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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Continuing Inanities of Roger Cohen

March 9th, 2009 - 12:55 pm

Is Roger Cohen the most naïve columnist writing for The New York Times, or just another example of a foreign policy “realist” gone over the edge? In his latest Sunday column, Cohen provides another rationale for why the United States should deal with both Hezbollah and Hamas, rather than treat them as terrorist organizations.

According to Cohen, both groups are simply political entities, part of what a British Foreign Office spokesman calls part of the “national fabric” in Lebanon, to which Cohen adds Hamas in Gaza.  Realist doctrine calls for other nations to accept this as a given, regardless of what policies the groups support, what doctrines they adhere to, and what subversion of the international order they engage in.  It does not matter, therefore, that Hezbollah and Hamas see their raison d’être as destroying Israel.

Like others, Cohen says the U.S. should approach the “moderate Hamas elements” and work to engineer  “a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.”  Of course, just as he wrote this, Hamas forced the Palestinian Authority to remove Salem Fayyad as prime minister, since the American trained economist is considered too friendly to a two-state solution and has been responsible for economic progress on the West Bank.  Fortunately, the State Department and Secretary Clinton do not seem to be taking Roger Cohen’s advice. Clinton is now demanding that the U.S. will only recognize a unity government if Fayyad is reappointed to the position of prime minister.

When Fayyad resigned, PA President Mahmoud Abbas explained that his stepping down would aid negotiations with Hamas, since it would “enhance and support the national dialogue,” which means that only if the PA got rid of its most competent and least corrupt official, would Hamas even talk with Abbas’ government. As Haaretz explained, his resignation was “meant as a confidence-building measure.”  That firing such a man is viewed as confidence building says a great deal.

In his editorial, Cohen goes on to say that US conditions for dealing with Hamas are counter-productive. The US as well as the EU demands that Hamas recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous PA commitments. But Cohen thinks all of this is irrelevant. He simply wants us to ignore the 1988 Hamas charter, which he acknowledges “is vile.” Let’s not get “hung up” on words, he implies.

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A New Threat to Free Speech

March 7th, 2009 - 9:12 am

There is a new threat to freedom of speech emerging, and this time it comes from Facebook, whose proprietors have not acted to stop an Islamic jihadist group from destroying the largest pro-Israel site on the increasingly popular web social network. I join in supporting the protest being organized by The David Horowitz Freedom Center. If you are a Facebook member, or an individual outraged by those who seek to curb free speech, read this:

The David Horowitz Freedom Center is calling upon all supporters of freedom of speech and of Israel to join in its protest against Facebook, the Internet social networking site.  Facebook has allowed a group of hackers who openly support the terrorist group Hizbollah to take over and destroy what was once the largest pro-Israel site on Facebook. Then Facebook added insult to injury by disabling the account of that site’s creator, 14-year-old Todd Snider.

Snider established the Facebook group called “I Wonder How Quickly I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Support Israel,” in July 2008. By February 2009 it was Facebook’s largest pro-Israel site, with over 180,000 members.

But on February 15, 2009, On February 15, 2009, Snider’s Facebook group was hacked and destroyed by a pro-Hizballah group calling itself “Lebanese Shee’a Hackers.” The hackers completely erased the original site content and replaced it with  threatening, obscenity-laced pro-jihad, anti-Israel propaganda datelined Bint Jbeil, South Lebanon: “DEAR ADMINS, DON’T WASTE MY AND YOUR TIME , LEAVE THIS GROUP ITS BETTER FOR BOTH THIS IS THE LAST TIME ILL EDIT YOU INFO , NEXT TIME…”

Facebook allowed the hackers to destroy Snider’s site, answering his repeated entreaties for help with blandly evasive  form letters.

And now, after the appearance on March 6  of an article about the incident in FrontPageMagazine.com (“Facebook Jihad” by Robert Spencer), Facebook has taken the additional step of disabling Snider’s account altogether, capitulating to the jihadi hackers and accusing Snider himself of “misusing” Facebook’s “features.”

