There was a time just after the last Iranian election when Roger Cohen reported his brave, searing, and moving reports on the swelling of what many of us thought might be revolution, or at least democratic reform, when I thought the NY Times columnist was a true hero. I hung on every word he wrote from and about Iran. His vision seemed so true, so relentless.
But as sometimes happens in the crucible of ferocious epochal events, people rise above their pedestrian limitations and meet the call of history. It is their finest hour. But once the crisis is over they revert to same-old, same-old cautious thinking. This is true of Roger Cohen. He’s just written a column endorsing the Obama administration’s “silent” counter-terror policy of assassination and blatant violation of human and constitutional rights. To be fully accurate, he’s actually added a caveat to this endorsement. The policy makes him “uneasy.” This is supposed to somehow reassure us that Cohen still has retained some sense of conscience about the reign of terror pursued by Barack Obama in Iran and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
I find it appalling. If it were Jeffrey Goldberg or Tom Friedman, it’s something you’d expect: liberals who’ve been mugged by 9/11. The result has made them go soft in the head and endorse policies they would find odious if practiced inside U.S. borders. But to have Cohen join the parade of liberals betraying every value they should hold sacred is beyond discouraging.
He begins the column well enough with an important observation: that Obama has quite cleverly and diabolically (my words, not Cohen’s) pursued a “silent” counter-terror policy by which the U.S. has gone to war with its enemies in the Middle East without declaring it:
The Obama administration has a doctrine. It’s called the doctrine of silence. A radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror, it has never been set out to the American people. There has seldom been so big a change in approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation.
I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may be payback for this policy and this silence. President Obama has gone undercover.
You have to figure that one day somebody sitting in Tehran or Islamabad or Sana is going to wake up and say: “Hey, this guy Obama, he went to war in our country but just forgot to mention the fact. Should we perhaps go to war in his?”
The idea that Cohen can endorse a policy that makes him uneasy, all the while conceding that this approach will come back to haunt us here on our own home ground is abysmally short-sided. What we have here is a failure of liberal nerve. A failure to recognize something that Malcolm X did understand, that the chickens of American violence will come home to roost. The piper will be paid.
Though a number of journalists and analysts have speculated that the U.S. collaborated with Israel to produce the Stuxnet worm which attacked Iran’s centrifuge system and sabotaged it uranium enrichment program, Cohen is one of the first to state that the entire black ops program against Iran is a joint project of the U.S. and Israel. It is something I knew in my bones but had not seen overt proof of. I am virtually certain that Cohen would not have written so overtly and that his editors would not have allowed him to state this so clearly, unless he and they knew more than they are saying:
In Iran, a big explosion at a military base near Tehran recently killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a central figure in the country’s long-range missile program. Nuclear scientists have perished in the streets of Tehran. The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc with the Iranian nuclear facilities.
It would take tremendous naïveté to believe these events are not the result of a covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran’s efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing.
One of the main themes of this blog over the past two years has been my attempt to point out that Israel, in its approach to Iran is the emperor with no clothes. There simply is no viable policy. Terror is not policy. It’s bad enough when you’re a terror organization and present no agenda other than nihilistic violence. But when you’re a state you simply have no excuse. So now what Cohen is saying is that the U.S. too is marching in lockstep with terror. It’s beyond heartbreaking.
In this passage, Cohen again articulates reality coldly and clearly, but at the end once again loses his nerve and lucidity at the crucial moment:
In general, it’s hard to resist the impression of a tilt toward the extrajudicial in U.S. foreign policy — a kind of “Likudization” of the approach to dealing with enemies. Israel has never hesitated to kill foes with blood on their hands wherever they are.
This is a development about which no American can feel entirely comfortable.
After everything we know about Israel’s horrendous human rights policy, its record of potential war crimes, its extrajudicial assassinations which have killed a huge percentage of civilians along with whoever the intended victims might’ve been, all Cohen can muster is this is something about which no one can feel “entirely comfortable?” Really? And hey, Cohen, Israel’s targeted killings don’t only kill “foes with blood on their hands.” They kill civilians and lots of alleged militants who may or may not be guilty of something, since no evidence is ever presented of anything that they’ve done wrong. Is this really the model we as Americans want to emulate?
Here is where the NY Times columnist’s argument truly founders. He posits only two polar opposite options in fighting a war against America’s alleged enemies, when there are of course other options which go unmentioned:
So why do I approve of all this? Because the alternative — the immense cost in blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror — was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing war against Iran would be appalling, whether undertaken by Israel, the United States or a combination of the two.
Political choices often have to be made between two unappealing options. Obama has done just that.
He talks about one alternative being covert war and the other overt. Is this really the choice? Or is this the articulation of a liberal Mideast Cold warrior (remember the precursors to the neocons–the anti-Soviet Cold warriors?), someone who talks himself into war as the only option, all the while refusing to see other ones staring him right in the face?
I’ve read Cohen’s writings on the Israeli Arab conflict as well and they’re similarly disappointing. He’s drunk the Goldberg-Friedman-Gorenberg liberal Zionist KoolAid: yes, the Israelis are making a mess of things. But the Palestinians are just as much to blame. What we need to do is find a few good Palestinian moderates (“where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”) like Abbas and Fayyad and allow them to tame the Arab beast for Israel–then everything will turn out right. Liberal Zionists are guilty of the same failure of nerve in their vision of Israel’s future as Cohen is guilty of in failing to follow his liberal philosophy to its proper conclusion in analyzing Obama’s foreign policy.
Obama’s counter-terror policy is just as immoral, just as violative of constitutional protections and international law as Israel’s. If it is wrong for Israel, it is wrong for America. It should be wrong for Roger Cohen too. Roger, you’ve just essentially endorsed Bibi’s approach to dealing with the Arab world. Is that the vision you and Pres. Obama have to offer us? If Israel has become a pariah state (read Leon Panetta’s latest on this theme) do we wish to join her in international isolation? Of course Obama will pursue this as a policy by stealth whereas Bibi doesn’t need to do this. He can flaunt it before an ever appreciative Israeli audience. But how long can Obama fool the world, lulling it into the false belief that he’s that Nobel Peace laureate, the guy for change and Hope? Not too long.