In what is perhaps his most remarkable feat, Roger Cohen’s latest op-ed for the New York Times – where he critiques Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to the UN last week – gets everything wrong.
Even more remarkably, his main arguments are refuted by the contents of the speech itself. Which means that either Cohen didn’t listen to or read the speech itself, or he consciously chose to lie about it.
Op-ed writers, of course, have more latitude than reporters do, but that latitude does not extend to simply making up facts.
Here we go:
Never has it been more difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to convince the world that, as he put it in 2006: “It’s 1938. Iran is Germany.” He tried again at the United Nations this week. In a speech that strained for effect, he likened Iran to a 20th-century “radical regime” of “awesome power.” That would be the Third Reich.
The last century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets awesome power, sooner or later, its appetite for aggression knows no bounds. That’s the central lesson of the 20th century. Now, we cannot forget it.
Does Cohen disagree that Iran is a radical regime or does he disagree that that its acquisition of nuclear arms would give it “awesome power”? Does he disagree that a nuclear-armed Iran would irrevocably alter the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East? Both of those facts are incontrovertible.
By any sane measure, Bibi is right and Cohen is wrong.
Among those who question this approach is David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Referring to the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, he wrote in the Israeli daily Haaretz that, “Simply implying, for instance, that anyone who sits down with Rouhani is a modern-day Neville Chamberlain or Ã‰douard Daladier won’t do the trick. To the contrary, it will only give offense and alienate.”
When Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters — the leaders of the American Jewish community — question his approach to Iran, the Israeli prime minister needs to stop calling Rouhani “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” his favored epithet, and start worrying about crying wolf.
At no point in Bibi’s speech did he even imply that the world shouldn’t talk with Iran. Here is exactly what he said:
So here’s what the international community must do. First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.
Second, don’t agree to a partial deal. A partial deal would lift international sanctions that have taken years to put in place in exchange for cosmetic concessions that will take only weeks for Iran to reverse. Third, lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program.
My friends, the international community has Iran on the ropes. If you want to knockout Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up.
We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed. But when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance.
It is Cohen’s fantasy that Bibi called for no talks with Iran. Cohen is wrong.
Now, what about David Harris? Did he find Bibi’s speech to be problematic, as Cohen implies?
Harris’ article was written on September 27. Bibi’s speech was October 1.He wasn’t condemning Bibi’s speech, he was just listing his worries about Bibi’s possible approach.
Hours after Bibi spoke, Harris enthusiastically praised Bibi’s speech. This happened days before Cohen’s piece:
AJC Executive Director David Harris praised the Israeli leader’s speech.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered today a compelling clarion call for the entire world about Iran,” said Harris. “The stakes are very high, with no room for wishful or illusory thinking about Iran’s intentions. No one seeks confrontation for confrontation’s sake. But until the Iranian regime comes clean on its nuclear program and fully cooperates with the international community, maximum pressure is absolutely necessary. History’s lessons on this score could not be clearer.”
Cohen could have looked up Harris’ comments before he wrote his column. Instead, he chose to misrepresent Harris’ opinions before the speech as if he was critiquing the speech. For this reason alone, Cohen should be fired.
Bibi and Harris are right, Cohen is wrong.
It is not just that the world has now heard from Netanyahu of the imminent danger of a nuclear-armed Iran for a very long time.
In Roger Cohen’s world, apparently, getting sick of someone’s warning about a threat than could affect literally billions of people gets old after a while. Best to ignore it. Cohen is wrong.
It is not just that Israel has set countless “red lines” that proved permeable.
Doing a New York Times search for the words “red line,” “Netanyahu,” “Iran,” and “nuclear,” finds nothing before Bibi’s speech exactly one year ago. There has only been one red line. This speech showed that the entire reason Iran has not crossed the only red line Israel has set is because of sanctions. There have been no permeable “red lines.” Cohen is lying.
It is not just that the Islamic Republic has been an island of stability compared to its neighbors Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ruthless dictatorships with strong leaders are generally stable. Syria and Egypt were stable for decades before their respective revolutions. Does that make them desirable? Cohen is wrong.
It is not just that, as Rouhani’s election shows, Iran is no Nazi-like totalitarian state with a single authority but an authoritarian regime subject to liberalizing and repressive waves.
Bibi answered the ridiculous claim that Rouhani’s election proves liberalism in the very speech Cohen is attacking:
Presidents of Iran have come and gone. Some presidents were considered moderates, others hardliners. But they’ve all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgetting regime – that creed that is espoused and enforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known in Iran as the Supreme Leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei. President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him is a loyal servant of the regime. He was one of only six candidates the regime permitted to run for office. Nearly 700 other candidates were rejected.