Facebook’s outrageous action is not only an assault on free speech and a breach of its own social networking protocols, but also appeasement of a group of hackers who have invaded Facebook’s space and who openly avow their support for the jihad terrorist group Hizballah.

We therefore urge all Facebook members to contact the site administrators through the Facebook contact form, and all others to join us in protesting against Facebook’s outrageous behavior by writing to abuse@facebook.com.

David Horowitz
Robert Spencer

Take out a moment and follow their suggestion. Forcing a change in Facebook’s outrageous action is a blow for free speech, as well as a necessary repudiation of Islamic practitioners of jihad.

On another matter, I would like to single out Cathy Young’s contribution to the debate I had with Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker. Young is one of the smartest and independent minded commentators writing today. Now she has a revamped blog site, on which she has posted her own comment on the issue of socialism and fascism. Young writes that we should leave the term fascism out of the debate, since for better or worse, its historical associations and the emotional reactions it creates takes away from a rational discussion of Obama’s economic program. I know that my friend Jeffrey Herf, perhaps one of the most brilliant scholars of fascism, feels the same way. Both he and Young have a point.

I still think Michael Ledeen is correct about the validity of the relevance of the economic component of the corporate state to today’s world. But perhaps this is a losing battle. Jonah Goldberg was savaged despite the many valid insights in his book for calling his study Liberal Fascism. He has valiantly defended himself. But to his critics, it is not satisfactory. The associations of the word fascism with concentration camps, the SS and the like is just too well established to not elicit the kind of negative reaction anyone who uses it gets.

The issue of fascism and its meaning is a contentious one.  At the blog website of The New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg, a senior editor and a columnist for “The Talk of The Town,” goes after me for comments I made on my last blog. He writes that his “old acquaintance has completely lost his marbles.”  What particularly upsets him is my quote from an unnamed historian, who wrote to me that Obama’s policies are leading to “a party-state regime” which amounts to “fascism American style.”

In Hertzberg’s eyes, anyone using the term fascist as a description for where the United States might be heading is spreading “garbage,” or at the least “suffering from a delusionary psychosis.” I’m afraid Hertzberg’s understanding of the term fascism shows little historical knowledge.

Hertzberg has also attacked both Michael Ledeen and Jonah Goldberg in an earlier entry for  daring to write, as Ledeen did  at PJM, that Obama’s planned economic moves fit the fascist description, since fascism is “an expansion of the state’s role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business.”

Hertzberg describes Ledeen as “the well-known philosopher-skulker of the shadowy right.” Ledeen is hardly shadowy, and he is not a philosopher. Hertzberg does not seem to know that Ledeen is a Ph.D. in European History whose specialty is that of a student of fascism, with a particular expertise in the Italian variety as practiced by Benito Mussolini. I would take Ledeen’s judgment any day on what is and what is not fascist.

Hertzberg continues on to make yet another point. In “certain precincts of the left,” (i.e., Communist)  he writes, social-democrats and liberals were denounced in the 1930′s as fascists, and in the 1960′s “loony lefties deployed the fascist label” against both Republicans and Democrats. He cites in particular the crazed ultra-leftists of the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst. Now, he says, citing Jonah Goldberg’s best-selling book, Liberal Fascism, that “the right has picked up where the Comintern left off.”

Really?   Jonah Goldberg in his response today at “The Corner,” on the website of National Review hits Hertzberg hard, citing example after example-  many of which I think Rick is actually quite familiar with- of very influential and mainstream leftists in the 1930′s who not only said elements of FDR’s New Deal were fascist, but supported it for precisely that reason. Primary is General Hugh Johnson, head of the National Recovery Act enforcement mechanism,  which held the famous “Blue Eagle” campaign. As Goldberg notes, Johnson had a portrait of Mussolini behind his desk, gave out the Italian dictator’s writings to the President’s Cabinet, and favored an American style corporate state modeled on that proposed by Mussolini.

I have pointed out elsewhere that the head of American labor in the 1920′s, Samuel Gompers (President of The American Federation of Labor) also endorsed Mussolini’s vision and heralded American unions as part of the future mechanism of a new state modeled on that of Mussolini. And as for critics of FDR, the American Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas—who as I recall sent Hertzberg’s parents a nice note when he was born—condemned the New Deal as fascist and called for all good socialists to reject it precisely for that reason.

