Monday, June 15, 2009

Erring Can Have A Heavy Price

Jeffrey Goldberg responds sardonically to Roger Cohen's apology about Iran. Goldberg is right, of course, but I'm more interested in Roger Cohen.

Cohen has invested considerable effort over the past two months or so to convince his readers at the New York Times that Iran is far more benign than those nasty NeoCons and Israelis are making it out to be. This gave him quite some prominence in the blogosphere, as he became a hero for some, and was regarded by others as a Useful Idiot.

He now admits - though of course he doesn't say so - that he was more of a Useful Idiot. Yet he does this so quickly into the dramatic events in Iran that most of us will probably give him a brownie point or two for integrity: he's publicly recanting, after all. Which is all well and fine but for two problems.

First, he acknowledges that if the Iranian regime is thwarting the will of the Iranian people, there isn't any way the American administration can coddle up to the regime, even in the name of engaging with open fists etc. That would be a betrayal of the Iranian people. So he advocates that President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval. Umm, no. Not if that now publicly recognized nasty Mullah regime is hurtling towards nuclear weapons you can't wait. Surely Cohen must now acknowledge that if they're truly nasty, they may be truly nasty? If they're willing to spit in the face of their own people, perhaps they'll be careless with the wellbeing of the same people on their way to some insane program of regional dominance backed with nuclear power?

Second, Cohen needs to own up to the possibility that there are other people out there who can't afford to be wrong, because if they are it will mean more than a public recantation in a newspaper column: it will mean the deaths of innocent people. As a matter of fact, there are lots of such people, for whom the themes he routinely pontificates on are not matters of opinion but of life and death. When they get it wrong, they're dead and can't recant, or bear responsibility for the deaths of others who can't hear their recantations.

I'm one of them, though only in a minor way, diluted among many. When we assured ourselves, in the 1980s and 1990s, that if only we'd be nice to the Palestinians there would be peace, we truly believed it, and earnestly voted for it. By the time we realized we'd been wrong, it was too late, and more than 6,000 people died, most of them Palestinians but more than a thousand Israelis. Publicly admitting our mistakes didn't bring any of them back.

If Roger Cohen is really in a contrite mood these days, perhaps he should dwell for a serious moment on the human price of being wrong, before he writes his next column.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent comments. Good insights, as usual.