Sunday, May 21, 2006

After clearing a significant procedural hurdle earlier this month, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, who is better known as an Internet blogger, could soon be offered a full tenured position at Yale.

With a resume thin on recent scholarship and a long track record of highly inflammatory and often inaccurate statements, Mr. Cole is widely considered a surprise pick to serve at one of America’s most storied institutions. Even within the Yale campus, the university’s impending move is controversial.

Earlier this month, the history department voted on allowing Mr. Cole to teach classes under its auspices. He received just 13 of the 23 votes cast, which included three abstentions. Mr. Cole’s detractors weren’t just opposing him on ideological grounds. As one Yale professor notes, “He hasn’t written a book of original scholarship since 1998, and while he’s produced a lot on his web site, blogs lack fundamental cornerstones of academic research, such as footnotes, sources, and critical review.” (Mr. Cole could not be reached for comment.)

Yale officials reportedly aren’t reviewing, but for what other reason than his blog would he offered such a posh perch given his relative paucity of recent scholarly writing? Mr. Cole has written considerably little in academic publications since launching his blog in early 2002, but his one-man operation has attracted hordes of attention.

If Yale executives were to read Mr. Cole’s blog with any kind of critical eye, however, they would almost certainly reconsider their likely offer. His writings are marked by an endless cavalcade of errors. Flagrant, jaw-dropping errors. He regularly makes bold claims backed by precious little substantiation. And hell hath no fury like a Juan Cole scorned; ad hominem is his weapon of first resort.

To note just a few of his doozies — all within his supposed specialty of “contemporary Middle Eastern history” — Mr. Cole claimed:

“Saddam Hussein… did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up.” (No, he paid the families after the deed was done.)

“Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.” (He even cited Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in 1988 to support his bizarre assertion.)

“[A]ccording to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon’s iron fist policies toward the Palestinians… and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp.”

The flaws in the last point are devastatingly obvious. As even passive observers of the attacks know, September 11 was “conceived” many years prior — long before Ariel Sharon was even elected Prime Minister in early 2001. And the “Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp” didn’t even occur until some months after September 11.

When caught weaving fiction, Mr. Cole corrected the gaffes. But in the process, he tried to pull a fast one. He acknowledged in a footnote that Ariel Sharon did not inspire the “conceiving” of September 11 — bloggers generally fess up when they make mistakes — but then he simply deleted the original reference to Jenin, a big no-no in the blogosphere. (That action even raised the ire of his supporters at the liberal Daily Kos Web site.)

Mr. Cole’s attempt to hide his laughable blunder is quite revealing. He doesn’t take criticism well, and he almost always refuses to admit when he’s made any error of significance. More on that in a moment, though.

The man who soon might be a tenured Yale professor recently engaged in a high-profile spat with famed author Christopher Hitchens. It qualified merely as a “spat” and not a “debate,” as only Mr. Hitchens offered a response consisting of facts and arguments.

The primary thrust of Mr. Cole’s rebuttal — he specifically refused to provide “a point by point reply” — was that Mr. Hitchens was either drunk or had utilized a ghostwriter from “some far Rightwing think tank.” In a subsequent post, on May 4, Cole insinuated that the writer famous for castigating Israel was being controlled by “his neocon puppeteers.”

Ah yes, the “neocons.” Mr. Cole has a particular paranoia about them. And the Zionists. And the Mossad. And, well, you get the idea.

It’s not just that Mr. Cole sees Israel lurking behind most major U.S. policy decisions; he actually believes Israel is pulling the strings of almost anyone who dares challenge him. He lashes out at his critics with startling frequency, labeling them “Zionists,” “neocons,” “Likudniks,” or pawns of “Israeli intelligence.” (He will no doubt respond to this column with invective about this journalist being a “neocon” who secretly takes orders from “Israeli intelligence.”)

Mr. Cole resorts to tawdry barbs. In one case, he portrayed it as self-evident that his critic reported directly to the Mossad and was somehow involved in the “shadowy world of far-right Zionist think tanks and dummy organizations.”

What will Mr. Cole do when he is inevitably caught making a mistake in the classroom? Belittle the student as a stooge of the neocons? Accuse a teenager of being a Mossad agent? Prattle on about the Zionist campaign against him?

Does Yale (or its donors) really want to find out?

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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