As for the Left of the 1960′s, I would point out one example that Hertzberg should be quite familiar with. It does not come from the ranks of the “loony left” he cites to discredit anyone who called America fascist. Nor does this individual come from those who are “marginal cranks,” unlike those figures on the right whom he says now have great influence on policy and who have “comfortable perches at conservative think tanks.”

Rather, the use of the term fascist comes from the pen of a ranking social-democrat who was involved  in the same political circles as Rick Hertzberg.  I am referring to the late Bertram Gross, the man who wrote the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978, a key social-democratic piece of legislation actively supported by Michael Harrington, as well as major New Deal pieces of legislation from 1941 to 1945, including the Roosevelt Full Employment Act. He also created the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under Truman, for which he served as its Executive Secretary.

Despite all his service to Presidents from FDR to LBJ, in 1980 Gross wrote a widely discussed book, called—–Friendly Fascism, the term he used to describe what he thought the United States had become, as he saw it moving away from his beloved social democracy to something else. America, he wrote, was moving to a greater concentration of power and wealth in a new Big Business-Big Government partnership, a new form of corporatist fascism.

Gross called America a friendly form of fascism particularly to distinguish it from the classic evil fascist states he opposed, as well as the reactionary proto-fascist regimes the US supported in the Third World. In his eyes, the future America was fascist, and nothing was taking place that could prevent its development. He notes that America’s fascism would consist of an alliance of big business with government, to produce a new corporate authoritarianism that Gross thought subverted constitutional democracy.

Now Gross may have overreached, and he may have been wrong. But Hertzberg, a journalist who has consistently and one could say uncritically supported  Barack Obama- and who like many of his peers relentlessly criticized and attacked Bush-is hardly one to complain when critics today raise intelligent questions about where Obama is leading America.

In failing to note my main point-that we need a thoughtful analysis of the direction in which  Obama is taking our nation, and diverting it to an a historical one about “fascism”- Hertzberg shortchanges his readers.  He certainly has a right to defend and promote and support Obama and to believe all Americans should unite behind him; I would be surprised if he changed his position- but he should think carefully before making the charge that those who feel otherwise have lost their marbles.

Since filing yesterday’s blog on Roger Cohen, more critiques of  him have appeared. Yesterday, Jonathan Tobin wrote a particularly sharp piece at Commentary’s Contentions website. Referring to the same piece I discussed that Cohen ran on Sunday, Tobin writes: “The result is just as lame as the first one with the added demerit of being a second helping.”   Tobin runs through all of Cohen’s rather pathetic arguments, and calls them “straight out of the playbook of previous apologists for beastly regimes.”

For that reason, Tobin offers Cohen “The Walter Duranty Memorial Award,” named for Stalin’s favorite journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for reporting from the Soviet Union for The New York Times. In his articles, Duranty wrote that no famine existed in the Ukraine, and willingly ignored all the evidence that it not only was real, but was a state created famine.   Like Duranty, who was a willing dupe of Stalin (and who received many perks from the Soviet regime for his service to them), Tobin calls Cohen a “dupe of the ayatollahs.”  I should point out that to this day, despite an official investigation a few years ago by a Columbia University historian, the Times still refuses to hand back its award. It still proudly lists Duranty as a recipient each year when the Pulitzer Prizes are awarded.

So Richard Cohen is part of a proud Times tradition, one later carried on by Herbert Matthews on the eve of Castro’s 1959 Cuban Revolution and by Harrison Salisbury in Vietnam. So those of my critics who are livid with rage that I headlined my blog “Fire Roger Cohen” have no cause for concern. If anything, Cohen will receive more plaudits for his “realism” on Iran, and he will be used by those who argue that despite Iran’s soon to be fulfilled nuclear capability, we have nothing to worry about. After all, according to Cohen, Iran is a real democracy.

