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August 15, 2007

Response From Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen has been nice enough to respond to my post from yesterday. I'll respond in turn soon, probably tomorrow. (I assume this goes without saying, but given that this is blurvosphere: please keep comments polite.)

Jonathan, I appreciate your comments and the opportunity to respond. You have done an excellent job here. No one has seemingly ever spent so much time telling me I was wrong before! However, I must admit I'm not sure I get the point. Why are we are arguing over events that happened 5 years ago when we should be talking about how we end this terrible war and prevent this Administration from launching another ill-fated conflict against Iran? On these points you and I are in complete agreement.

In your posting, you claim that my point about "defensible war" is the "heart of my argument." It is anything but. It is simply a recognition that there was an argument in support of war against Iraq -- one that once again I vehemently disagree with.

I am new to blogging, but what I find most infuriating is that individuals pick up on the most minute points in my posts to dismiss my arguments, as opposed to looking at the big picture of what I am trying to say. We agree on 99% of points about the war - yet a simple statement that there was a defensible case for war (one that we all seemingly agree did not justify war) elicits this type of reaction.

For example, there is a defensible argument for privatizing social security. I wholeheartedly reject it. Simply because I say there is an argument doesn't mean I am endorsing it. I would rather spend my time explaining why I think privatizing social security is wrong than simply calling someone a "sack of shit" and leaving it at that. Maybe it's the policy wonk in me, but that to me is an interesting debate.

Moreover, if those who have been calling me names would go and read my posts or the articles that I have written you would find that we are largely in agreement, particularly about the war in Iraq. Why so many people feel the need to attack someone who largely agrees with them and who feels the same sense of anger about this terrible war is beyond me. I prefer to save my venom for the people I really disagree with. As I have said ad nauseum, I was opposed to the war. While I believe that a justifiable case for war could be made, I did not find it persuasive, nor did I believe that it was worthy of US invasion and occupation. On this point I agree with you and almost all of your commentors. I listened to the arguments of those who endorsed war; I considered them and I rejected them thoroughly. As I said before I take no solace in being proven correct.

The basic point that I made in my post was that Saddam had refused to comply with UN resolutions re: his WMD programs. Under the cease fire agreements he signed after the war, Saddam had an affirmative responsibility to provide information to UN inspectors about his WMD programs. He failed to do this.

We can argue over the semantics of whether he kicked out inspectors or whether they left on their own, but the simple truth is that he actively prevented them from doing their job. Don't believe me, that's fine. I believe these documents lay out in exhaustive detail the extent to which Saddam tried to prevent UN inspectors from doing their

This describes UNSCOM's mandate, here. More here on Iraq's deception is here.

Again, this is not US intelligence. They are UN reports. I think they are rather exhaustive in their detail and I invite everyone who has attacked and maligned me to read them.

I also invite everyone to go the New York Times website and read the coverage from between October and December 1998. It lays out in great detail the obfuscation of Saddam and his regime. Some will argue Saddam didn't have WMD. They're right. But why didn't he come clean about that fact before 2002? Why did he continue to mislead the UN? I don't know the answer. As the reports I submitted above demonstrate the UN was unable to fully account for Saddam's WMD programs (not nuclear, which was largely accounted for, which makes the Bush Admin's mushroom cloud analogy that much more misleading).

Jonathon has his perspective on why Saddam refused to comply and that's fine. I think he is giving Saddam too much of the benefit of the doubt. But that's his perogative. I'm not going to get into a back and forth about Saddam's motivation. Suffice to say, from my perspective, he is not a man in whom I placed a great deal of trust. Whatever we think about the war, we can all agree that Saddam was a very bad man and not someone in whom anyone should have placed a great deal of trust.

Many of you may find it surprising that from my perspective the strongest case for war was the humanitarian argument. By enforcing sanctions we were basically allowing Saddam to kill his own people. Of course, not having sanctions would have allowed Saddam to act with impunity and possibly rebuild his military, his WMD program and threaten other countries in the region. It was a terrible choice and when I worked at State in 1998 I began to think that maybe getting rid of Saddam and freeing the Iraqi people from his rule was the only proper thing for the US to do. Of course, that was not the rationale for the war - the rationale of the Bush Administration was built on lies and fear-mongering.

