Poor Juan Cole. The University of Michigan professor never had a chance against the vast powers arrayed against him over the last several years. It seems the academic was the target of a conspiracy, engineered by the Bush administration, with the connivance of the intelligence community and that other pillar of the military industrial complex devoted to ensuring the hegemony of the right wing thought machine, Yale University.
Cole first won notoriety sometime after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His blog, Informed Comment, became a must read for anyone who believed that Bush was a war criminal and that Operation Iraqi Freedom was the handiwork of a neoconservative cabal in Washington whose primary loyalty was to Israel. Cole himself had never been to Iraq, and even to date has yet to set foot in a country regarding which he claims expertise. But of course expertise is the last reason why journalists sought him out for quotations or TV producers wanted to put him on the air. It was precisely his paranoia and narrow-minded focus on a president the left loved to hate that won him the attention and admiration of the media. Cole was effectively a character actor, cast in the role of the angry professor, and it made little difference that he was clueless—and he had that University of Michigan affiliation.
Most of Cole’s academic colleagues agreed with him about Iraq—they certainly hated Bush as much as he did, and they perhaps envied Cole his celebrity—but very few of them ever confused real scholarly work with blogging, as Cole did. His intellectual reputation rested on his ability to scan a few Arabic-language newspapers, interpret them, and turn around a few hundred words of anti-Bush copy once or twice a day. That might be more productive than what some scholars do, but it’s not scholarly—and this is why Cole was turned down after he applied for a job at Yale. He was not doing academic work.
So let’s cut to the present. Now fading from the limelight, Cole apparently understands that he’s already a nostalgia piece, so the professor rolls out his old standby routine and starts shouting at the top of the rafters about the man he no doubt considers his arch nemesis. It seems that the only thing that kept Cole from getting that job at Yale was a 1968 Yale graduate, George W. Bush. Or at least that’s the case that Cole and his colleagues at the Middle East Studies Association are making.
MESA president Suad Joseph, a professor at University of California Davis, addressed a letter to Yale president Richard C. Levin and the school’s provost, Peter Salovey, asking them to investigate the possibility that “influence or pressure from, or prejudicial information supplied by, the Bush administration may have played a role in Yale University’s decision in 2006 to reject the appointment of Professor Juan Cole to the Yale faculty.”
Cole and Joseph’s utterly fantastic conjecture is premised on a James Risen story in the New York Times last month about a former CIA analyst who has accused the Bush administration of tasking the CIA to find information that would discredit Cole. It’s surprising that Risen, the Times’s point-man on intelligence issues, based his story on only one source, a disgruntled analyst who happens to be in the midst of promoting a forthcoming book. Logic might suggest that the Bush White House had rather more important concerns during those years than making a PBS News Hour guest look silly—there was after all a war to be won in Iraq.
We see no mention of “Cole, Juan Ricardo” in the index of Secretary Rumsfeld’s recently published memoir and, likewise, don’t expect to see him mentioned in Vice President Cheney’s account of the period when it is published next month. But of course in Cole’s megalomaniacal worldview those two would be mere henchmen while Bush would reserve for himself the sinister pleasure of getting back at White House enemy #1 by shutting Cole out of Yale—perhaps with the assistance of the Whiffenpoofs.
Of course it’s true that the CIA does have roots at Yale, including the former director of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, who was recruited along with other Elis out of the English department back in the forties. But that was long ago, when New Haven was still producing football All-Americans. Today, the notion that Yale administrators are liable to take marching orders from the White House—a Republican White House, no less—is a fantasy that reminds us why Professor Cole hit the big time in the first place. His problem is that there aren’t as many around these days willing to lend credence to his fictions.