To get an understanding of what Juan Cole is up against you need a peek into what others in his field are saying. A recent symposium at Georgetown University provided the perfect opportunity to do so. A synopsis of that symposium is available online here. Several themes are apparent. First, and this is the biggest concern for Cole's fellow academics, Arab studies programs are having to defend the need for their very existence if they refuse to toe the official government line. Here is an excerpt from a 2002 piece by Martin Kramer, who also happened to attend the symposium (link):
Since 9/11, the leaders of Middle Eastern studies have had one aim: to exploit the disaster to expand their empire. More money, more appointments, more students: if we receive more, they have argued, the United States will be better prepared than it was on September 11.
But in the various departments of the U.S. government, there are no illusions. Expanding Middle Eastern studies won't make America more secure if this expansion fails to produce graduates willing to serve government .
And Kramer is not the only attacker. Related to this, there is a concerted effort by lobbyists to marginalize those who disagree with Bush administration policies. At the Georgetown symposium, Peter Gran of Temple University mentioned the effect of Arab studies nemeses such as Daniel Pipes:
Peter Gran of Temple University said lobbyists had a significant impact on research topics. Citing Arab studies nemesis Daniel Pipes' remarks that true patriotism consisted of upholding market sovereignty rather than the needs of the American people, Gran argued that there was a growing trans-national meshing of elite goals, along with the simultaneous development of a social movement substituting "rapture" for economic health...
As'ad Abukhalil of California State University at Stanislau argued at the Georgetown symposium that the overall intent of Pipes' group Campus Watch was to keep the academy out of the debate by delegitimizing scholars. Juan Cole caught Pipes's group in the act of targeting him in 2002 and threatened legal action if they didn't take him off a watch list that had resulted in spam attacks on him. One can question whether threatening legal action was the right course of action by Cole, but Martin Kramer inadvertently reveals his close association with the group by the amount of detail seen in his attack on Cole here. Kramer intended to make Cole appear batty for including him in the e-mail threatening legal action. But Kramer's obvious familiarity with all the details shows that Pipes and Kramer were likely collaborating behind the scenes as Cole suspected.
Leila Hudson of the University of Arizona mentioned another nemesis of Middle East academicians: "...some, like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), distract the public from scholars' opinions." Cole also had a run-in with Kramer related to MEMRI. Here is Cole's defense of statements he made with regard to MEMRI. Here is Kramer's attack piece where he yet again tries to marginalize Cole by making him appear batty. Here is a helpful explanation of MEMRI that includes a Guardian piece.
Part of what Cole alleged was that MEMRI had a much larger budget than it was admitting. The money connection is more apparent elsewhere, as in the pro-Bush policy think tank where Kramer now hangs his hat. From the synopisis of the symposium:
Despite the active participation by Martin Kramer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), his most significant comment lay partly in what he did not say. Kramer argued that the academy should not stigmatize the few who take Middle East training and decide to work for government or advocate its current policies. However, he neglected to address the issue of the stigmatizing of those Middle East experts who speak out against governmental policy--something he has done in his own book.
Although it is not at first apparent, WINEP = AIPAC = Big PAC money and influence. Here is a history of WINEP with this key graf that reveals its current slant:
At the onset of the second Bush administration, WINEP's influence dimmed as neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and Project for the New American Century successfully pushed for a complete break from previous policy frameworks toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East. WINEP, which also had several leading neocons on its board of advisors including Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, has over the past four years also moved even further to the right and toward the hard-line positions of the Likud party militarists. The institute includes such right-wing Zionists in its ranks as Michael Rubin, Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, and Joshua Muravchik. Another new figure at WINEP is Jonathan Schnazer, who was previously a research fellow at Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum.
WINEP was originally founded as a think tank that was less partisan than its current incarnation. But, more than anything else, it is and always has been a policy insitute. Here is more detail of the actions of WINEP and AIPAC, among others, during the current administration. AIPAC and WINEP work together. WINEP serves as an a quasi-academic source of policies that AIPAC then works to make official US policy. As for the influence of AIPAC, you need look no further than this statement by Fritz Hollings that connects the Iraq War with a powerful push by AIPAC on behalf of Israeli security.
To get some idea of what WINEP is doing other than using Martin Kramer as an attack dog against opposing voices, note that some WINEP participants, like Dennis Ross, tell different stories in the US than they do to other audiences, giving anti-Palestinian bias to their comments. From the symposium link:
University of Arizona professor Charles Smith pointed out that Dennis Ross, President Bill Clinton's top Middle East negotiator, had told a French audience that both Israel and Palestine should be held accountable for the failure of the peace talks between their former heads of government, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. Ross told an American audience, however, that the Palestinians were to blame. Ross' U.S. version was dangerous, Smith said, because it would be believed for years to come, despite more accurate versions available from Clayton Swisher and Robert Malley, both of whom were present at the Camp David talks.
There was also a lot of discussion at the symposium of the effect on academics of the selective listening of the Bush administration. Lisa Anderson, president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and a dean at Columbia University, said that, "rather than academics influencing policy, policy was influencing the academy." (To give a little insight into what she is facing, you can take a look at this venomous and childish hit piece on MESA by Martin Kramer.) Ambassador Edward Walker of the Middle East Institute (MEI) agreed with Anderson, saying that the door to policy advisement was open mostly to people who already have served--and even then, mostly to those in agreement with the current administration.
University of Arizona professor Charles Smith also pointed out that Princeton professor Bernard Lewis (who said that imperialism was "a consequence, not a cause" of weakness in Middle Eastern states, despite the fact there were no Middle Eastern nation states prior to European imperialism) was consulting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before 9/11, making the point--as had Walker--that it was academics who agreed with administration policy whose advice was sought.
Leila Hudson of the University of Arizona addressed the issue of the application of Arab studies to policy as it was practiced by those in agreement with current policy. Neo-con ideas like those espoused by symposium participant Martin Kramer, she explained, traced back to the University of Chicago's Albert Wohlstetter and led to such phenomena as what Hudson described as a "think tank masquerading as an educational institution."
As mentioned above, Kramer thinks academics should accept it when quasi-scholars supply the administration with the info it wants to hear. Hudson cannily noted that policies based on the advice of non-experts (like Kramer) were failing:
Unfortunately, Hudson said, these groups drown out the expert voices of scholars in fields like anthropology and history. However, Hudson also noted, policy based on the tactics of such groups was failing because policymakers have declined to consult experts and hence lack detailed knowledge.