Cohen doubles down

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen returns to the subject of Iran in his latest column. It's his latest in a series of efforts to defend his rosy vision of Iran (and its treatment of Jews, in particular) which was widely criticized across the political spectrum, including my own effort . In a subsequent column, Cohen  dismissed  the criticism and snidely commented on the critics themselves instead of clearly addressing their arguments.

His latest column doubles down on his bet that he can convince the Times readers that Iran has been unfairly maligned and in fact that its actions can be viewed as exercises in pragmatism. He even views its quest for nuclear weapons as “pragmatic”. His latest effort was apparently prompted by his visit to Sinai Temple in Los Angeles after an invitation was extended to him by that temple’s rabbi (Los Angeles has a large Iranian Jewish population). He gives only scant attention to the visit itself but uses it to launch yet another defense of his sanguine views of Iran.

I don’t grasp this logic:

But this much is clear: the hawks’ case against Iran depends on a vision of an apocalyptic regime — with no sense of its limitations — so frenziedly anti-Semitic that it would accept inevitable nuclear annihilation if it could destroy Israel first.

The presence of these Jews undermines that vision. It blunts the hawks’ case; hence the rage.

Does Cohen ignore the facts presented so well by Charles Krauthammer in a column he wrote a few years ago about the Holocaust denying, Holocaust promising President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad?

The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

When Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine. Last month Ahmadinejad said publicly that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.

And as in some versions of fundamentalist Christianity, the second coming will be accompanied by the usual trials and tribulations, death and destruction. Iranian journalist Hossein Bastani reported Ahmadinejad saying in official meetings that the hidden imam will reappear in two years.

So a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse, believes that the end is not only near but nearer than the next American presidential election.


He must also be ignoring the fact that another powerful leader, Ali Rafsanjani, is willing to accept a nuclear exchange with Israel because Israel will be destroyed (quote, ”The use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground”) while the world of Islam, vastly larger, would only be damaged. Martyrdom is idealized in the Shiite religion; joined with a view that such martyrdom will hasten the advent of the 12th Iman, it becomes a religious imperative. Cohen ignores this principle.

Cohen also argues that Iran is pragmatic and that we should rest assured that such pragmatism will prevail and that threats of war should be dismissed. He argues that the mere presence of a small Jewish population in Iran shows that Iran does not harbor eliminationist designs on Jews. His reasoning? They have not been killed so why worry ( he ignores that Jews have been killed periodically by the regime-as Israeli “spies”-when it needs to bolster support among its followers).

For a European, he seems singularly ignorant of his own continent’s past.

The Nazis were, believe it or not, “pragmatic” when it came to its plans for destroying not just its own Jews but all Jews. They were also pragmatic when it came time to launch World War Two.

The Nazis appreciated the importance of timing when it came to destroying the Jews. Once they took power, the regime did not immediately destroy its Jews. A few camps were established but not (yet) for purposes of mass killing.

The regime bided it time, aware that its economy was not yet strong enough to bear the brunt of any commercial and trading relations being harmed by killing its Jews. Yet, anyone who read Mein Kampf or heard the Nazis own speeches (not just those of Hitler’s) should have been aware of the ultimate fate planned for the Jews.

For an example of pragmatism, one can look to the regime’s reaction after Kristallnacht (a mass action against Jews on November 9-10, 1938). The Nazi leaders welcomed the harm caused to Jews but realized it had gone too far and was causing them problems on the international front. They were concerned that its commercial and diplomatic relations with the world would suffer, The Nazis clamped down and the pogrom was halted.. The Nazis merely delayed the mass destruction of the Jews until its economy and military were stronger. Under the cover of World War II, it puts its plans to  kill all of Europe’s Jews into operation.

Does anyone doubt that, should there be a nuclear exchange with Israel, Iran’s Jews will be killed?

Right now, they serve as hostages. Iran knows that Israel will be somewhat reluctant to target Iran for attack, knowing that Iran will take out its furor against its own Jews (as it has in the past). Does Cohen not realize that Iran would be reluctant to kill its Jews en masse right now because it would cause some rupture in its commercial relations with Europe at a time when its own economy is suffering?

