Proven dead wrong on Iran, will NYT’s Roger Cohen resign?

For the past year, the New York Times columns of Roger Cohen urged us week after week to “think again about Iran.” He characterized the 1979 Khomeini revolution as an act of liberation, under which “freedom has ebbed and flowed.” Iran boasted “significant margins of liberty, even democracy.”

Cohen was obsessed. Not just on the topic of Iran, but of Iran and Israel, the title of one of his latest dispatches.

Our greatest threat, Cohen insisted, came not from Iran, Hamas, or Hezbollah—whose grievances he legitimized—but from warmongering Americans and chauvinist, rapacious Israelis bent on distorting the Tehran government’s peaceful and democratic nature.

On June 10 (“Iran Awakens Yet Again”), Cohen raved about Iran’s “incomplete” but “vigorous” democracy. His concluding paragraph came back to his chief preoccupation: the “anti-Iran hawks” and their “foolishness.”

In his latest piece — after the world witnessed what we at UN Watch knew well from listening to victims like Ahamad Batebi and their champions like Nazanin Afshin-Jam — Cohen now offers that he “erred,” somewhat, in a qualified mea culpa that he buried deep down at paragraph 14.

Cohen is guilty not of a minor “error.” No, what Cohen did this year was use the unparalleled global platform of the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune to legitimize a regime that brutalizes its own people even as it seeks to the same to its neighbors. He did so in face of the most glaring evidence to the contrary.

Roger Cohen was not wrong just about something; he was spectacularly wrong about the single greatest question facing the international community today. On the question of what to do about Iran’s race to acquire a nuclear weapon and threaten the world, his answer essentially was: nothing.

Nothing, and blame Israel.

In his March 2, 2009 column — where he spoke of Iran’s “significant margins of liberty, even democracy” and argued that “anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable” — Cohen described Hamas and Hezbollah as “broad political movements widely seen as resisting an Israel over-ready to use crushing force.” 

His March 23, 2009 column on the Iran nuclear question, entitled “From Tehran to Tel Aviv,” concludes with Cohen’s thesis and overriding concern:

“[T]his much is clear to me: Obama’s new Middle Eastern diplomacy and engagement will involve reining in Israeli bellicosity and a probable cooling of U.S.-Israeli relations. It’s about time. America’s Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy has been disastrous, not least for Israel’s security.” 

His column of April 13, 2009, “Realpolitik for Iran,” had the same prescription for what to do about a nuclear Iran: 

“To avoid that nightmare Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It’s time.”

Cohen’s obsessive columns were nasty, odd, and spectacularly wrong.

If he has the slighest sense of responsibility for what he did this year — and if he searches his soul for why he did it — he will draw the necessary conclusions.

Since Cohen’s “error” can only be compared in scale to that of Neville Chamberlain, perhaps the Times’ readers will echo the 1940 demand by a member of the English Parliament to the disgraced leader: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

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