[Editor's note: This post was originally prepared several months ago, just when the Miers confirmation controversy was about to erupt, and eluded my attention since then.]
I visit Juan Cole's blog only once in a while, and I rarely find much to agree with. And I've certainly been critical of Cole before. But I was especially dismayed and appalled to notice that Cole--a man with serious scholarly credentials, and former head of the Middle East Studies Association--recentlyfavorably cited the absurd meanderings of Justin Raimondo, whose views on Israel's purported role in 9/11 (and much else) are simply beyond the pale of anything remotely resembling reason (a quick Google search will uncover much more colorful descriptions of Raimondo's views by quite respectable individuals and organizations such as the ADL). The particular Raimondo post Cole links to states, among other things: "'If we observe how we were lied into war with Iraq, and by whom,' I wrote in May, 'the whole affair looks more like an Israeli covert operation by the day. The AIPAC spy scandal is confirming this in spades -- and much else, too."
Here's Cole's take on Raimondo:
I wish the argument were more nuanced, and there are many things in it with which I disagree (David Satterfield is likely to have been a relatively innocent bystander in this train wreck, e.g.). But because Raimundo pulls no punches, he forces us to consider the degree to which Congressional foreign policy on the Middle East in particular has become virtually captive to the Zionist lobby (just as US policy toward Cuba is captive to the Cuban-American community and its lobby). He clearly goes too far, but how far should an analyst of this case go?
So Cole disavows Raimondo without really disavowing him, suggesting that he may be on to something! In fairness, Cole goes on to write, "One thing must be said, which is that there is no sinister cabal, that all this is just single-interest politics." But anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Raimondo's views on the Middle East, Israel, and AIPAC, knows that everything he writes is dictated by his view that there is indeed a sinister cabal, and that Israel (and its supporters) are in charge of it, e.g., the following pastiche of nonsense, conspiracy theories, and oft-debunked "facts" circulated by tin-foil hat wearers around the world (from the same post linked favorably by Cole):
Israel's legendary Mossad intelligence service, with its reputation for both efficiency and ruthlessness, reportedly shadowed the 9/11 hijackers on American soil as they prepared to launch the biggest terrorist attack in our history. Multiple sources reported a large-scale surveillance operation directed at U.S. government buildings, including offices of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, U.S. courthouses, and some military bases and research facilities. The AIPAC spy cell in Washington was the brain, and the "Israeli art students" -- whose movements shadowed the hijackers in Florida and elsewhere -- were the arms and feet of a subterranean creature whose dimensions we are only just beginning to iscover.
Citing Raimondo as an expert on Israel and espionage, with a caveat that he merely goes too far, and that of course there is no "sinister cabal" is analogous to referring readers to the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and then adding that it "should be more nuanced" and "goes too far" and of course the Jews don't control world finance and politics, but just engage in typical special interest politics. Except that Raimondo has an irrational hatred of Israel, not Jews per se (at least so far as I know), and Cole, who is very careful, and sincerely so, I gather, to distance himself from anti-Semitism, gets so worked up with his own distaste for Israel that good judgment seems to elude him.
In a bizarre but telling postscript to this story, Cole later published, without comment, a "guest editorial" from Prof. Jan Smith of Ohio Wesleyan University objecting to Cole's citation of Raimondo. Not, mind you, because of Raimondo's, ahem, unique views, noted above, but because Raimondo is a libertarian [ed. note--or purports to be; Raimondo is a "true libertarian" like the subtly fascistic Pat Buchanan is a "true conservative"], and libertarians are both beyond the pale in general, and more specifically are somehow responsible for the Iraq war because they are "private elites" (that's about as coherent as the argument gets).
I know many sensible people who find value in Prof. Cole's views on the war in Iraq, among other things. But where do we draw the line, if such a line can be drawn, between Juan Cole, Middle East Studies expert, and Juan Cole, who looks with at least tentative favor on the rantings of Justin Raimondo?