bigots.

  • EverKarl

    …and I forgot to include this link on the subject from The Guardian.

  • franky

    Juan Cole is one of hundreds of thousands of people across the world who have criticised Wolfowitz – are they all anti-semites? When Bush is compared to Hitler, is that anti-protestant? anti-white? anti-male?
    You link to a post on Volok that says in the title that Juan Cole is not an anti-semite.
    Further, if this man is an outspoken voice, why would he refer to israeli friends on his website?
    This is yet another effort by people who know a fraction of what this man knows on the middle east to discredit any voice that opposes Bush’s middle eastern policy.
    By the way, I do agree with you on the anti-zionism issue. I dislike zionism as I dislike any form of nationalism, it’s a false division of the world and seeks to elevates one race/tribe above others. But I have at times noticed when in conversations with some professed anti-zionists that really they are pushing an anti-semitic agenda but dressed in a language that permits one to avoid the accusation of racism.

  • Tom

    No Arab country had been ruled by one of its own for almost 1000 years until the middle of the 20th century. The colonial powers did make a massive mess of the entire region, particularly the English and the French.
    The sneering at “conventional wisdom” (AKA scholarly, researched thought) is interesting as well. It used to be left wing post-modernists who sniggered at the idea of an objective, studied reality – now it is the right wing who seem to find convenience in the idea that objectively true things simply reflect the subjective opinions of the people researching and discovering them.

  • Jeff….
    one might take your criticism of Cole seriously if you hadn’t been such an ass with the barcalounger comment. Obviously, you are unaware of the considerable amount of time Cole spent in Lebanon during the war there, learning FIRST HAND about attitudes of middle eastern peoples.
    As for what is happening in Afghanistan — perhaps Cole miscalculated on his assumptions about the perfidy and corruption of the Bush Regime, and did not dare to assume that Bushco would accept “democratic” control of a small slice of Afghanistan near Kabul in exchange for letting Afghani warlords turn half of Afghanistan into a narco-state.
    Of course, we’re all supposed to focus on the schoolhouse that was just painted, right?

  • TonyT

    “You’re quite welcome. Okay, so maybe Madigan is a little self-serving, but she’s not the only one who thinks Prof(it) Cole might be less than the ultimate authority on the middle east.”
    right. there’s also David Brooks with a reprint of his “Why Not Here?” article in the recent Adbusters.
    i.e. the notion that because the Berlin wall fell and a modicum of positive change swept across eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union (a thing that allegedly nobody dreamed could happen) therefore western style democracy (or even Turkish style) “democracy” has a chance of succeeding in places like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, etc.
    of course the huge DISCONNECT here is exactly when has the U.S. ever truly supported democracy in the middle east? was the CIA advocating democracy when they installed Shah Reza Pahlavi as more or less king of Iran? was the Reagan administration supporting democracy when for years they coddled and helped Hussein– and probably saw to it that he attained the weapons he wanted?
    just these two actions alone resulted in massive negative blowback which in fact we are dealing with today– and which are not being resolved in any sort of inexpensive or timely fashion.
    face it folks, comparisons of the middle east circus can hardly be made to what happened in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union– it’s not even the same planet, let alone the same ballpark.

  • TonyT: Don’t please mistake my support for democracy in the middle east for support for our invasion of Iraq.

  • hummbumm

    People keep mentioning that Cole spent time in lebanon during the war but according to his own bio on his website there is NO MENTION of time in lebanon. He did do some studies in CAIRO. So, maybe he made some quick trips into beirut in the seventies from Egypt, but that does not qualify in my book as on the ground experience. Whenever COle strays outside his stated area of expertise which is very narrow, he rests on the I speak Arabic so I understand the whole middle east. I will focus my critiques on LEbanon, where I was born and where I lived throughout the war, and I can safely say he knows diddly about contemporary lebanese politics, social currents etc. Now if I had the ego of Cole I would expand my commentary to talk about Egypt as well, after all, I speak Arabic and I have travelled to Egypt in the past 10 years ergo I am an expert. Here is my little piece of advice, anybody who sees the middle east through a US centric or an Israel-Palestine perspective (the vast majority of academics/pundits etc..)is missing out on all the stuff that is going on there. There are so many other issues, economic, social, ethnic that are key that people try and shoebox or ignore to fit the israel-palestine or pro/anti US narrative. Remove the blinkers and it is a complex and interesting world.
    Unfortunately Cole never does, and neither do Pipes and others from the “other side”. the nice thing about blogs is we can read directly without the filter, and when you read those blogs you realize that individuals, citizens of these countries barely mention the US or Israel, but rather focus on other more compelling local dynamics.