My critics, I would add, have no sense of humor. I am not advocating blacklisting of those with whom I disagree. I was only, perhaps not too carefully, trying to suggest the different standard it had when it comes to a conservative columnist. If they could get rid of Kristol, whom the paper’s liberal and left-wing readership despised, then I somewhat facetiously was trying to make a simple point: Why not also get rid of Cohen?

When The Times first announced they had hired Kristol, the paper was flooded with irate letters demanding that it not do so. Kristol was hated by the letter-writers. After all, he was a dreaded neo-con who favored the war in Iraq. Such a person, they argued, had no place in the paper’s op-ed page. When his year contract was up, the Times let him go. And to date, they have not replaced him with another conservative voice.

Look at the current line-up of op ed writers: Thomas Friedman,  Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Roger Cohen and David Brooks. The first five are certified mainstream left-liberals; only Brooks is a self-described moderate centrist conservative, and as everyone knows, is the “conservative” all liberals love. In today’s paper Brooks admits to having second thoughts about Barack Obama’s economic agenda, calling it “a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.” This is, however, a departure from his previous unadulterated enthusiasm for Obama, and undoubtedly his liberal readers will forgive him for it. Unless they realize that much of what he concludes today is akin to the argument many conservatives have been making for the past few weeks- a perspective that Times readers may not have never come across until today.

So now Brooks entertains the possibility that “Barack Obama is not who we thought he was.” Rather than a moderate of the center, Brooks suggests that in fact, Obama “favors a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice.” Thus, he writes, centrists now have to “block the excesses of unchecked liberalism.”

Well, despite Brooks’ attempt to call this the agenda of a responsible centrism, he will soon be attacked as the brother of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing hardliners who in less restrained fashion, have been making much the same argument as Brooks. Indeed, Brooks goes so far as to write that much of what Democrats have done in the past few weeks amount to “ideological outrages.” I happen to agree with Brooks. I think his analysis is spot on. But let’s be honest: it is in line with much of the conservative critique. It is also what Newt Gingrich argued at CPAC-that we need a movement of Americans of the center, right and independents to stand together for what is in the nation’s best interest.

It also is the perspective of some smart individuals who regard themselves as coming from the tradition of the political Left.  I received a lengthy communication a few days ago on Obama’s program from a historian who considers himself a man of the Left, who believes that what is currently called the Left is in reality a “sectarian proto-Fascist” group, for whom Obama is a willing instrument. This historian  puts his conclusion this way: Obama, he thinks, is playing the crisis angle not just for New Deal reform, “but to advance a state-command agenda, leading to a party-state regime…=fascism American style.” All who hold “liberal democracy dear,” he writes, “across left and right need urgently to coalesce…and realign for a political movement to rejuvenate American Liberal Democracy.”

Whatever one calls it, the time is ripe for a thoughtful analysis of Obama’s program and to act to change the direction he is leading us in.

A week ago, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote a now much discussed column about Iran’s Jews. The gist of his argument was that Iran’s Jews live in a good place, evidently without fear. The 25,000 still in Iran, he wrote, worship in over a dozen synagogues and make up the largest Jewish community in the Muslim Middle East. True, before the Iranian revolution their community was some 1000,000, but far less left Iran than other Arab communities when Israel was created. “The Arab Jews has perished,” he writes. “The Persian Jew has fared better.”

What about the Israel bashing, so famous from the endless anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of President Ahmadinejad?  As Cohen sees it, one has to ask what is more significant; the ranting or that the Iranian Jews live in “relative tranquility,” as proved by the fact that he has seldom “been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran.” He recognizes that in 1999 Iran arrested Shiraz Jews on trumped-up charges of espionage, which was “the regime at its worst.” Still, he explains, Jews have one representative in Parliament, although a Muslim is not allowed to vote for a Jewish candidate.  So, Cohen suggests we show “realism” about Iran, and not respond to it in a way that makes us see Iran as a rogue regime.

As you might expect, Cohen was promptly blasted by many columnists and writers, including Marty Peretz,  Jeffrey Goldberg, Rafael MedoffEd Lasky, and Uriel Heilman once and then again. Now yesterday, Cohen took to his paper’s website to respond. That may have been his latest mistake, because he makes himself even seem more foolish than he was the first time.

