John Mearsheimer

Out Cole


So, Juan Cole will not be going to Yale University after all. While Cole would not go into the details of his rejection in an email exchange with Scott Jaschik of the Inside Higher Ed Web site, he did explain: "These vicious attacks on my character and my views were riddled with wild inaccuracies." Criticism of him, he added, was "motivated by a desire to punish me for daring to stand up for Palestinian rights, criticize Israeli policy, criticize Bush administration policies and, in general being a liberal Democrat."

Cole, I think, utterly misses the point here: His political positions since the outbreak of the Iraq war are what turned a nonentity parked out at the University of Michigan into a liberal celebrity, thanks mainly to his Informed Comment blog; far from damaging Cole's reputation, his persistent criticism of the Bush administration pushed him into the limelight. The thing is that Yale was probably looking for someone with more academic weight, and on that front Cole is as light as a baby's conscience. His last book was published in 2002, on Iraq's Shiites, and his output in the past three years has mainly been chapters in books and some articles, several on the rather marginal topic of the Bahai faith.

Cole did himself no favors by failing to see the dividing line between the two worlds–academia and the foul vale of Net disputation–in which he navigates. Yale said it would not consider his non-academic pursuits in any hiring decision, but that position became increasingly untenable as Cole launched a petition calling on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to "forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as anti-Semites for their academic paper, 'The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy.'" The petition, which was aimed solely at academics, turned into a fiasco. Cole failed to reach the relatively modest goal of 2,000 signatures, and most of those who did sign are either unknown in the Middle East studies field, or come from other fields.

He also responded to a critical piece in Slate from Christopher Hitchens by launching a bizarre tirade in which he accused Hitchens of being a drunkard, while also peppering his blog post with passages like this: "We don't give a rat's ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little shit gives."

Both episodes could not have made Yale more eager to hire Cole, and I will bet a platinum mortarboard that stuffy Yale dons surreptitiously surfed his site to see just what they might get themselves into by offering him a job. There was too much excitement here, particularly after the Yale Taliban affair, and it was Cole's mistake not to play politics and stay low for awhile. One person who knows how academic appointments at Yale happen told me that it was not unprecedented for the senior appointments committee–usually a rubber stamp–to turn appointments down, but that someone pretty high up had to be involved in Cole's rejection.

So Juan Cole is not a victim of a conspiracy by the political right (after all he is still happily ensconced in Ann Arbor at a premium university, with tenure); he's just a victim of his own record, and, I would venture, creeping boredom with academia amid all that publicity that comes with playing public intellectual.