Cohen lists what he views as examples of Iranian pragmatism:

cooperation with Israel in cold-war days; it ended the Iraq war; it averted an invasion of Afghanistan in 1998 after Iranian diplomats were murdered; it brought post-9/11 cooperation with America on Afghanistan; it explains the ebb and flow of liberalization since 1979; and it makes sense of the Jewish presence.

While there was cooperation between Israel and Iran it mostly occurred under the Shah; not under a Shiite apocalyptic regime. Different eras, different rulers, and a far different dynamic. If Cohen refers to the transfer of military equipment from Israel to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, after the Shah had been overthrown, that was a one-time affair and the Iranians involved in the operation suffered opprobrium when the transfer was revealed. The other steps Iran did or did not take that Cohen holds up as shining examples of pragmatism certainly have parallels with the behavior of the Nazi regime. The Nazis did not invade Poland until the time was “ripe”; the Nazis eased up on anti-Semitic outrages during the 1936 Olympics; the Nazis did not force out all of its Jews via emigration after they took power in 1933.

In other words, regimes can make short-term tactical steps to strengthen its power. They may reveal nothing about its long term plans.

Then Cohen defends Iran’s nuclear program (at least he does indulge in the fantasy that the program is about generating nuclear energy):

Pragmatism is also one way of looking at Iran’s nuclear program. A state facing a nuclear-armed Israel and Pakistan, American invasions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and noting North Korea’s immunity from assault, might reasonably conclude that preserving the revolution requires nuclear resolve.

Iran’s nuclear program started decades ago. It had absolutely nothing to do with American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has continued through American presidents who were Democratic and Republican, including those who engaged in outreach towards Iran. The program to produce nuclear weapons has nothing to do with Israel or Pakistan but everything to do with Iranian hegemony throughout the region; and , now, seems to have a great deal to do with apocalyptic dreams of its leaders-something Cohen completely ignores.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen returns to the subject of Iran in his latest column. It's his latest in a series of efforts to defend his rosy vision of Iran (and its treatment of Jews, in particular) which was widely criticized across the political spectrum, including my own effort . In a subsequent column, Cohen  dismissed  the criticism and snidely commented on the critics themselves instead of clearly addressing their arguments.

His latest column doubles down on his bet that he can convince the Times readers that Iran has been unfairly maligned and in fact that its actions can be viewed as exercises in pragmatism. He even views its quest for nuclear weapons as “pragmatic”. His latest effort was apparently prompted by his visit to Sinai Temple in Los Angeles after an invitation was extended to him by that temple’s rabbi (Los Angeles has a large Iranian Jewish population). He gives only scant attention to the visit itself but uses it to launch yet another defense of his sanguine views of Iran.

I don’t grasp this logic:

But this much is clear: the hawks’ case against Iran depends on a vision of an apocalyptic regime — with no sense of its limitations — so frenziedly anti-Semitic that it would accept inevitable nuclear annihilation if it could destroy Israel first.

The presence of these Jews undermines that vision. It blunts the hawks’ case; hence the rage.

Does Cohen ignore the facts presented so well by Charles Krauthammer in a column he wrote a few years ago about the Holocaust denying, Holocaust promising President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad?

The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse. Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

When Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine. Last month Ahmadinejad said publicly that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.

And as in some versions of fundamentalist Christianity, the second coming will be accompanied by the usual trials and tribulations, death and destruction. Iranian journalist Hossein Bastani reported Ahmadinejad saying in official meetings that the hidden imam will reappear in two years.

So a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse, believes that the end is not only near but nearer than the next American presidential election.


He must also be ignoring the fact that another powerful leader, Ali Rafsanjani, is willing to accept a nuclear exchange with Israel because Israel will be destroyed (quote, ”The use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground”) while the world of Islam, vastly larger, would only be damaged. Martyrdom is idealized in the Shiite religion; joined with a view that such martyrdom will hasten the advent of the 12th Iman, it becomes a religious imperative. Cohen ignores this principle.