  • EverKarl

    I didn’t claim that Cole was anti-Semitic. Indeed, one of the links is to an article titled “Juan Cole: Not an Anti-Semite.” Nor did I claim that anyone who criticizes Wolfowitz is anti-Semitic. I do claim that comparing Wolfowitz to Saddam Hussein is a bit over the top. I do claim that suggesting Doug Feith is an agent for Israel is a bit over the top. I would suggest that he cannot prove that the U.S. government is secretly controlled by a Jewish or Zionist cabal.
    I do find it interesting that Cole’s definition of a a neoconservative is strikingly different from most everyone else’s definition of the term. And I would suggest that Cole’s definition is historically inaccurate. And I would note that Cole himself has claimed that “only a tiny percentage of Neoconservatives are Jews,” but wrote the following about Lawrence Franklin:
    “Franklin has a strong Brooklyn accent and says he is ‘from the projects.’ I was told by someone at the Pentagon that he is not Jewish, despite his strong association with the predominantly Jewish neoconservatives.”
    One might ask why Cole cares whether Franklin is Jewish, but let’s set that aside. Apparently, whether neoconsevatives are predominantly Jewish or whether Jews are a tiny percentage of neocons depends on what Cole feels like when he gets up in the morning.
    I could point out that Cole can go on television saying a 40 percent turnout in the Iraqi election would be a success, then turns around to spend most of his time criticizing the election and the positive media coverage of it.
    No doubt Cole is more of an expert on the Middle East than I am. But how many of the people defending Cole now agreed with him when he wrote this:
    “I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq, which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country (Milosevic did not kill nearly as many people). If it is true that Chirac thinks the Baath party can be reformed from without, he is simply wrong.”

  • Rosemary

    Are you complaining about the fact that registration is still stupidly required at many sites ….or is it that you have not heard of bugmenot???

  • franky

    I don’t really understand what the point of this is then if you don’t think he is anti-semitic, but then you continue to throw up examples that could be construed as anti-semitism. He’s an academic who researches on the middle east – he’s been wrong before and i’m sure will be wrong again, and let’s judge him on that.

  • EverKarl

    As I wrote the first time, “[s]uggesting that the U.S. government is being controlled by a Zionist or Jewish cabal is not really criticism of Israeli policy or anti-Semitism so much as it is donning the tinfoil hat.”
    My other point is not that he’s occasionally wrong, but that he regularly blogs out of both sides of his mouth, never bothering to reconcile his positions or to explain why he’s changed them. The three examples I gave are just the tip of the iceberg.
    Moreover, the comment from hummbumm, as well as past comments on the ITM blog demonstrate that Cole often knows very little about the subjects on which he asserts his authority. However, my favorite may be Cole’s dismissal of Kanan Makiya as “not a scholar,” when Makiya is an Iraqi dissident and writer who accumulated an archive documenting the history of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime; he’s also the author of two books on Iraq, which is two more than Cole has written. And Makiya has been called an intellectual by no less an authority than… Juan Cole.
    I am judging Cole on his writings and my judgment is that they are the work a pompous, petty, double-talking conspiracy theorist. He’s depending on people having short memories as he flops back and forth like an airport windsock, but I have a long enough memory to discount whatever he has to say, as he may say something entirely different tomorrow.

  • Faramin

    All the talks of “criticizing Israel is equal to anti-semitism” is to silent the critics of Israel, so to allow Israel to continue doing whatever the f*** it wants.
    I don’t give a damn who decides what anti-semitism is. I will continue criticizing Israel for the continued occupation of the Palestinian lands and for the crimes it has committed during this brutal occupation. My critisism has nothing to do with the Jews and as I said, I don’t give a damn who thinks what about me and people like me.
    Time of being silent is over and the accusation of anti-semitism will not bring it back.

