Friday, June 17, 2011

Juan Cole is now as admired as Owen Lattimore

If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am profoundly envious of Juan Cole. I have long admired his work. He writes richly documented scholarly works and he runs a blog in which he demonstrates every morning that he has already read everything in Arabic and Persian that was published that day. He must read and write in his sleep.
Yes, it’s envy: I only wish I could have done half as much fine work as he has, and that I could maintain an informed, up-to-the-moment commentary on even a small sector of the world comparable to his blog. But now he has now been elevated to an unparalleled level of scholarly greatness by the revelation that someone in the George W Bush administration tried to sabotage his career.
Few scholars ever get such an honor. The only other one so honored that I know of was someone else I have long admired, Owen Lattimore. Lattimore was the most eminent scholar on Chinese affairs in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote some of the greatest studies of all time on the influence of the frontier on social affairs. His Inner Asian Frontiers of China was one of the great works in a field now given a name, political ecology. He had a powerful influence on American foreign policy in his day, as he was Roosevelt’s adviser on East Asian affairs. But what distinguished him above many other worthy scholars of his time was Joseph McCarthy’s attack against him during the 1950s. McCarthy accused him of being a Communist sympathizer, “a top Russian spy.” At the moment of the attack Lattimore was en route to Afghanistan where he had been designated the new head of the United Nations Mission there. When he arrived in Kabul and read a telegram notifying him of McCarthy’s charges, he got back on the same plane and went home. In Washington he vigorously defended himself and when the hearings were over he published a book, Ordeal by Slander, written in three months, no doubt in a fit of anger.
So now it turns out that Juan Cole has been elevated to such a stature. Only in his case no one will admit to trying to dig up dirt against him. Yesterday’s New York Times only indicates that someone in the G W Bush administration was asking Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole. Who would that be? We know that the office of the Vice President was up to such shenanigans – that’s why Scooter Libby went to jail.
Whatever the situation it has now elevated Juan Cole into the class of most envied scholars. He is now on a par with Owen Lattimore.

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