Juan Cole

iraqi childMaybe the closest thing you and I will see to a daily box score on Iraq comes out around dawn every day from the Middle East historian Juan Cole at the University of Michigan. President Bush probably gets a tidier morning rundown from the CIA and NSC. For the rest of us, trying to make sense of car bombs and assassinations, religious politics, oil prices, the many doomsday scenarios and the heat in Baghdad, there’s Juan Cole and his faithful blog “Informed Comment.??? Will the GIs be in Iraq for a decade of nation-building? Would a United Nations peacekeeping force be more effective training Iraqis? Juan Cole gets into all the arguments, but he’s an explainer not a firebrand. He was an American army brat in Muslim East Africa when he came of age in the 1960’s, then mastered Arabic and got hooked on modern Islam. On Open Source: The war diaries of an historian.

Juan Cole, Informed Comment

From his CV

Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the History Department of the University of Michigan.

Has written extensively about modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia.


[over ISDN from The University of Michigan]

Chris on Juan Cole

I count Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” on the Iraq war among the major blessings of the daily Web. It’s a faithful scorecard of the carbombs and firefights these days; an expert catalog of Iraqi politics; and a thoughtful sorting of the political arguments and “memes” in the American commentary. All issued modestly enough, and with seldom a break, from a professional historian of the Middle East and Islam at the University of Michigan. It turns out that Juan Cole was an US Army brat whose teenage brain came of age when his father was serving in Eritrea in East Africa. He’s been studying religion — particularly Shiite Islam — ever since: as an undergratuate at Northwestern, later at the American University in Cairo, the American University in Beirut, at UCLA and in India. I read comprehensively informed blog almost everyday for a sane summing up. He is an explainer, not a controversialist, though of course people try to politicize the scorekeeper. From the start (early 2003 for me) Juan Cole’s been able to keep two ideas in his head at once–to wit: the monstrosity of Saddam Hussein and the dreadful prospects of an imperial American remedy. At a dinner party full of shouters, he’s the man you’d want to be sitting next to (tonight at 7) for grim honesty about the situation in Iraq today.

George Packer

Staff Writer, The New Yorker

Finalist, Michael Kelly Award

[on the phone from New York]

Chris on George Packer

George Packer is a decoder, trying to figure out how this country works and, most recently, what’s actually happening in Iraq. He’s a counter, tonight, to Juan Cole’s academic breadth daily list of incidents; a novelist taking shots at George Bush’s breezy big picture witht lines like — from last year in The New Yorker “War, unlike budget forecasts and campaign coverage, is quite merciless with falsehood.”

Related Content

  • I enjoyed Packer’s recent piece in the The New Yorker, thanks for getting him on-air tonight. I then remembered that Christopher Hitchens in Slate had last week taken issue with the paternalistic framing of “sending off children” to war. He targetted Packer’s piece in his salvo, and Slate rightly posted a response. See

    Don’t “Son” Me – End this silly talk about sacrificing children.

  • Hmm. One question for Cole. I have occasionally read his blog over the past year, when referenced by others. As with most blogs, you have to really read a lot to gain an understanding of the context they’re providing. Forgive me for sticking by traditional reporting.

    An email to Cole

    from a British reservist who had been in Basra directly refutes a claim that Cole has made. Cole makes no response conceding a mistake or responding to the refutation. What am I to make of it?

  • Brendan just put a call out on-air to anyone else who has a question… 😉

  • Administrator

    Sorry, Jon, didn’t catch that one before I went on-mike.

  • Fair enough. I guess it’s more of inside-the-media question (checking the assertion once again about how “blogs are self-correcting”) than about the wider issues about the Middle East and democracy.

  • KenLac

    Brendan, this is *completely* off topic, so don’t bother reading it until after the show.


    Okay, I suspect that there are some DNS servers out there that are aiming the domain to the wrong website — sometimes I get this page, sometimes I get the test page, and when I send a comment to the test page, it doesn’t show up on the RSS feed. I’m not enough of a webmaster to know exactly what it’s all about, but I wanted to let you know something odd was going on while I still had a connection to the real site.

  • Very good discussion on air this evening, thank you ROS team. Have to head out now, but will check back later for Cole’s answer.

  • Potter

    I just finished reading the terrific article by George Packer ” The Home Front” in the New Yorker. It’s the only piece that has been able to bring me out of anger to tears lately. Anyway the magazine, in it’s good judgement has seen fit to finally publish it online here:http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050704fa_fact3

    Reading Christopher Hitchens in his Slate piece: ” Don’t ‘Son’ Me” , a criticism of Packer’s extraordinary article, you want to bop this guy over the head. Hitchens is no dummy. But emotional intellegence in another thing.