Richard Cohen: Wanker of the Century

I wanted to write about this but I am just too angry to take it on. I’ll leave it to Brendan to explain why Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is the Wanker of the Century. Just as a teaser to encourage you to go read Brendan’s diatribe, here is the most amazing part of Cohen’s latest piece:

I thought the war would do wonders for the Middle East and that it would last, at the most, a week or two. In this I was assured by the usual experts in and out of government. My head nodded like one of those little toy dogs in the window of the car ahead of you.

Considering how risible the rest of Cohen’s article is, Brendan is remarkably restrained. But can Cohen be serious? One or two weeks?

Here is James Fallows from his November 2002 Atlantic Monthly cover story on the potential invasion of Iraq, The Fifty-First State.

Absent ninjas, getting Saddam out will mean bringing in men, machinery, and devastation. If the United States launched a big tank-borne campaign, as suggested by some of the battle plans leaked to the press, tens of thousands of soldiers, with their ponderous logistics trail, would be in the middle of a foreign country when the fighting ended. If the U.S. military relied on an air campaign against Baghdad, as other leaked plans have implied, it would inevitably kill many Iraqi civilians before it killed Saddam. One way or another, America would leave a large footprint on Iraq, which would take time to remove.

And logistics wouldn’t be the only impediment to quick withdrawal. Having taken dramatic action, we would no doubt be seen—by the world and ourselves, by al Jazeera and CNN—as responsible for the consequences. The United States could have stopped the Khmer Rouge slaughter in Cambodia in the 1970s, but it was not going to, having spent the previous decade in a doomed struggle in Vietnam. It could have prevented some of the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, and didn’t, but at least it did not trigger the slaughter by its own actions. “It is quite possible that if we went in, took out Saddam Hussein, and then left quickly, the result would be an extremely bloody civil war,” says William Galston, the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, who was a Marine during the Vietnam War. “That blood would be directly on our hands.” Most people I spoke with, whether in favor of war or not, recognized that military action is a barbed hook: once it goes in, there is no quick release.

Richard Cohen thought the war would take one or two weeks? Why can’t he just say, ‘I used to serve a useful purpose informing the public but I have been at it too long and my brain has obviously softened. I declare that I am retiring. In the interest of the country I love, I am retiring’?

12 comments for “Richard Cohen: Wanker of the Century

  1. February 14, 2007 at 12:54 am

    Booman and Brendan:

    Glad you all picked up on that total piece of crap today.

    I gave him a nuclear airburst this morning by EMail.

    For me, the column was a typical cut at a dem and a defense of the Fourth Estate.

    If Hilary didn’t know, how could we have known.

    Buzz Flash has an interesting interview with Robert Parry up on this very subject. Long, but very well worth a read.


  2. February 13, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    the only reason there wasn’t more vitriol is that I’ve been going after cohen now since the day i started blogging, and it gets wearisome.

    For me, it’s not just the substance of his bullshit, it’s the tone in which it’s delivered.  I’ve never heard him speak, but I always imagined him as a cross between Martin Prince and Nathan Lane, just by that “well i NEVER” affect he adopts in his writing.  

    I mean, I have a whole category “Richard Cohen is an Idiot”, which is a growing clearinghouse of the invective i hurl at the loathesome shit-heel.

    missed you at DL tonight!

  3. February 13, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Wait a minute.  The war was essentially over when the statue came down.  How long was that from the start of the invasion?  My foggy memory says about three weeks.  The US won the war.  It’s the occupation we’ve lost.

    I’ve paraphrased Thomas Friedman on this before.  Here’s the exact quote from behind the subscription wall:

    Let’s start with one simple fact: Iraq is a black box that has been sealed shut since Saddam came to dominate Iraqi politics in the late 1960’s. Therefore, one needs to have a great deal of humility when it comes to predicting what sorts of bats and demons may fly out if the U.S. and its allies remove the lid. Think of it this way: If and when we take the lid off Iraq, we will find an envelope inside. It will tell us what we have won and it will say one of two things.

    It could say, ”Congratulations! You’ve just won the Arab Germany — a country with enormous human talent, enormous natural resources, but with an evil dictator, whom you’ve just removed. Now, just add a little water, a spoonful of democracy and stir, and this will be a normal nation very soon.”

    Or the envelope could say, ”You’ve just won the Arab Yugoslavia — an artificial country congenitally divided among Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Nasserites, leftists and a host of tribes and clans that can only be held together with a Saddam-like iron fist. Congratulations, you’re the new Saddam.”

    In the first scenario, Iraq is the way it is today because Saddam is the way he is. In the second scenario, Saddam is the way he is because Iraq is what it is. Those are two very different problems. And we will know which we’ve won only when we take off the lid. The conservatives and neo-cons, who have been pounding the table for war, should be a lot more humble about this question, because they don’t know either.

    Thinking About Iraq (II)
    Published: January 26, 2003

    The neo-cons who predicted a cake walk and flowers gambled on the first scenario.  They were utterly unprepared to deal with the second.  And they remain in deep denial about their own role in the disaster that has unfolded since the lid came off, since the statue came down, to this day.

