THE SPINE AUGUST 10, 2009
Roger Cohen has the Times beat in Iran. Well, not exactly. No one has the Times beat in Iran. I don't know how many Western newspapers have their own journalists in the country. I do know that the FT does but it is an Iranian who holds it. Anyway, the datelines from Iran are commonly from Arab capitals, mostly Beirut.
But Cohen is a special case. He wrote several pieces from Iran early this year, and anybody reading them would be hard-put to call them other than suck-ups. All of this was before the electoral calamity that befell the country in what Cohen anticipated would be a reaffirmation of the country's "old-itch for representative government, evident in the 1906 Constitutional Revolution." One fact is apparent: this man does his research in Wikipedia. Better than writing from total ignorance, I suppose. Or maybe not. By the way, this column was reprinted by Hezbollah with a macabre cartoon at its side.
"I'm convinced," wrote Cohen in a prior Times column, that "the 'Mad Mullah' caricature of Iran and likening any compromise with it to Munich 1938 ... is misleading and dangerous." Maybe it is. (But it has never been made in this space or any space adjoining.) Still, what's wrong with the Munich analogy? Dachau was opened in March 1933, soon after the Nazis entered the government. Buchenwald welcomed all comers already in 1937.
Cohen's standards for an evil regime are quite specific and tough. He will not judge Tehran harshly until it murders many many Jews. Not that he's especially sensitive about Jews. What he won't contemplate is that Dr. Ahmadinejad is quite serious about with his menacing of Israel. And he hasn't weighed--he will not weigh--the heavy valence of the Iranian president's denial of the Jewish catastrophe.
OK, he was taken in by his hosts and particularly by his designated Jewish hosts in Esfehan. Or, rather, he took in his readers. Read Jonathan S. Tobin's detailed account of Cohen's slippery ways.
So how has Cohen dealt with the torments to which hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been treated since the election? Maybe the Nazi analogy is a bit overwrought, although I'm not at all sure it is. And I am not sure either that the Neville Chamberlain is much misplaced.
Now that we know about the arrest, torture and rape of many thousands of democrats we can surely see a nexus with Stalinism and its show trials. Iran's "sophistication and culture"--as Cohen so smugly put it--were overwhelmed by its brutality and Islamic fanaticism.
I don't think even the Times would allow Cohen to write directly about Iran now. There is too much shame in his judgements. Instead, the Times magazine assigned him to do a piece about who makes American policy in Iran. Four pages-plus of type spread out over eight pages with 68 tiny photos of God only knows what.
It has one target, and that is Dennis Ross "who embraced the Jewish faith after being raised in a non-religious home by a Jewish mother and Catholic stepfather." I don't know exactly what exactly Cohen means by "embraced the Jewish faith." It's a stilted phrase. Maybe Ross is a Jew, plain and simple. In any case, Cohen makes the argument--sometimes in his own words, sometimes in the words of others like Aaron David Miller, who in his last real job was a Maine camp director for Israeli and Palestinian kids and otherwise a nothing--that Ross is prejudiced for Israel and against Iran.
Almost a page and a half of Cohen's four of print is devoted to the danger Ross poses to American foreign policy, the more so now that he is on the staff of the National Security Council which, as it happens, is headquartered in the White House. But many of the policy-makers charged with Israel (and the rest of the Middle East) were Jews, including Miller himself, the shadowy Martin Indyk, Sandy Berger, others including Ross. They served James Baker who had not an ounce of sympathy for Israel and Bill Clinton, who "loved" Israel in his extravagant manner but did not hesitate to squeeze the last drop of concessions from Ehud Barak and still find that Yassir Arafat left the talks without any marbles to play. It is an ugly scandal that Cohen charges Ross with being prejudiced towards Israel because of the money he earned making speeches came from Jewish and pro-Israel groups. I kid you not. My God, the whole foreign policy establishment earned their retirement from the Emirates and other Arab fiefdoms.
Frankly, I wonder what role Cohen's own "Jewish faith," such as it is or is not, plays in his rancor towards Ross. Cohen strikes me as one of those highly assimilated British Jews--yes, he came here and converted to being an American--who are made more than a bit nervous by Jews who have real Jewish commitments.
By the way, I haven't spoken with Dennis Ross in fully a year. What we discussed (over the phone) then was Darfur which agitated him greatly.
As for Israel and his views, I do not know them and I do not trust Cohen's seedy approximations. I hope that Ross is tired of the old and failed formulas for a settlement. Even the Palestinians who would get almost everything for virtually nothing are not for these axiomatic but deeply flawed formulas. But it is the president who makes policy, and he is a long way from seeing the Israeli-Palestinian realities clearly.
I've just finished a post-Six Day War novel by the Egyptian Nobelist Naguib Mahfouz. It is called Karnak Caf