After failing so miserably at defending himself, Cole shifted tactics. Peeved that National Review Online columnist Jonah Goldberg (briefly) challenged his assessment that the 1997 Iranian elections—in which the mullahs had disqualified 234 out of 238 candidates for prime minister—were more democratic and transparent than the 2005 Iraqi balloting, Cole called his critic “a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue.” Not content to leave it at simple playground name-calling, Cole opined that Goldberg’s motivation for criticizing him in the first place was because “he wants to kill thousands of Iranians and thousands of US troops in a war of aggression on Iran.”
Goldberg was not the sole target of Cole’s wrath. Other notable examples are Hitchens and highly respected historian Martin Kramer. Cole initially castigated Kramer, insinuating he was controlled by “Israeli intelligence.” But he soon found that he was fighting a losing battle. Even his normally slavish sycophants at left-wing Daily Kos pointed out that his ad hominem dismissal of Kramer was insufficient.
Which brings us to his new “third way.” In a post entitled “Responses to Critics: Open Thread,” he neither references my name nor provides a link for his readers to judge for themselves. Heck, he doesn’t even mention that any specific critique had just been published. He simply bemoans the “cottage industry” of attacks against him by the “US Right” (sic), then dismissing the entirety of them as “National Enquirer type pieces.”
But Cole was, in fact, itching to defend himself. His obvious problem is that he really couldn’t. The vote among Yale’s history professors was that close, and Cole did write everything he was alleged to have written. He did, however, find what he considered a crack of daylight: the idea that he might have been wrong to claim, “Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.”
In our hour-long phone conversation on Friday (which occurred after the original column had been submitted), Cole strongly defended the chemical weapons comment. He stated emphatically, “I’ve seen many generals who have said the same thing.” Cole added, “I’ve seen many high-level military personnel come on [TV] and say that chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.”
Naturally, I asked him to provide me one such example. He couldn’t. I asked him to provide the name of just one general. He couldn’t. I asked him to at least name the news outlet where a general, any general, made such an assertion. He couldn’t.
The best substantiation Cole could muster was a think tank policy analyst who said in an NPR interview that it was “somewhat debatable” whether chemical weapons should be classified as WMD. Yet even that is deceiving, as the context was whether chemical weapons were “tactical” or “strategic.”
With that extremely shaky foundation, Cole claimed he was vindicated. He even added that his rather out-there position is “not in fact controversial,” meaning that it is not even in dispute that chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction.
So to recap, Cole rebuts critics by: 1) stubbornly sticking to an obviously incorrect position, 2) lashing out with scathing personal attacks, or 3) pretending he is above responding, but then doing so ham-handedly.
And Yale is poised to hire him.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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