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February 5, 2005

Studying the Socialist Ramifications of a Hammer Does Not a Carpenter Make

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Jonah Goldberg responds to some raving from Juan Cole (a professor handling the Middle East, don'cha know). Jonah quotes Cole's opening paragraph:

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

More than discrediting Goldberg, Professor Cole has revealed a great deal not only about himself, but about the Left in general. One wonders how many intellectuals, some of them with tenure, have spent the past week festering because, for all of their degrees and language knowledge and books authored, right-wing simpletons are not only being proven right, but they're being proven to be on the right side of the issue.

The problem that so many intellectuals have — across the disciplines — is that they haven't been visiting and learning languages and writing books to understand their subjects, but to cram them into a Leftist worldview. Consequently, an understanding of human nature, which is available to all of us equally, trumps scholarly perambulation, and the "academic retreat into expertise," as Goldberg calls it, will become a retreat into obscurity and irrelevance when reality makes the people confident to laugh at the professors' credentialized bluster.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 5, 2005 9:24 AM
Middle East


Posted by: FJ Harris at February 5, 2005 10:14 AM

Jeez i was just about to post just about the same thing. This is a temper tantrum over the fact that Goldberg, being one of the unwashed masses, was right about a significant thing.

Yeah, Cole's pretty much a boob.

Posted by: A.W. of at February 5, 2005 10:36 AM

I've worked with Dr. Cole, being his official USG sponsor for a speaking tour to Bahrain in the late 1980s. There is no question that he is one of the most knowledgeable American experts on Shi'ism. But, like Chomsky with linguistics, when he leaves his field of expertise to dive into politics, he doesn't always find the pearls he seeks.

Chomsky's linguistics are now being more fully developed by others, by protegés, even. Right now, though, Cole is still the tops on Shi'ism. I can strongly recommend his books and papers on that topic. On politics? Nope.

Posted by: John Burgess at February 5, 2005 10:47 AM

What gives you the idea that Professor Cole is trying to filter his academic work into a leftist worldview?

Oh wait. You must have found his links to "informative" sources.

I see an awful lot of the "p" word on there.

Posted by: Brennan Stout at February 5, 2005 11:27 AM

A clear cut example of what happens when Mr. Cole strays outside his area of expertise can be found at the bottom of this article on Blog Trolling.

Posted by: Tom (American Voter) at February 5, 2005 11:39 AM

A man can be an expert in any topic, yet his opinion on that topic be worthless if he decides to bend, shade or hide the facts. It is called intellectual dishonesty, and Cole reeks of the smell of it.

But what do we expect from a man who planted the seed that the Iraq the Model bloggers were CIA agents? For no real reason other than they disagreed with his position on Iraq. Afterall, clearly an expert like Cole knows more than the people living there.

Posted by: Quilly at February 5, 2005 1:09 PM

Perhaps someone should mention to the good doctor that while what’s happening in Iraq may not work in his theory, it does seem to be working in fact.

Docs hate when that happens.

Posted by: The Kid at February 5, 2005 1:14 PM

What is the purpose of Coles work, or any other middle eastern scholar's, if it is incapable of providing the reader with a legitimate basis of knowledge from which to draw insights on their area of specialization ?

Posted by: Mau Mau at February 5, 2005 1:25 PM

.. what's PHD stand for ?

Piled Higher and Deeper ;)

.. why can't we make anything idiot-proof ?

because god keeps making better idiots !

Posted by: norm at February 5, 2005 1:59 PM

What's fuuny about Cole's statement is that it imposes a litmus test on ALL critics. It basically requires that 1)you have published a book 2)you are fluent in speaking and writing Arabic 3)have read abook on iraq 4)lived in an Arab country and 5)are an expert in Shiite Islam, before giving any kind of judgment to Iraq.

Daily Kos, foolishly, has even posted the attack on Goldberg (and by logic ANYONE else who does not meet his criteria) on his site. So by Cole's argument, Kos is not to fit to lay criticism on Iraq, nor anyone else who does not meet the criteria.

