Last August, Martin Peretz wondered in his New Republic blog whether even the New York Times would let their columnist Roger Cohen continue to write about Iran. That’s because Cohen had earned a special place in the history of journalistic malpractice earlier in 2009 through a series of columns that sought to falsely portray the oppressed remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community as living in freedom under the beneficent rule of the ayatollahs.
Peretz’s curious faith in the judgment of the editors at the Times was misplaced. Cohen continues to rattle away about Iran from his perch as an online columnist at the newspaper, providing readers with ever more convoluted rationalizations for the same policy he advocated last year: an American “engagement” that would eschew both the threat of force as well as any sanctions as means for attempting to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The events of the past year have rendered this stance even more ludicrous than it was in February and March of 2009, as the rosy picture of the country that Cohen painted in his original columns was undermined by both the regime’s violent repression of internal dissent and the utter failure of the Obama administration’s attempts to engage Iran. Nowadays, even Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have come to the conclusion that they must pursue a serious sanctions regime to avoid being faced with the opprobrium that will be theirs if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is able to announce the development of a nuclear weapon on their watch.
But Cohen is having none of that and, instead, insists that even though the Iranian government is nasty, it must still not be threatened or even pressured. He begins his argument today with a blatant falsehood by claiming “Obama’s outreach has achieved this: the unsettling of Iran’s revolutionary power structure. That alone was worth the gambit.” But even the administration seems to understand that this piece of obsequious flattery isn’t true. A series of unmet deadlines set by Washington for Iran to come to its senses have only emboldened the Islamist government there to dig in its heels: they are now convinced that Obama is a weak leader who can be toyed with and then ignored in the same manner they have treated European efforts to resolve the nuclear question. Indeed, Obama’s refusal to speak up in a timely and forceful manner against the stolen presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, only to be shot down, raped, and imprisoned, has contributed to a situation where it appears that the Iranian dissidents, whose sufferings Cohen attempted to cover last summer, are no longer able to mount effective demonstrations, let alone topple their oppressors.
Cohen’s response to this debacle is to prescribe more of the same, something he acknowledges that Obama’s foreign-policy team—which rightly sees itself as having been badly embarrassed by Iran’s lies and deceptions—is unwilling to do. Cohen’s fear is that having been mugged by the reality of the regime, whose depredations he once rationalized, Obama will now realize that the threat from a nuclear Iran is a factor that could ultimately destroy his presidency. In today’s lengthy diatribe, the Times columnist assembles all the same misleading arguments that Iran’s other shills have been hawking recently. He argues against isolation and sanctions against Iran, and views the threat of Western force to spike Ahmadinejad’s bomb as a greater evil than putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a Holocaust denier and terrorist funder who wants to destroy the State of Israel. His advice is to continue the sweet talk that Obama tried on Tehran last year and hope that eventually Iranian dissidents will somehow succeed, despite vigorous repression and without foreign help. He ignores the fact that Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be strengthened immeasurably by a Western decision to let them go nuclear.
As has Cohen himself, whose credibility as a journalist was forfeited when he choose to fall in love with the romance of Persian culture, engagement of Iran has been comprehensively discredited over the last year. Let’s hope the Obama administration ignores Cohen and the rest of the chorus of apologists and appeasers doing Tehran’s bidding and chooses instead to finally start treating the threat from Iran seriously.