Ron Radosh

The Continuing Inanities of Roger Cohen

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.

I know he does not like comparisons to Hitler and the 30’s, but I wonder were he commenting then, he would have joined those who argued that once the Nazis got into the Weimar government, they would be responsible, and that one had to ignore the vile “words” Hitler used in tomes like Mein Kampf.

But Cohen blames Hamas’ ideology and terroristic acts on Israel.  He simply disregards the defensive wars Israel has been forced to fight and their fruitless attempts to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians. To Cohen, all Israel has done was meant instead to “bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.”

I guess Cohen forgets that when Israel left Gaza in 2005, and gave the Palestinians houses and greenhouses, they promptly destroyed them all. Then they sought to use the land they gained as a base from which to attack Israel.  And oh yes, as for violence, “sporadic” Hamas attacks led Israel to go on a killing spree, “harming women and children,” etc. By “sporadic” is Cohen referring to the 8,000 plus rockets that rained down on southern Israel after they pulled out of Gaza?  Cohen sounds like a skilled Hamas propagandist, especially when he attacks Israel for continuing a “radicalizing blockade.”

I’m sure Cohen sees himself as a real friend of Israel, telling it hard truths it doesn’t want to hear. Roger, Israelis have heard these arguments before. They have read Walt and Mearsheimer. It is not surprising that the once strong Peace Now group hardly exists, that the left-wing Meretz is in shambles, and that even Labor has less support than ever. The peacenik Israelis learned the hard way that their country has real enemies.  Now with friends like Roger Cohen, they don’t need enemies.

Roger Cohen may persist in living in his fantasy world in which appeasement will lead to a moderated Hamas, instead of encouraging it to be more aggressive. He writes “I have never previously felt so ashamed by Israel’s actions.” Some of us have never been so ashamed of an American Jewish writer as we are of Roger Cohen.

Roger Cohen’s misguided and ill-conceived op-eds show the need for The New York Times to quickly appoint an additional op-ed writer whose perspective is grounded in reality.  The Washington Post has plenty of writers who take Cohen’s approach, but it balances them with Michael Gerson, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and others. Can’t the once proud old grey lady do the same?

Addendum: Here is new evidence for what circles like Cohen. Today, writing on The Nation website, Eyal Press ( waxes ecstatic about Cohen, and expresses his hope that his columns “get the attention it deserves in places like the State Department and the White House.” That is why it is important to not let up on Cohen, and keep exposing his myopia.