Nicholas Kristof has finally revealed his secret. In his Thursday ramble entitled "The Daily Me," he explains, almost as if he knows the topic desperately requires an explanation, why his Middle East commentary is really a rehash of Juan Cole. That's whose web-site he reads to get his opinions on the region: "The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole's, because he's smart, well-informed and sensible--in other words, I often agree with his take."
Now, that's an extraordinary confession for someone who is ignorant about the area. For Cole, though a popular blogger, is certainly not sensible and he has, on many issues, kept himself acidulously ill-informed. Smart he is, however, though mostly in his efforts to get to the top of the heap of popular experts about the Arabs.
And, frankly, it's my friend Jim Lehrer who is responsible for Cole's rise. During the grim years of the Iraq war, he put Cole on the public television news-hour so often --and treated him with such deference--that viewers would not be to blame for thinking his expertise incontestable. The fact is that Cole has never set foot in Iraq, and certainly not in the period when almost all who were setting themselves up as experts felt the need to go. OK, Cole may have been afraid. But, then, at least, he could have taken himself to the Green Zone and then made a quick trip to Kurdistan. Mission (half) accomplished.
The fact is that Lehrer's program is where the liberal pabulum is certified. The conservative pabulum is certified by more vulgar commentators. (If the administration and Congress start tampering with equal time issues as a way to tame right-wing talk shows, public television and public radio will be under scrutiny that will be very unpleasant. After all, the public pays for them.)
Back to Cole. Not so long ago, Efraim Karsh did an article in TNR that exposes the Michigan professor's biases. These were too much for Yale which turned Cole down for a tenured spot. After all, Yale has one of the truly great history department's in the country.
By the way, has Cole ever admitted that the bloody Iraq imbroglio turned out or is turning out a bit differently than he prophesied? Yes, and "prophecy" is just the right word for Cole's analyses. So remember that Kristof in his silly admission has confessed to doing his research in the work of this shoddy scholar.
Cole has a new book out, Engaging the Muslim World. I'm in the middle of reading it. At half-way point, there's not much in it. And nothing that's fresh. In any case, you don't need to read it. You can always skim Kristof's column.