This last few grafs aside, I have tried to avoid a point-by-point discussion of these issues. Jonathon and I have different interpretations of the facts. I dont imagine that anything I say will change his mind. While I find his arguments persuasive, they don't change my mind about the very basic point that I was making. But again, I appreciate his effort. Moreover, I have to hand a book into my publisher in a month and I really need to be spending some time on that! I am quite sure that this missive will engender even more criticisms of me and attacks on my personal character. If people feel the need to attack me that's fine. It's certainly their right. I would only hope that before attacking me you would take a moment to look at the totality of my argument; read my blog postings at Democracy Arsenal and recognize that I am indeed on your side in this debate.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond!

Posted at August 15, 2007 10:12 PM | TrackBack

I wasn't fair to the guy. I should have been, but I didn't want to be.

I don't understand what "justifiable case" means to Mr. Cohen, or how it differs from a regular case. Surely the case for war was poor; and within most of the government itself it was made in poor faith by people who wanted a war on Iraq regardless of anything else; I don't know what makes that case "justifiable." Does it mean that it's justifiable that someone has made the case in the first place? Before it was a "defensible case." Anything can be defended, if you don't care how poor the defense is, and it is in that sense that the case for war was defensible.

There are two main reasons why I am still irritated. First is that Mr. Cohen seems to have a lower threshold of justification for war, at least wars prosecuted by the US. There's probably no way he could have reached the positions he had if he didn't have an more expansive view than mine of what this country is justified in doing to other countries, and we will probably never be able to see eye to eye on this.

The second is that his argument about the defensibility or the justifiability of the case for war makes it more acceptable for someone to have attempted it, whether it be Mr. Cohen's friends or the Bush administration. Perhaps it will be written off as vindictiveness or closed-mindedness, but I think people who rooted for war need to be held up to the public and remembered. Some were vicious, some were mendacious, some were just wrong, but when someone is wrong about this sort of things, hundreds of thousands of people are killed and millions of human lives are destroyed. It's not forgivable. These people need to be exposed so that they can be subsequently ignored, not praised for their even-handed consideration of whether America should have destroyed a country that did not threaten it. That may make me a bitterly partisan far-leftist, but I can't see it that way.

No matter how civilly I phrase it, there needs to be accountability (yes, Jonathan, I know there is no Santa. There just needs to be.), but what there is is whitewash.

We can't forget, although Iran is on the way, and soon everyone will anyway.

Posted by: StO at August 16, 2007 12:13 AM

Events of five years ago matter now tremendously. People must pay so we never, ever repeat what was allowed to happen. As I write this, although it's hard for me to believe, we are seeing a virtual repeat with the "spin to war" with Iran. Once again, the media is repeating what they are told by the White House and other government agencies under cheney's control. No effort to double check for factual accuracy - just playing good little stenos. God, we are a stupid people.

Posted by: at August 16, 2007 01:22 AM

The question that comes to my mind when the "case" for the war comes up is, Which case? The case used in propaganda? "The first warning, the smoking gun, will be a mushroom cloud."

The legal case? Tricky one here. Some of the allies, like Lord Goldsmith, apparently felt that the war ought to be legal, in other words not a war of aggression. The most important and illuminating document there is of course what was really the first "Downing Street Memo" that was released, the one that caused such a stir [] during Blair's final campaign in 2005.

Except he was against it before he was for it: "[The US] maintain[s] that the fact of whether Iraq is in breech is a matter of objective fact which may therefore be assessed by individual Member States. I am not aware of any other state which supports this view. This is an issue of critical importance when considering the effect of resolution 1441...."

Then there is the secret case. That case has its unofficial foundation documents in public: A Clean Break, Tyranny's Ally, stuff from the Project for a New American Century. Perhaps a glimpse into the secret official process are those few oil field maps released from Cheney's 2001 energy task force. But the effect of the secret case can be assessed from US behavior since "year zero" in Iraq: Bremer's orders, Bearing Point, the oil law. So I'd really like to re-focus this whole thing. Sure, it's very important to unpack what the real situation was with US involvement with Saddam, the sanctions, the inspections, the practically continuous Clinton-era bombing. But let's start talking about what those other "cases" mean at the same time.

