Taliban Man at Yale may soon have congenial company. The New York Sun reports that the most important higher education institution in New Haven may soon hire Juan Cole, a supporter of the notorious Walt—Mearsheimer paper, and well—known for his anti—Israel, anti—American Middle East Policy positions.
The prospect of Mr. Cole joining the Yale faculty is disturbing for many reasons. His "scholarship" in this area consists entirely of crude polemics, and his outlook is colored by a conspiratorial view of history. Mr. Cole has used his modicum of fame not to participate in the realm of respectable scholarly debate but to express his deep and abiding hatred of Israel and to opine about the influence of a Zionist cabal on American foreign policy.
Mr. Cole's most frequent public statements and writing — many of which appear on his blog, Informed Comment — have deviated considerably from his areas of expertise. He rarely misses an opportunity to inveigh against Israel. If it were up to Mr. Cole, the country wouldn't exist at all. It would have been preferable, he claims, for the British to have accepted Jewish refugees "rather than saddling a small, poor peasant country with 500,000 immigrants hungry to make the place their own." Today's Israel, Mr. Cole contends, is "the most dangerous regime in the Middle East" and the primary instigator of the terrorist threat against America.
According to Mr. Cole, American Jews both inside and out of government are primarily loyal to Israel and subvert American interests for those of the Jewish State. He believes that American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American pro—Israel lobby group that is one of the targets of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper, has Congress in its back pocket. "This level of the control of congress by what is essentially the agent of a foreign government has deeply distorted US foreign policy and made the US a dishonest broker." He has written that "pro—Likud intellectuals" "use the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel—Aviv." Mr. Cole has even hypothesized that "powerful Likudniks inside the US government are deliberately engineering a diplomatic rift in NATO, so as to ensure that Paris and Moscow cannot position themselves to influence Washington's position (usually supine) toward Sharon's excesses." According to Cole, these same Likudniks launched the war in Iraq in order to "defang" the country "as a favor to Ariel Sharon." In a 2004 article entitled "Dual Loyalties," Mr. Cole wrote, "I simply think that we deserve to have American public servants who are centrally commited [sic] to the interests of the United States, rather than to the interests of a foreign political party."
Ed Lasky 4 18 06
Michael Rubin, writing in the Yale Daily News, has some thoughts of his own:
Universities thrive on scholarly discourse. Professors should be open to new ideas —— not only those that challenge policymakers, but also those that test entrenched campus opinion. Unfortunately, Cole has displayed a cavalier attitude toward those who disagree with him. In a February interview with Detroit's Metro Times, he argued that the U.S. government should shut down Fox News. "In the 1960s, the FCC would have closed it down," he argued. "It's an index of how corrupt our governmental institutions have become that the FCC lets this go on." Many Yalies may not like Fox, but top—down censorship is no solution. Cole's outburst was the rule, not an exception. On Sept. 4, 2004, he wrote that "The FBI should investigate how [Walid] Phares, an undistinguished academic with links to far right—wing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the 'terrorism analyst' at MSNBC." While Cole has labeled his own critics "McCarthyites," they have not called for his censorship or arrest.
False accusations are telling. Phares is neither "far right—wing" nor tied to "the Likud clique." Public figures label and dismiss when they do not want to debate the substance of ideas. Take Cole's reaction to Phares, who is far from undistinguished. His most recent book, "Future Jihad," won acclaim in both the scholarly and policy communities.
While Cole condemns anti—Semitism, he accuses prominent Jewish—American officials of having dual loyalties, a frequent anti—Semitic refrain. That he accuses Jewish Americans of using "the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment" is unfortunate. Further, while Cole has never visited Iraq, he condemns many who have.
Credibility matters. Blogging is not scholarship, but it reflects upon it. Sources matter. To support his opinion, Cole has cited the work of Lyndon LaRouche's former Middle East intelligence correspondent. Seldom are Cole's opinions backed by fieldwork. If Cole wants to believe that "right—wing Zionists" falsely depict the genocide in Darfur as "Arab" versus "black," fine. But did he do the work to justify his belief? When I was in southern Sudan, residents laughed at such apologia.
Professors should choose their words carefully. Early in his career, Cole did serious academic work on the 19th century Middle East, although his books did not have lasting historiographical impact. He has since abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary. Perhaps YCIAS is not looking for academic rigor. But unlike prominent professors at Princeton, Columbia or Tufts, Cole cannot bring real—world policy experience to either the classroom or research.
Cole is a major public figure. But political popularity and punditry should not substitute for research, accuracy and experience. Bush criticism may be trendy and perhaps even valid, but the reputation of Yale's faculty and the future of YCIAS should be based on more. Now, it is time for YCIAS to decide whether it prioritizes academics above politics.