Roger Cohen's latest delusion (updated)

Roger Cohen's serial work on behalf of an Iranian regime widely considered the number one sponsor of terror in the world (so designated by President Clinton, before the "axis of evil days") is becoming tiresome.

Today, he serves as a mouthpiece not just for Iran but for the feckless Mohammed El-Baradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. El-Baradei and Cohen blame George Bush's treatment of Iran for prompting it to develop its nuclear weapons program. This is absurd, of course.

Iran's nuclear program began at least two decades ago. In 1989, Russia agreed to complete the nuclear reactor at Bushehr for Iran, an energy-rich nation. That was before George Bush was on the radar screen. However, it was after the Iran-Iraq War and after the Israelis bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Clearly, Iran sees nuclear weapons as a potent augmentation of its arsenal. Given Iran's hegemonic aspirations, nuclear weapons will further empower the dream to not only avoid attacks in the future but achieve regional dominance over their regional (and Sunni Arab) neighbors.

Cohen's willful ignorance continued in the column by lauding the "conciliatory" Mohammad Khatami, who was president from 1997 to 2005. How conciliatory was Khatami? Not very, when one looks at his record -- something Cohen deemed unworthy of attention. The executions of Iranians continued apace under Khatami, as did the support for Hezb'allah and other terror groups around the Middle East.

Furthermore, the nuclear program continued during his reign (including during the Clinton presidency), apparently halting only as a fearful response to the invasion of Iraq by America and allied forces in 2003. The program was renewed when it became clear that Iran was not a target and had nothing to fear in the second term of George W. Bush. In his second term, Bush did adopt a far more conciliatory "diplomatic" approach toward Iran and agreed to EU and IAEA efforts to negotiate with the Iranian regime. These interminable negotiations have done nothing except allow Iran to continue to rapidly develop its own nuclear program -- a fact it has often trumpeted over the years.

Cohen, like other "useful idiots", has been seduced by Persian propaganda. In this case, he relied on hearing Khatami's words and did not bother to look at his actions. Cohen was not alone. Other gullible and naïve people have done so in the past. However, smarter people than Cohen can engage in some retrospection and determine whether Khatami's words were a guide to his actions or were mere chaff to prevent actions that would slow or halt Iran's nuclear program. They are the former.

We can examine Mr. Khatami's own spokesman to determine whether Khatami's soothing rhetoric and moderate image were a mirage. Here is what Abdollah Ramezanzadeh admitted last year about Khatami's "outreach" as he debated a spokesman for current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Mr. Ramezanzadeh criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad for his defiant rhetoric, and counseled him to accept the Khatami approach: "We should prove to the entire world that we want power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities," Mr. Ramezanzadeh said. The purpose of dialogue, he argued further, was not to compromise, but to build confidence and avoid sanctions. "We had an overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities," he said.

As Michael Rubin who, unlike Cohen, is an acknowledged expert on Iran, writes:

The strategy was successful. While today U.S. and European officials laud Mr. Khatami as a peacemaker, it was on his watch that Iran built and operated covertly its Natanz nuclear enrichment plant and, at least until 2003, a nuclear weapons program as well.

Cohen counsels a normalization scenario that is ridiculous:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a "Malaysian" approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic's security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran's right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran's acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back Iran's entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

Why do I view such a scenario as ridiculous?

Iran does not need such concessions. Its number one priority is developing nuclear weapons. This is a national goal to serve Iranian interests. Once that has been accomplished, the Iranians know the rest of the world will have to accommodate them-and learn to live, if not love, the bomb. Pakistan also had to endure world disapproval, as did India. Now not only has the world adjusted to their nuclear status, they are recipients of aid amounting to billions of dollars (Pakistan) and are widely accepted by the international community as nuclear powers. The Iranians know that the world will similarly adjust to a nuclear-armed Iran. The world can declare that sanctions would be useless and that a nuclear Iran is a fact of life, a fait accompli. At that point, the world's diplomats will call for Iran to be accepted into the WTO in order to moderate its regime. Businessmen will come flock to Tehran to sign deals since further opposition to Iran's nuclear program would be termed unhelpful-and futile.

Of course, what Cohen column would be complete without an unwarranted attack on Israel and America's support for that nation? Not only does he warn Israel against attacking Iran (as has our Vice President, and as has the Iranian terrorist regime) because that would spoil his scenario, but he calls on President Obama "to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. President in recent years. It's time".

Yes. Great advice. Agree to the demands of the number one terror regime on earth -- a regime that executes its young, oppresses its women and religious minorities (Bahais, Sunnis, and other groups -- about which Cohen remains silent) and through its proxies murders Americans around the world (Khobar Towers, Lebanon, Iraq),  destabilizes nations (Lebanon, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt), and kills innocent people around the world -- even in Argentina where Hezb'allah blew up Jewish and Israeli targets. But pressure the number one ally of America's, the region's lone outpost of Western values, and the lone real democracy in the entire region.

All to reach an agreement with a regime that has a long history of violating its agreements.

Maybe "it's time" that Cohen gets a new writing gig -- perhaps at the Guardian in his native England or, more appropriately, at the Tehran Times.

Update: Richard N. Weltz adds:

For the text of his sermon, Cohen relies on Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a major enabler of Iran's nuclear progress, and a guy who has it in for the United States due to their efforts to have him replaced when his last term was up due to his incredibly bumbling incompetence.

Based on ElBaradei's anti-American cant and the cock-and-bull stories he tells, Cohen accuses -- of all people -- George W. Bush as being to blame for the Iranian's craziness. Once again, Cohen repeats his theme that the Iranian theocracy aren't such bad fellows after all, and could even become a valuable US friend if we'd only just sit around a campfire with them singing Kumbaya.

And, again, Cohen tries to cast Israel as a villain for refusing to believe what Iran's president says and daring to contemplate acting in pre-emptive self defense (which, Cohen stupidly denies, would receive the silent acclaim -- as the bombing at Osirak -- of much of the Arab world, e.g. Saudi Arabia, which feels menaced by Iran's ambitions).

Turning again to the discredited ElBaradei, Cohen concludes his nonsensical diatribe:

"Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran," ElBaradei said. "I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world."

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

Anyone with a knowledge of world realities and a desire for the survival of Israel might well ask why the New York Times would repeatedly publish Cohen's rubbish. But it is, after all, Pinch Sulzberger's paper, which explains quite a lot.
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