All major decisions in Iran are made by Khamanei. The president reports to the “Supreme Leader.” Cohen knows this, and yet he chooses to ignore it. Cohen is wrong.
No, Netanyahu’s credibility issue is rooted in the distorted priorities evident in a speech that was Iran-heavy and Palestine-lite. The real challenge to Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation is the failure to achieve a two-state peace with the Palestinians and the prolongation of a West Bank occupation that leaves Israel overseeing millions of disenfranchised Palestinians. …Iran has long been an effective distraction from the core dilemma of the Jewish state: Palestine. But global impatience with this diversionary strategy is running high.
But Israel, even with the Palestinian issue, is also an “island of stability compared to its neighbors” Syria, Egypt, Jorda,n and Lebanon. Isn’t that important in Cohen’s worldview? It sure seemed that way only one paragraph ago.
Additionally, the world is quite impatient with Palestinian Arabs who have been given every chance for peace since Oslo. Arabs are far more interested in Iran than in their Palestinian brethren. Cohen’s idea that the Palestinian Arab issue is more important to Israel’s future than Iran is fantasy. In other words,Cohen is wrong.
Iran has much to answer for. Rouhani’s “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region” is a preposterous statement. It has hidden aspects of its enrichment program. It has taken American and Israeli lives and attacked U.S. interests, through the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and other arms of its security apparatus. It has placed odious Israel hatred and America-as-Satan at the core of its revolutionary ideology. President Obama is right to demand transparent, verifiable action for any deal.
What Iran has not done is make a bomb or even, in the view of Western intelligence services, decide to do so.
Here is a time-worn method where columnists pretend to briefly acknowledge another side to the story while sweeping it under the rug. But Bibi’s speech gave in great detail the evidence that Iran is hell-bent on creating a military nuclear device, as well as how Rouhani bragged about hiding the nuclear program from the West. While Iran may not have greenlighted the building of an actual nuclear device, it is clearly doing everything that would be necessary to build one quickly should it decide to. As David Albright of ISIS testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week:
If Iran decided to produce nuclear explosive materials today, it could use its gas centrifuge program to produce weapon-grade uranium (WGU). However, Iran’s fear of military strikes likely deters it at this time from producing WGU or nuclear weapons. However, if its centrifuge plants expand as currently planned, by the middle of 2014 these plants could have enough centrifuges to allow Iran to break out so quickly, namely rapidly produce WGU from its stocks of low enriched uranium, that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would likely not detect this breakout until after Iran had produced enough WGU for one or two nuclear weapons. ISIS calls this a “critical capability.”
If the Arak reactor operates, Iran could also create a plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons. This reactor can produce enough plutonium each year for one or two nuclear 2 weapons, heightening concerns that Iran aims to build nuclear weapons. Its operation would needlessly complicate negotiations and increase the risk of military strikes.
If Iran creates the ability to build a bomb in two weeks (the time between IAEA inspections,) the fact that it has not made a decision to build one becomes moot. At that point, nothing can be done to stop it. Cohen’s bizarre idea that the two can be decoupled is fantasy, not fact. Cohen is wrong.
(There is plenty of other evidence that Iran’s nuclear program is military, but that is outside the scope of this post.)
It is not in Israel’s interest to be a spoiler. Limited, highly monitored Iranian enrichment — accepted in principle by Obama but rejected by Netanyahu — is a far better outcome for Israel than going to war with Tehran. But, of course, any deal with Iran would also have to involve a change in the Iranian-American relationship. Israel does not believe that is in its interest, hence some of the bluster.
So, according to Cohen, Israel is more afraid of warm U.S.-Iran relations than of being blown up. This is projection on Cohen’s part, as this op-ed proves that it is Cohen who cares more about appearances than truth, and is more prone to make decisions based on bias than on facts. Cohen is wrong.
In this essay, Cohen is criticizing a speech that was never made and he cannot counter a single point – not one – that was actually in the speech. Which is why he resorts to lies.
In any sane world, Cohen should be ashamed to go out in public after writing such a thoroughly embarrassing article. In any sane world, the Times would let him go because of the danger Cohen’s columns bring to its own rapidly sinking reputation.
This piece is not just wrong-headed. It is not just showing that Cohen’s opinions are wrong. No, this essay shows that Roger Cohen is guilty of editorial malpractice; he is someone who consciously and willingly ignores facts and makes up his own just to support an unsupportable thesis. A doctor or lawyer or teacher who acted this unprofessionally would be unceremoniously fired after a performance like this. Op-ed writers can and should push their opinions, but they should not have the right to make up their own facts.
Elder of Ziyon is one of the world’s most popular pro-Israel bloggers. His website is elderofziyon.blogspot.com.