Posted by: Eric at August 16, 2007 01:39 AM

Many of you might find it surprising that from my perspective the strongest case for war was the humanitarian argument.

Not me. A huge number of people who think of themselves as liberals were drawn to the prospect of a feel-good "liberation" (one that would come at the expense of other people's lives). The chance to resolve once and for all the questions about Iraq's weapons, if those were taken seriously at all, was just a bonus.

The scale of this phenomenon -- elite supporters of "humanitarian intervention" -- is to me one of the most serious drawbacks of the volunteer military. The Iraq debacle demonstrates that the volunteer force makes it much too easy to advocate for wars of choice without facing the hard questions that -- if honestly engaged -- would prevent them from being undertaken.

Posted by: Nell at August 16, 2007 01:42 AM

Michael thank you for responding.

Johnathan, Michael,

The argument divides into several mini-arguments.

1. Was there a defensible case for war? If such a beasty exists please supply the details. Once supplied a check of the reality of the beasty is necessary, which is going to revolve around debating the case for war. So if the existence of a defensible case is the start of your position, sorry, you don't get to assume it is true, you've go to wade hip deep to defend it. In fact if the beasty is actually "defensible" this part should be a walk in the park.

At this point Jonathan's case remains rock solid, whereas Michael's case seems to involve inviting the audience to flesh it out for him. Not good.

2. Michael would like to have another mini-discussion after this which revolves around "Could it have been won (Will gave some advice that was ignored)? And can it still be won in some fashion (how do we end it)? Can we avoid the next one? (Iran)".

So the problem here is that we can't really effectively address any of these later questions that interest Michael, until we understand how we got here, namely that a large section of the Democratic Leadership and it's support groups did not do their homework and have yet to acknowledge this. Worse because they did not do their homework their past actions appear to border on almost an attempt to willful mislead the rest of us. A very big problem indeed.

Credibility comes from acknowledging mistakes, and recognizing publicly the real underlying issues. Ironically while these issues have been acknowledged and well understood by the public itself, they have yet to receive any serious public airing in Main Stream print, video, and radio services. This give the impression of the existence of an Orwellian environment in our Democratic leadership circles and communications media in which inner party members set the limits on the dialog within which the outer party members and their leaders are confined when discussing the topics of the day. This system works in a world in which Media is one directional, not so much in the multi-directional internet era.

My advice to Michael and by proxy Will and the rest. Come clean, accept the new facts on the ground, which are that the general public outside the Fox News crowd understands way more about what's really going on than would have been possible in earlier eras. Otherwise you are just going to be writing papers that are going to mocked and ignored, and worse for you we'll end up doing our own fund raising and create our own institutions to do what we are asking you to do by recognizing these underlying issues as the starting point toward a realistic resolution.

The blogger Balloon-Juice got smart and acknowledged the reality early and has much credibility for it. Newt Gingrich put his toe in the water very recently just to see what would happen. His base can't get there yet. Yours has been there for 30 months or more.

Posted by: patience at August 16, 2007 01:54 AM

Oh, no, those weasels aren't sneaking back in now.

I've been watching the liberals turn belatedly green watching Hillary grasp for the ring.

After eight years of calling out Bush, it seems like it may have finally sunk in just how little daylight there is between the old Clintonista regime and the Team Bush. Team Bush came up with smart sanctions anyway before they hit upon Cohen's solution to keep us Saddam from carrying on a quasi-genocidal, old-fashioned, siege and help out those poor Iraqis. I really wasn't sure that we could turn the place into a hellhole bad enough to make that look like paradise but that's what his humanitarian mission did: Killed far more people than what he was supposed to be saving them from.

Whatever keeps Holbrooke, Albright, Will Marshall, the new Brookings team, all the rest of the cruise missle liberals and their lackies way the hell away from the levers of power is fine with me. Call them names, let it be known you are paying attention and you are sick of this crap, make those empty suits fear you and make them think long and hard before they start wanting to re-hab all these people (because for institutional reasons this is exactly what will happen if you don't, these will be your new overlords).