  • Faramin

    As to who is behind many of the US policies, you might want to check this Haaretz article:
    The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history…

  • Madigan: what a feeble load.
    “Among the Arabist orthodoxies to which Cole subscribes is the view that external powers are responsible for the Middle East’s endemic malaise.”
    Uncompelling dim bulbs like Madigan are a dime a dozen…

    Tony T. – what feeble reading skills. The quote you ascribed to me was not written by me. It was written by Efraim Karsh of the New Republic, a fact that was made very clear in Jeffís post.
    I have to wonder if, in general, poor reading comprehension leads to a correspondingly feeble grasp of complex political concepts. Adbusters caters to the dim bulb activist crowd. You visit the site. They know their audience.
    The results of poor reading comprehension may be responsible for one current disaster on the political scene ñ the dime-a-dozen proliferation of dim bulbs who consume and excrete Adbusters and Arabist Coleís dingleberrries of wisdom without complaint.
    Yet another sign that our schools need more supervision and better funding. I mean, middle eastern countries where oil wealth is more equitably distributed?? Name one.

  • I did say:

    Although Cole claims to provide informed comment on the Middle East, itís obvious that he does not express the views of the Jews who live there. He also does not express the views of pro-Independence Lebanese, Iraqis, Kurds, Jews, Arab Christians, liberal Arabs or moderate Muslims. Cole, the Arabist, expresses the views of Arab nationalists and their Islamist allies.

    Cole expresses his Arabist views through words. Arab nationalists express their views through the use of terrorism, financial incentives and ethnic cleansing.

    I donít object to Coleís writings because of problems in his research methods. I donít object to Coleís work because heís opposed to Bush.
    I object to Coleís work because he represents the viewpoint of Arab Nationalists and their Islamist allies who are currently practicing ethnic cleansing, oppression, fascism and brutality throughout the Middle East.
    I object to Coleís work because he pretends to represent the views of all people in the Middle East. Thatís a lie. Many, perhaps most of the people in the Middle East object to the Islamist/nationalist campaign of oppression, racism, terrorism and ethnic cleansing. The pro-democracy, pro-tolerance, liberal voices of the Middle East are starting to be heard in Lebanon, in Iraq and hopefully they will be heard elsewhere. Cole and his ilk are determined to squelch them.
    When someone openly supports a political movement that currently practices ethnic cleansing, oppression, fascism and brutality, ‘Professor Eeyore’ is one of the nicest names you could call him.

  • MM:
    Interesting that ‘nationalism’ would be the epithet here. Refering to David Ignatius’ editorial on WaPo today, “Even as national boundaries are getting fuzzier because of free trade and instant flows of capital, the world is becoming more nationalistic.
    In this new nationalism, as in most things, America has led the way.”
    He goes on to cite examples which include Iraq, Jordan, The Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, China, etc. While nationalism may have its down side, you are part of an administration that makes it a touchstone.
    By the way, Ignatius concludes: “It would be a delightful irony if the Bush administration, seeing the worrisome rise of nationalism in other countries, helped lead the way back toward dynamic, reformed multilateral institutions. But I’m not holding my breath.”

  • I use ‘nationalism’ describe the current Arab/Islamist program of ethnic cleansing, slavery, terror support and oppression that has resulted in over one million deaths.
    The Iraqis, Lebanese, Kurds and black Africans who are currently suffering as a result of this movement call it ‘Arabization’, ‘Ba’thism’, ‘Wahhabism’ or just plain old ‘ethnic cleansing’. It is definitely opposed to democracy, unlike the Orange and Cedar Revolutions.
    Nationalism isn’t really the right word to describe the Ba’thist/Islamist alliance. Fascism is more accurate.

  • Must agree with you, nationalism may be an unfortunate choice of words. And I have a hard time associating fascism with the middle east. Psychopaths best describes for me the perpetrators of today’s slaughter of more than 50 hostages in Iraq.

  • Psychopaths best describes for me the perpetrators of today’s slaughter of more than 50 hostages in Iraq

  • EverKarl

    My point was that Cole talks out of both sides of his mouth about it. The men mentioned in the article you linked have been very public about their views, both in and out of government — hardly a secret conspiracy there. And the article you linked does not accuse them of having a dual loyalty and is a far cry from Cole’s wild speculation about AIPAC. We may disagree on a vast number of issues, but you are far more honest and consistent about your position than Cole.

  • I live in Ann Arbor, and Juan Cole is synonymous with blogging out here. He’s a hometown boy what done good. Mention blogging and people respond with, oh, Juan Cole.
    He’s got that small college town way. He talks and if you don’t agree, he ignores you. Notice how he doesn’t have comments enabled on his blog?
    His response to TNR called them colonialists and then degenerated into sexual psycho-babble. He sounds like an undergraduate in way over his head.