  4. Anonymous
    February 13, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Brendan writes: “The fact is Richard Cohen is as culpable as anyone else in the mess we’re in.” This is true.

    This is what Cohen wrote:

    So I do not condemn Clinton and other Democratic presidential candidates — Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and John Edwards — for voting for the war because I would have done the same. I fault them, though, for passing the blame to Bush as the guy who misled them. They all had sufficient knowledge to question the administration’s arguments, and they did not do so. Not a single one of them, for instance, could possibly have believed the entirety of the administration’s case or not have suspected that the reasons for war were being hyped. If they felt otherwise, they have no business running for president.

    This indicates quite a change in the prevailing wisdom in Washington. This is what anti-war activists were saying two years ago: if millions of people around the world who took to the streets could know that the Bushies were lying in the lead-up to the war, why couldn’t senators? Cohen is saying that they must have known just as well as the protestors: but they voted for authorizing the war anyway out of political expediency. This is a pronounced change from the line that “everybody thought he had WMDs” that was floating around a couple of months ago.

    Matt Stoller quoted Chris Bower over at myDD last Sunday:

    Since her lead isn’t going to just entirely dry up on its own via name recognition from most of her opponents, in order for the current polling situation to substantially change, there needs to be a well developed, anti-Clinton narrative that is convincing to the Democratic rank and file. Note that attacking her personality or character won’t work, given the repeated right-wing assaults on this front over the past fifteen years. Also, “electability” probably won’t work either, since the Clinton’s are largely loved in the rank and file for actually winning. It is going to have to be substantive–ideological, activist, or issue based.

    And as Stoller goes on to say, this emerging “anti-Clinton narrative” “has to do with her inability and unwillingness to admit a mistake on the war vote on Iraq”. So this piece of Cohen’s chimes in precisely with the current effort of the progressive blogosphere to publicize Clinton’s most obvious weak spot as a candidate.

    So, all in all, I think this piece of Cohen’s helps our cause rather than hurts it. That he’s a hypocrite and a shill goes without saying: so are many and perhaps most of the columnists at the top papers. But this piece isn’t even that hypocritical in my opinion, since Cohen does basically say that he is no better than Clinton.

  5. February 13, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Cohen is still on the job because he’s gotten himself “family” to the Grahams. He’s a made man. And an idiot. I’ve been coughing up blood clots in his direction for 20 years. He’s wrong more than he’s right, and he doesn’t give a fuck. He really is one of the worst columnists ever at a major newspaper.

    And he really does think he’s WAY above all of us dirty hippies here.

  6. Anonymous
    February 13, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Can’t we accept when we’ve won? Cohen’s piece is excellent. He’s admitting that what was obvious to The Left should have been obvious to every single American – including him.

    His concluding point about Mrs. Clinton is on the money:

    Too often when a candidate throws his hat into the ring, he tosses principle out the window. Yet this is precisely what we want in a president — principles and the courage to stick to them. Instead of Clinton saying she had been misled by Bush and his merry band of fibbers, exaggerators and hallucinators, I’d like to hear an explanation of how she thinks she went wrong and what she learned from it. I don’t want to know how Bush failed her. I want to know how she failed her country.

  7. February 13, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    More from Fallows:

    The First Year

    “De-Nazification” and “loya-jirgazation.” As the months pass, an occupation force should, according to former occupiers, spend less time reacting to crises and more time undertaking long-term projects such as improving schools, hospitals, and housing. Iraq’s occupiers would meanwhile also have to launch their version of “de-Nazification”: identifying and punishing those who were personally responsible for the old regime’s brutality, without launching a Khmer Rouge-style purge of everyone associated with the former government. Depending on what happened to Saddam and his closest associates, war-crime trials might begin. Even if the United States had carried out the original invasion on its own, the occupiers would seek international support for these postwar measures.

    In the early months the occupiers would also begin an Iraqi version of “loya-jirgazation”–that is, supporting a “grand council” or convention like the one at which the Afghans selected the leadership for their transitional government. Here the occupation would face a fundamental decision about its goals within Iraq.

    One option was described to me by an American diplomat as the “decent interval” strategy. The United States would help to set up the framework for a new governing system and then transfer authority to it as soon as possible–whether or not the new regime was truly ready to exercise control. This is more or less the approach the United States and its allies have taken in Afghanistan: once the loya jirga had set up an interim government and Hamid Karzai was in place as President, the United States was happy to act as if this were a true government. The situation in Afghanistan shows the contradictions in this strategy. It works only if the United States decides it doesn’t care about the Potemkin government’s lapses and limitations–for instance, an inability to suppress warlords and ethnic-regional feuds. In Afghanistan the United States still does care, so there is growing tension between the pretense of Afghan sovereignty and the reality of U.S. influence. However complicated the situation in Afghanistan is proving to be, things are, again, likely to be worse in Iraq. The reasons are familiar: a large local army, the Northern Alliance, had played a major role in the fight against the Taliban; a natural leader, Karzai, was available; the invasion itself had been a quasi-international rather than a U.S.-only affair.

  8. February 13, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Great question. Wish he WOULD retire. Anyone who thought the war was only going to last a few weeks should never be granted access to the public or government officials again! ;D

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