Cohen also argues that Iran is pragmatic and that we should rest assured that such pragmatism will prevail and that threats of war should be dismissed. He argues that the mere presence of a small Jewish population in Iran shows that Iran does not harbor eliminationist designs on Jews. His reasoning? They have not been killed so why worry ( he ignores that Jews have been killed periodically by the regime-as Israeli “spies”-when it needs to bolster support among its followers).

For a European, he seems singularly ignorant of his own continent’s past.

The Nazis were, believe it or not, “pragmatic” when it came to its plans for destroying not just its own Jews but all Jews. They were also pragmatic when it came time to launch World War Two.

The Nazis appreciated the importance of timing when it came to destroying the Jews. Once they took power, the regime did not immediately destroy its Jews. A few camps were established but not (yet) for purposes of mass killing.

The regime bided it time, aware that its economy was not yet strong enough to bear the brunt of any commercial and trading relations being harmed by killing its Jews. Yet, anyone who read Mein Kampf or heard the Nazis own speeches (not just those of Hitler’s) should have been aware of the ultimate fate planned for the Jews.

For an example of pragmatism, one can look to the regime’s reaction after Kristallnacht (a mass action against Jews on November 9-10, 1938). The Nazi leaders welcomed the harm caused to Jews but realized it had gone too far and was causing them problems on the international front. They were concerned that its commercial and diplomatic relations with the world would suffer, The Nazis clamped down and the pogrom was halted.. The Nazis merely delayed the mass destruction of the Jews until its economy and military were stronger. Under the cover of World War II, it puts its plans to  kill all of Europe’s Jews into operation.

Does anyone doubt that, should there be a nuclear exchange with Israel, Iran’s Jews will be killed?

Right now, they serve as hostages. Iran knows that Israel will be somewhat reluctant to target Iran for attack, knowing that Iran will take out its furor against its own Jews (as it has in the past). Does Cohen not realize that Iran would be reluctant to kill its Jews en masse right now because it would cause some rupture in its commercial relations with Europe at a time when its own economy is suffering?

Cohen lists what he views as examples of Iranian pragmatism:

cooperation with Israel in cold-war days; it ended the Iraq war; it averted an invasion of Afghanistan in 1998 after Iranian diplomats were murdered; it brought post-9/11 cooperation with America on Afghanistan; it explains the ebb and flow of liberalization since 1979; and it makes sense of the Jewish presence.

While there was cooperation between Israel and Iran it mostly occurred under the Shah; not under a Shiite apocalyptic regime. Different eras, different rulers, and a far different dynamic. If Cohen refers to the transfer of military equipment from Israel to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, after the Shah had been overthrown, that was a one-time affair and the Iranians involved in the operation suffered opprobrium when the transfer was revealed. The other steps Iran did or did not take that Cohen holds up as shining examples of pragmatism certainly have parallels with the behavior of the Nazi regime. The Nazis did not invade Poland until the time was “ripe”; the Nazis eased up on anti-Semitic outrages during the 1936 Olympics; the Nazis did not force out all of its Jews via emigration after they took power in 1933.

In other words, regimes can make short-term tactical steps to strengthen its power. They may reveal nothing about its long term plans.

Then Cohen defends Iran’s nuclear program (at least he does indulge in the fantasy that the program is about generating nuclear energy):

Pragmatism is also one way of looking at Iran’s nuclear program. A state facing a nuclear-armed Israel and Pakistan, American invasions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and noting North Korea’s immunity from assault, might reasonably conclude that preserving the revolution requires nuclear resolve.

Iran’s nuclear program started decades ago. It had absolutely nothing to do with American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has continued through American presidents who were Democratic and Republican, including those who engaged in outreach towards Iran. The program to produce nuclear weapons has nothing to do with Israel or Pakistan but everything to do with Iranian hegemony throughout the region; and , now, seems to have a great deal to do with apocalyptic dreams of its leaders-something Cohen completely ignores.