Posted by: Ed Marshall at August 16, 2007 03:10 AM

Patience, it seems to me, is correct.

1) The war was based on false claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (particularly nuclear -- possessing mustard gas doesn't really make a good case for invasion).
2. Mr. Cohen claims that it was up to Iraq to prove that it did not have weapons of mass destruction. Actually, Iraq was known to possess no capacity to make nuclear or biological weapons, and there was strong suspicion that it could not make significant quantities of poison gas. Hence the lies about the invasion were clear-cut, despite the huge pressure put on the United Nations by the United States to find otherwise. (This is why Mr. Cohen's appeals to the UN sound hollow.)
3) Mr Cohen says that there was no alternative between sanctions, as imposed between 1992 and 2003, and invading Iraq. This is loathesoms nonsense. The sanctions imposed on Iraq were ridiculous. For instance (an admittedly much-used point), pencil-leads were banned because they contain graphite which could be used in nuclear reactors, had Iraq possessed enriched uranium. Notoriously, aluminium tubes were frowned on because they could (with extensive modification) have been used in enrichment centrifuges (had Iraq possessed the capacity to make such). In fact, had the genuine intention been to prevent Iraq from making nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, sanctions would not have killed so many hundreds of thousands of people, would not really have hampered Iraq's economic development, and could have been continued forever.

So I think it is safe to say that Mr. Cohen, given that he claims to know something about the matter, is either an absolute fool or deeply dishonest. Most probably the latter, although possibly combined with the former.

Posted by: MFB at August 16, 2007 03:19 AM
By enforcing sanctions we were basically allowing Saddam to kill his own people.

No. By enforcing sanctions you were killing the people of Iraq. Now the Bush-version of you is cutting out the middleman and simply dropping bombs on their houses.

Posted by: James Cape at August 16, 2007 04:12 AM

"Why are we are arguing over events that happened 5 years ago"

Call me Mr. Obvious, but I believe it has something to do with when Mr. Cohen said "Like it or not, there was a defensible case for war in Iraq".

Posted by: buermann at August 16, 2007 04:29 AM

If you were the father of this little boy:

would it make help ease your mind to know that the war was 'defensible'?

When that boy grows up, will the knowledge that we thought our actions 'defensible' prevent him from joining, or perhaps forming, a terror organisation committed to doing exactly the same thing to our children as we have done to theirs? Will we still be pretending then that they do this because of some irrational aversion to our 'freedoms'? We may still be there then, holed up behind laser fences guarding the dwindling oil flows, still talking perhaps about withdrawing some day.

'I think people who rooted for war need to be held up to the public and remembered.'

Oh yes. Which is why the efforts of Greenwald and others to fillet O'Hanlon and the odious Pollack in the last week were so important. The net is now doing the work journalists are paid for - keeping the bastards honest - though it would be nice to see pieces like Greenwald's run in the Times. The neocons have never, in 30 plus years, been right about anything, yet they don't appear to have been forgotten by the media, think-tankdom, government itself. The bigger the cock-up, the bigger the promotion it seems. O'Hanlon, Pollack and indeed Cohen have nothing to fear either, being careful to keep criticism within agreed, but unwritten boundaries.

The upshot of Mr Cohen's position is the impression it leaves that there is no real responsibility (and certainly not blame) to be attached to liberal war-boosters, who surely went along for the ride for good reasons, not like those awful GOP types - fundies, military-industrial nutjobs etc - who were in it for God, racism, big bucks, whatever. No, there's no reason to upbraid these good people, they just made an understandable error. I didn't make it myself (says Mr C) but hey, I can see why they did.

This mischaracterises what happened. We OPTED for a war which we knew would kill thousands of people, on the flimsiest of rationales (since debunked in any case), which hid the always obvious but publicly unacknowledgeable drivers - energy security, Israel, military/intel boondoggles, the chance to increase power at home, etc. Many of us trilled about the potential for such an action to backfire bigtime. We were right. And the people that were wrong, were so wrong, so world-historically irresponsible, that they cannot expect the rest of us to shrug our shoulders.

Certainly not the Iraqis, those that remain. 'Sorry, we fucked up your country and killed your children with a stray bomb, but you know, the war was defensible!'