Posted by: mark at February 5, 2005 2:00 PM

Juan Cole has also claimed that Michael Ledeen doesn't know anything about Iraq, because Ledeen doesn't speak "Persian".

By the way, does Cole speak Hebrew? He doesn't? Where the hell does he get off having opinions about Israel? All Cole articles that mention Israel must henceforth be ignored.

I see from his website that Cole claims to speak "some" Turkish. If you read a Cole article about Turkey, skip every other paragraph.

Posted by: Glen Wishard at February 5, 2005 2:20 PM

Cole's argument is that same argument that leftists made about "chicken hawks". You could not support the war unless you fought there. Off course, they did not require the credential to critize it.

Posted by: capt joe at February 5, 2005 2:28 PM

Poor Mr. Cole. Someday he may realize that knowledge is not a replacement for sound judgement.

Posted by: John G at February 5, 2005 3:17 PM

Assertions like Cole's resort to authority remind me of people like Lester Maddox and the defenders of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.

Maddox et al would constantly refer to "outside agitators" and "northern liberals" who had no experience of life in the south and didn't understand how whites and blacks co-existed in places like Mississippi. The short of it was that they should take their uninformed, nosey, holier-than-thou selves the hell home and stop bothering the good people of the South about their internal affairs.

Posted by: Kevin Murphy at February 5, 2005 3:30 PM

What is the purpose of Coles work, or any other middle eastern scholar's, if it is incapable of providing the reader with a legitimate basis of knowledge from which to draw insights on their area of specialization ?

Maumau, there in a nutshell, lies the importance of intellectual honesty in arguments. A specialist who is honest may be relied on by all sides. One who is dishonest may be relied on by none.

This incident recalls a previous case where Prof Cole repeated Saddamite propaganda about the importance of Fallujah to the Mesopotamian revolt of 1920 (ahistorical rubbish, as Cole well knows), then got all huffy when the Fadhil brothers from Iraq the Model blog called him on it. When the Fadhil brothers quoted reputable historians on the Mesopotamian revolt, Cole went into his "I am the great professor, you are mere dentists" act (he couldn't very well accuse the Fadhil brothers of not knowing Arabic), and claimed to have secret sources. To which the Fadhil brothers replied, we may be mere dentists, but would the great professor mind footnoting his sources so that we can check them? Cole did not reply.

Now we have a similar case of Cole making ad hominem and inaccurate attacks against Jonah Goldberg. Prof Cole clearly shows that he is arguing as a polemicist, not an academic, and one who isn't too nice about the honesty of his arguments.

Posted by: Nadine at February 5, 2005 3:44 PM

The clearest indication yet that Cole has lost this battle is that James Wolcott has declared Cole victorious.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at February 5, 2005 4:35 PM

you guys whatare you talking about (PRof.) Juan Cole is a EXPERT what are you NOTHING(expert ha i don't think so). You guy's TOTALLY barking up the wrong (here) p.s. HIs replies are timely and coridal (we've corraspond before-Prof. Juan coole is one of my BEST corraspondent's)

Posted by: iraqwarwrong at February 5, 2005 5:22 PM

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but that was convincing. We're all poopyheads for criticising Cole, so there!

Posted by: David Gillies at February 5, 2005 6:56 PM

Like all leftists, Cole is a rationalist, and as with all rationalists the problem isn't with what he does know but rather with what he pretends to know. Of what use is a world-class master chef if he is cognitively incapable of distinguishing between the menu and the actual dinner it represents? Show me a leftist in this day and age and I'll show you a bonafide menu-eater.


Posted by: jackson zed at February 5, 2005 7:39 PM

"One wonders how many intellectuals, some of them with tenure, have spent the past week festering because, for all of their degrees and language knowledge and books authored, right-wing simpletons are not only being proven right, but they're being proven to be on the right side of the issue."