Now I cannot be accused of being a Roger Cohen basher. On this site, I previously wrote favorably about his Times Magazine story on Cuba. I have some disagreements with his arguments, but he recognized Cuba’s continuing suppression of political dissidents, and the accuracy of those who see Communist Cuba as a totalitarian and repressive society. Would he have been as critical as Iran as he is of Cuba.

First, if one goes to the links of his critics that Cohen himself provides, it is immediately apparent that he quotes them out of context in his response, in order to make them appear unreasonable. He is peeved that Jeffrey Goldberg, perhaps the single best correspondent to have written about the Middle East, accuses him of being taken in by Iranian hospitality. What he does not tell readers is that Goldberg is quite specific; he notes that in societies no one thinks is anything but hateful towards all Jews, Goldberg himself was treated civilly and respectfully by radical Islamists from both Hamas and Hezbollah who were nice to him, after telling him of their goals to destroy Israel and murder Jews. The personal, Goldberg notes, is not always political.

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Some Random Observations

March 1st, 2009 - 2:24 pm

 

I have not been blogging for the past few days. First, I had a monthly meeting of the Public Information Declassification Board, of which I am a member-having been appointed to the post by President George W. Bush over a year ago. Then, I stayed in Washington DC to attend and observe the annual CPAC convention.

I will resume regular posts tomorrow, but in the meantime, let me offer a few random observations.  First, I agree with PJM’s Jennifer Rubin’s 2/27 post at Commentary magazine’s contentions website. Rubin writes that Newt Gingrich’s speech was the most intriguing and hard to categorize presentation.  Significantly, Gingrich did not talk as a partisan Republican , trying to save that party. Instead, he suggested a tri-partisan movement to develop new solutions that united Republicans, Democrats and independents, that would aim to move the nation away from the new statism advocated by the Obama Administration. Calling for a program based on economic growth that would challenge programs like the union movement’s disastrous “card check” campaign, and that would seek to improve the economy through growth rather than statist programs based on redistribution of wealth, Gingrich’s obvious slight of the Republicans leads Rubin to speculate on whether or not Gingrich was hinting at a new third party movement or meant his speech to be the first salvo of a presidential campaign.

Actually, decades ago, Gingrich himself toyed with the idea of creating a third party movement in the United States. Perhaps he was coming back to that idea, realizing that the Republican brand might be at this point in history beyond salvation. At any rate, as I listened to the former Speaker of the House, it occurred to me how different the last campaign might have been had Gingrich been the candidate rather than John McCain. Gingrich is a great speaker and communicator, and a debate over policy between Obama and Gingrich might have produced quite a different outcome in terms of Obama’s margin of victory.

As for CPAC itself, I tend to agree with those critics at PJM who noted that lack of attention to the threat of radical Islam was more than a deficiency, and that no amount of “red meat” pandering is any kind of a substitute for hard critical thinking about new directions that conservatives have to move towards. For that goal one should consult sites like David Frum’s www.newmajority.com and a new conservative website, www.newconservativeagenda.com. There were, of course, some first rate panels. Both David Horowitz and Alan Charles Kors spoke seriously and brilliantly about the state of academia today. Kors presentation was not only powerful, but was one that should have been heard by liberal intellectuals, since what Kors defended was a real classical liberalism, once the basis of the humanities, and now seriously threatened by political correctness.

Since I last blogged, the State Department announced its decision to withdraw the United States from Durban II. Now, all that is left is for President Obama to rescind the appointment of Chas Freeman as chief of the National Intelligence Council.  If you think the misleading and disastrous NIC estimate on Iran’s nuclear capability was bad, wait till we see what Freeman comes up with at his new post. His record of pandering to authoritarian dictatorships like China with fondness, his toadying to the Saudis and his fierce Israel bashing and endorsement of Walt and Mearsheimer’s tendentious book on the Israel lobby gives us a hint as to what is likely to come.  Perhaps more protest about this post will lead Obama to do the right thing.

I’ll be back tomorrow with regular postings.