If and when bombs start going off in our cities in delayed reaction to those we have set off in theirs, will we accept their explanation that their actions were 'defensible'? If you had to cradle your own kid like the father in that photo, what kind of rationale or explanation or even mea culpa could cut the mustard?

What we did can only be justified in circumstances where such a decision was absolutely unavoidable. Iraq 2 was always a very long way from satisfying any of the accepted 'just war' conditions.

Everyone who cleared their throat to urge this criminal enterprise on should hang their head in shame and try to make peace with whichever God they subscribe to, because any deity worth it's salt will have no truck with people who can so blithely sentence an entire country to death on the say so of talking heads whose premises they probably couldn't name let alone question.

It's time for us to start seriously thinking about an official apology to the people of Iraq for what we have done and continue to do to them. It might not be enough to prevent blowback, but as a first step it's worth a try. We should apologise whether we supported the war or not - not for an error, but for a monumental lapse of common sense and the basic human decency required to ask the question 'would I be happy to accept the prescription I endorse for other people?' If that question were asked and answered honestly, there would never be a 'pre-emptive' war again.

Posted by: Glenn Condell at August 16, 2007 04:34 AM

Similarly, a defensible case could be made for destroying the moon. Like it or not. Defensible, in the sense that some people will be defending it.

Posted by: abb1 at August 16, 2007 05:14 AM

"not having sanctions would have allowed Saddam to act with impunity and possibly rebuild his military, his WMD program and threaten other countries in the region"

None of this makes any sense whatsoever. A second ago "enforcing sanctions we were basically allowing Saddam to kill his own people" with what one supposes was impunity, and now "not having sanctions would have allowed Saddam to act with impunity" - with the weakest military in the region and non-existent WMD. The strongest weapon Saddam had left was the sanctions regime.

The policy options regarding the arms embargo, the no fly zones, the oil for food program, and the sanctions (nevermind the US-sanctioned black market oil sales to Turkey were all separate and malleable. Only one particular combination of those in one particular permutation of the range of specific options peculiar to each involved allowing "Saddam to act with impunity": mindlessly ending each altogether, then forgiving him his war reparations, and then offering him considerable foreign support and cover behind which to act with impunity. Repeating, in other words, the policies of our long distant 80s past.

Mr. Cohen's not doing anybody any favors filling in that ancien debate he derides - when he's not defending it's validity - from so many years ago with the same stupid nonsense.

One can only hope that this isn't the subject of his book.

Posted by: buermann at August 16, 2007 05:25 AM

It's nice that he wants to be polite and have a conversation, but when he starts talking about Saddam killing his own people with the sanctions, let me politely say that this is an evasion of our responsibility. In fact the sanctions were originally intended to cause civilian suffering--that's why civilian infrastructure was targeted in the Gulf War. Sanctions would prevent repair, Iraq's population would suffer, and, Saddam would either comply with our demands or (since we didn't want that outcome, and that goes for Clinton as much as Bush), he would be overthrown. And I suspect that they (meaning the foreign policy establishment) were hoping for a pro-Western dictator as a result.

Saddam could have lowered the death rate under sanctions, but it is disingenuous in the extreme for the "humanitarian" liberal crowd to pretend we don't share responsibility for that suffering, or to pretend that the sanctions weren't originally intended to cause suffering. Oil-for-Food came about because of bad publicity over that suffering, but even then the US did its best to make the sanctions as draconian as possible. How do you politely say that someone's favored policy is a monstrous hypocritical plan to cause widespread death and suffering, while pretending that it none of it is our fault?

I guess if you want to be taken seriously by "serious" people, you have to limit the amount of reality you're going to allow yourself to see. It's acceptable in mainstream political circles to say that getting into Iraq was a catastrophic blunder. It's not acceptable to say that there is a bipartisan tradition of support for US atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere. Which is why you're not likely to see people with our blog host's opinions writing op-ed pieces for the NYT or the NYT Sunday Magazine.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 16, 2007 08:39 AM

Heavens to Betsy, I do wish I lived in a world like Cohen's where arguments are always made in good faith and occur in a historical vacuum!