Well, except that Cole was right and Goldberg was wrong about WMD. But, you know, I'm just a liberal so somehow I'm wrong about that.

Posted by: Bryant at February 5, 2005 11:23 PM

For someone ostensibly heterosexual, James Wolcott does a GREAT impersonation of a catty old drag queen. I picture RuPaul in curlers when reading his snappy bon mots. You go, girlfriend!

Posted by: Jame Gumb at February 5, 2005 11:35 PM


Well, I'm not inclined to delve into the WMD debate just now, particularly because my point is broader than the present scuffle.

At any rate, the Goldberg column to which Cole was responding was not about WMD; it was about the elections in Iraq. In fact, that Cole spends so much of his post on WMDs gives a bit of the impression that he was cycling back to something that he feels he might have gotten right — presumably so that he doesn't sound like a despicable paranoiac when he writes that Goldberg "wants to kill thousands of Iranians and thousands of US troops in a war of aggression on Iran."

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 5, 2005 11:49 PM

In computer science we have a phrase, "Garbage In, Garbage Out," which describes the more generalized principle of axiomatic systems that theorems between non-isomorphic systems are not transferrable.

Juan Cole's highly-educated garbage is a result of the underlying axioms upon which that garbage is based, which are also garbage.

No matter how highly advanced Mr. Cole's theories are, nor how well he develops them, because they are based on fundamentally flawed assumptions, they are themselves doomed to be fundamentally flawed.

Posted by: Computer Scientist at February 6, 2005 2:37 AM

If you really notice, Jonah really made an ass of himself and the Prof really called him out - unlike Blitzer on CNN. Jonah has consistently wrong on almost any topic he addresses, not just on facts but also on context. Why folks like CNN have him on is a wonder. He parlayed the Linda Tripp sex tapes to being in a position to advocate sending innocent American kids to their deaths. How can he have any credibility when (by his own admission), he knows precious little about what he is talking about.

Lucianne's fruit has proved himself in this discussion to be a sissy and his bravado extends to seeing other people die on TV. He should really get back into his mom's business - Soft porn; rather than saying crap in the corner.

Posted by: Logical Profusion at February 6, 2005 3:40 AM

George Orwell memorably said that some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them. The Juan Coles of the world will always be with us. Fortunately, they are easy to spot.

Posted by: Jerry at February 6, 2005 8:03 AM

Re: Treacher's post

Goldberg has a high-larious post up on Wolcott in the Corner. Wolcott is the "fifth girl on Sex and the City". Hah!

Posted by: Mike S. at February 6, 2005 8:42 PM

too bad cole himself was for the war before he was against it.

Posted by: Cole-itis at February 7, 2005 12:20 AM

"Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue."

Anyone who would publish that sentence has already lost the debate.

Logical Profusion, are you just Juan Cole hiding behind a pseudonym, or are you a graduate of the Juan Cole School of Rhetoric? I can't remember ever seeing a less coherent post on a blog.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 7, 2005 7:34 PM


Amen to that.

By-the-way, when will your blog be up and running?

Also, thanks to Justin for THIS great blog! I visit it daily.


Posted by: Aaron at February 7, 2005 10:45 PM

This exchange seems very embarrassing for Goldberg. I haven't seen him defend himself on any substantive point. He counters essentially by saying "Cole is a craphead" and selectively citing two sources and misstating Cole. You don't need to be fluent in Arabic to comment on the middle-east, but Golberg's repeated demonstrated ignorance is inexcusable for such a public pundit.

Posted by: festus at February 8, 2005 12:04 PM

Ah, he ESSENTIALLY said "Cole is a craphead." Is that what they call a "weasel word"?

Posted by: Jim Treacher at February 8, 2005 7:30 PM


You thought this was embarrassing to JONAH?

Well, a statistic of one in the blogosphere is still a statistic, I guess.

It's a free country!

Posted by: Aaron at February 8, 2005 10:07 PM