In addition to his professorship, Cole is the editor of the International Journal of Middle East Studies and the author of a weblog focusing on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He emerged in 2003 as a sought-after Middle East expert for the major media (including The New York Times, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio), as well as for influential leftist bloggers such as Joshua Micah Marshall, Brad Delong, and Mark A. R. Kleinman.
According to Jonathan Calt Harris, Cole “is blindly anti-Israel to the point of being an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, an apologist for radical Islam, and someone who despises American public opinion.” Cole has supported the Israel divestment campaign by numerous American colleges, on grounds that Arabs are “mistreated” by Israel.
Cole’s views are shaped by his fundamental belief in a conspiracy of Jewish “neo-conservatives” who dictate U.S. policy toward the Middle East. His recurrent theme is that a nebulous “pro-Likud” cabal controls the American government from a small number of key positions in the Executive Branch. He never names the leaders or organizations behind this conspiracy, but vaguely associates it with AIPAC, MEMRI, and Jews in the Bush administration.
Here are some examples:
When Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel sponsored by the political Left critical of U.S. policy in Iraq, analyzed the war aims of the Neocon network, Cole berated her for not pointing to a Jewish conspiracy. “I am surprised,” said Cole, “she left out what surely was the Neocons’ major concern, which is that Iraq, Iran and Syria stood in the way of Ariel Sharon’s continued theft of Arab land in the Occupied Territories and potentially elsewhere.”
Cole has also made such statements as, “[c]hemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction,” and “[m]uch of the Arab world has a formal peace treaty with Israel.” (Actually, only Egypt and Jordan have made formal peace with Israel.)
Cole contends that “Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up.” In fact Saddam not only provided $25,000 per suicide bomber, but he gave $74 million directly to the terrorist organization Hamas. But even if Saddam did pay money to the families of these murderers, Cole insists, “Supporting orphans [of dead suicide bombers] is, in any case, not the same as funding terrorism.”
“Are there Muslims who are fascists?” says Cole. “Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since ‘Islam’ has to do with the highest ideals of the religion.” He decries the term “Islamo-fascist” as a “thoroughly abhorrent” form of bigotry, even as he routinely brands Zionism “racist” and “fascist.”
In Cole’s view, President Bush’s “Draconian” post-9/11 domestic policies have “rampaged around the world alienating allies and ignoring vital conflicts.” Dismissing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis as mere “public relations and manipulation of journalists,” Cole charges that the Bush administration came into the White House “obsessed with Iraq,” whereas President Bill Clinton “tried and tried hard” to capture Osama bin Laden.
After a jihadist named Omar Mateen, who professed allegiance to the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL), used a gun to murder 49 people and wound 53 others at the gay nightclub “Pulse” in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, Cole said: “I don’t think it probably was terrorism in any useful sense of the term.” The professor explained that Mateen did not “make demands about U.S. government policy,” and that hitting soft targets was “not a form of classical strategic terrorism.” Citing the fact that Mateen had reportedly been a heavy drinker and a frequent attendee at the Pulse club, Cole also voiced doubt about whether the gunman was in fact a disciple of ISIS. “Puritanical Muslim fundamentalists of the ISIL sort don’t behave that way,” said Cole. “To put all this on Muslims and Islam in general is frankly absurd,” he added.
In January 2020 at the University of Michigan, Cole spoke at an anti-war protest organized by a number of student groups such as the Arab Student Association, the Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America, College Democrats at the University of Michigan, and the Collective Against White Supremacy. The event was organized to protest President Donald Trump’s recent decision to use a U.S. military drone to kill Qasem Soleimani, the longtime leader of the Quds Force division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, with a missile strike in Baghdad, Iraq. Characterizing Soleimani’s killing as “an assassination,” Cole said of Trump and his administration: “We have a mad bomber in the White House. We have somebody who’s erratic. We have a secretary of defense who’s a lobbyist for the arms industry. We have a secretary of state who is a Kansas oilman.” The professor subsequently proceeded to claim that President Trump, Secretary of Defense Esper, and Secretary of State Pompeo were together “making war on our climate and on the Middle East.” “The Trump Administration did not strike Iran for the first time this week,” he added. “The Trump Administration has had Iran under the severest economic blockade in modern history…. Trump has put a pillow over the baby of Iran and [unintelligible] to strangle the lives of people. Iran was on the verge of being welcomed into the world community, it was going to buy Boeing jets.”
Much of this profile is adapted from the article “Juan Cole, Media — and MESA — Darling,” written by Jonathan Calt Harris and published by CampusWatch.com on December 7, 2004.