Professor Juan Cole, slated to attend the upcoming Camden Conference, is a blogger made good. As a professor of history, with a concentration on the Middle East and its religions, he has been toiling away at the University of Michigan for a good number of years. He has been teaching, writing books and articles, editing journals, studying in Egypt, India and Turkey, and establishing himself as an "expert" on the Baha'i Faith.
Conceived in the mid-19th century, the Baha'i Faith stresses universal everything, and especially that everybody should love each other. In the 1990s Cole was a leading poster on an online Baha'i discussion board called the Talisman. On the site, the various "members" of this loving group of universal humanists demonstrated that they universally despised each other and tore each other to shreds, just for fun.
Cole was a leading protagonist of the Talisman site. But he was not on the broad national radar screen. From his early proclivity to seek notice by attacking others it appears this annoyed him. By 1996, well before most, he created a website, now called "Informed Comment," that claims to have had more than 200,000 visitors since its founding.
When Sept. 11 hit and we went into Afghanistan, Cole was not one of the yammering experts sitting at CNN or on PBS. Even with his stack of credentials, he was not called on by this administration, or any other, for insight.
Not invited to the party, the professor heated up his rhetoric, took careful aim at President George W. Bush and the "Zionist neo-cons," and watched his stature jump. The entire activist cabal that hates Bush, "the fascist Nazi" publication and website cooperative, adopted him as their perfect Middle East expert.
Here in Cole was a guy with real academic credentials, who was willing to show unremitting disdain on all things Bush that bordered on clinical frothing. His blog is now updated every few hours with regurgitated offerings from various media sources throughout the world, designed to give the impression that Cole is wired into everything and especially into Iraq. He loves to report every violent death in Iraq and when we look bad the professor is obviously happy. He defends himself as the preeminent expert on Iraq even though his voluminous biography, from birth to blabbing, does not mention him ever having been in Iraq.
On Cole's website you see a picture of a fellow with a flat expression, myopic gaze, graying wayward hair and a shirt, with no tie, buttoned to the collar. A picture of a person, well qualified by appearance, to wear the title of "nerd." By the summer of 2004 he was haunting me. His blabber was everywhere, predicting ongoing and unremitting mayhem in Iraq, discounting the possibility of elections, and trashing all commentators and officials, even those who seemed to agree with him, because the good professor clearly wants all the oxygen. He wants no competition. His rhetoric attacking the "neo-cons" and their "Zionist backers" along with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, are interchangeable with declared anti-Semites saying the same thing. He champions the old canard of how a small bunch of Jews controlled the Bush administration and hence, the world.
As Iraq moved toward its first real election, Cole heated up. On NPR he called the idea that the planned election was being considered a real election "absurd." On his blog, as the voting was proceeding, he called the election "a joke" and after its great success he reiterated his eroding point of view.
Two days before the election, as I sat reading the paper with PBS' "Newshour" chirping in the background, I looked up and there on the screen was a new Cole. He was in a horse-blanket dark tweed jacket, a silver and gray striped shirt, and a flamboyant pink tie with a monster off-center knot. Blinking behind designer eyeglasses, he was a spiffy standin for Peter Sellers playing either a left-wing version of Dr. Strangelove or Henry Orient. But to my surprise, his comments were measured and reasonable -- Strangelove making nice.
The next day I jumped to the professor's blog to see his epiphany in print. But it was the same old Cole, the whacko Strangelove calculating, even relishing, the coming Armageddon. He returned to the "Newshour" immediately following the election, offered some commentary on what people on the streets of Baghdad would be saying and threw in some informed military advice asserting that a phaseout of troops in Basra Province, the responsibility of the British, could take place immediately. He loves to stir the pot.
I look forward to hearing Cole at the Camden Conference. Who will he be; what face will he wear? Perhaps he will also tell us about how he has become so uniquely informed on Iraq.