I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise."

(updated below)

When researching various issues, particularly Iraq, it is common to stumble upon articles and columns from 2002, 2003 and 2004 in which the war was debated. It's very difficult to avoid writing about them because it's still so hard to believe how barren and corrupt our political dialogue was back then (and it really hasn't changed much, if at all).

Following up on my post from yesterday about how those who were wrong about everything were hailed as the foreign policy geniuses of our time (while those who were right were mocked as lunatics, lightweights and subversives), this is one of the most glaring -- and infuriating -- examples I've seen (h/t TM):

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen, 2/6/2003, on Colin Powell's speech to the UN:

This is where Colin Powell brought us all yesterday. The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.

Howard Dean, 2/17/2003, on Colin Powell's speech to the UN:

Secretary Powell's recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness. He said there would be no smoking gun, and there was none.

At the same time, it seems to me we are in possession of information that would be very helpful to UN inspectors. For example, if we know Iraqi scientists are being detained at an Iraqi guesthouse, why not surround the building and knock on the door? If we think a facility is being used for biological weapons, why not send the inspectors to check it out?

The worst part of all of this is that Cohen -- the "liberal" Post columnist -- spent the rest of the year viciously mocking Dean as a McGovernite pansy who has no experience in Washington and thus knows absolutely nothing about complicated foreign affairs.

On September 18, 2003, Cohen said that "if the Bush team could digitally create the perfect patsy candidate it would be Dean." On November 11, 2003, Cohen said: "The conventional wisdom is that Dean is George McGovern all over again. I do not quibble," and that Dean "encapsulates the deep hatred among some Democrats for our president."

Cohen also grouped Dean in with Wesley Clark, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington (the latter two were running for California Governor) to lament that "at the moment, the political firmament twinkles with amateurs." Should they "win, neither would have the slightest idea of what to do next. That's not because they are dumb. It's because they have never done anything remotely similar. . . . " (full Post articles read via Lexis).

Just for good measure, Cohen, on February 25, 2003 (in a column titled "Antiwar and Illogic"), referenced the reluctance in Washington to use the word "liar," but Cohen found one case where he liked it: "So it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face." He then grouped Dean and Kucinich together and said: "extremes on both sides -- but particularly the war's opponents -- no longer feel compelled to prove a case or stick to the facts. As with Vietnam, this is becoming an emotional battle between ideologues who, as usual, don't give a damn about the truth."

That really is why we are in the situation we confront in Iraq. Because Richard "Only-a-fool--or-possibly-a-Frenchman--could-conclude-otherwise" Cohen and his ilk demonized and caricatured the Howard Deans of the world as pacifist, amateur, naive, stupid, frivolous, dangerous French hippies even though everything Dean was saying was true and prescient and everything Cohen was saying was false and idiotic. And they're still doing that.

Cohen wrote a column in June of this year (yes, he is still held out by the Post as someone to whom we should listen), entitled "Culpability Deficit Disorder," in which he oh-so-knowingly blamed everyone for the disaster in Iraq other than himself (including by blaming decisions that happened immediately after the invasion that he never criticized at the time, when he was still cheering loudly and worshipfully for the administration). He also now says that everything would have been great in Iraq if we had just left once Saddam was removed (something he never advocated at the time), and still rails against "the people who are so certain of their moral righteousness when it comes to the Iraq war."

In 1995, after almost 30 years of silence on the subject, Robert McNamara wrote a book about his experience with the Vietnam War as Defense Secretary from 1961-1968. When he appeared at Harvard University to speak about the book, he was incredibly contrite and accepted the disgrace that he bore as understandable and even justified. None of that, as he pointed out, mitigated or excused what happened in Vietnam. But at least he accepted responsibility for his role in it and the horrendous judgment that he exercised.

We've seen almost none of that from those who brought us the Iraq disaster and then who perpetuated it. Quite the contrary, they continue to be held out as the ones whose knowledge and wisdom we should trust.

* * * * * *

I have an article in Salon this morning regarding the opportunity Democrats have with libertarian voters (with a very small "l") as a result of the Republicans' increasing dependence upon Southern evangelical social conservatism.

UPDATE: Jonathan Schwarz has a great post highlighting some of the underlying assumptions of the pundit class, prompted, appropriately enough, by a personal encounter with Richard Cohen.

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