You know, if a fellow of my acquaintance had published writings declaring his intention to rob my house and rape my dog, and then, years later, he proceeded to do exactly that while claiming that he was doing no such thing, that he had, in fact, ended up in my house buried balls-deep in my dog with all my possessions loaded up in the back of a moving van idling in the driveway by the most stunning of coincidences while actually trying to prevent something worse from being done to me by, say, some mysterious one-armed stranger, well - I don't really care what kind of fanciful tale he spins after the fact, I don't care how "justifiable" or "defensible" it is, it would still be a worthless abstraction that had nothing to do with reality. The fact would be that in the real world, I would know that this fellow was a craven liar, and I would have known it before he ever acted on his urges.

Oh, I am so sorry if all this talk of bestiality and robbery seems uncivil and unworthy of a civilized analogy, but, you know, I can't help my anger any more than sociopaths like Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld seem to be able to help invading oil-rich nations in the Middle East as they agonize, Hamlet-style, over the proper way for the King Of All Nations to govern the world. I guess we're all victims here!

Now who wants tea and biscuits?

Posted by: Arrrgggghhhh at August 16, 2007 08:51 AM

But buermann, don't you understand that all possible Iraq policies must lie somewhere between Clinton and Bush? No other alternative policies are conceivable, at least if you're a member of our nation's foreign policy elite.

Personally, I think allowing the Iraqis to have IV bags and hypodermic syringes (two items actually banned by the US under the sanctions regime) might not have allowed Saddam to rebuild his military (unless, of course, he was building an IV-powered bomb). But then again, I've never been "at State", and I definitely do not have a book coming out in a month.

And this:

By enforcing sanctions we were basically allowing Saddam to kill his own people.

is simply shameful. Take some responsibility, for Christ's sake. We denied the Iraqis those IV bags and syringes, but it was Saddam who was "killing his own people", presumably because he didn't step down upon our request, thus forcing us to continue the sanctions. By the same "logic", the emperor of Japan killed the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by not surrendering until after we bombed them. Cohen's refusal to accept that the advocates for this war must be held accountable for their advocacy is part of a larger pattern of general irresponsibility. The US, or its elites, are never held accountable for anything.

Posted by: SteveB at August 16, 2007 08:57 AM

a) by any reading of international law, this war was illegal.
b) by any reading of "just law" precepts, first spelled out by Cicero and later cribbed by St. Augustine, this war was immoral.
c) by any reading of history, a protracted war not in a nation's vital interest is just plain stupid (and, no, GM's and/or Exxon's vital interest is not the same as the nation's).
d) extending the Bush policy - Pakistan would be unassailable in launching a nuke strike against India; or vice versa.
e) the humanitarian argument is not only de facto flawed, it's a straw man. The American people were never asked to sacrifice blood and treasure to alleviate the suffering of Iraqis. Had they been, and agreed via their "representatives," then that argument might be rightfully advanced. CheneyCo presented this war as strictly a mission of disarmament, a disarming of weapons the admin said it knew Iraq possessed despite weapons inspections finding nothing and contrary info from Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi defector ever. As is true in so many areas, this dissembling covey of criminals didn't and doesn't know crap.

Posted by: cavjam at August 16, 2007 09:02 AM

Michael Cohen

First, I understand you agree the invasion was wrong. I am not upset with you or calling you names. Reasonable people can disagree. Okay?

Now you say,

"Many of you may find it surprising that from my perspective the strongest case for war was the humanitarian argument."

Why would we find this surprising? If you are going to argue that the decision to invade was defensible, what else can you say? It's the only possible defense there is

As far as saying,

"... Saddam had refused to comply with UN resolutions re: his WMD programs. Under the cease fire agreements he signed after the war, Saddam had an affirmative responsibility to provide information to UN inspectors about his WMD programs. He failed to do this."

...forget it. Saddam let the inspectors back in to Iraq prior to The US invasion and they were two months away from certifying Iraq WMD free when Bush pulled them out in order to invade. That actually undermines the defense of the case for invading Iraq. You might want to save that argument as a defense of the case for launching Desert Fox ( itself an act of war and one that we all seemingly do not agree was justified).


Posted by: cemmcs at August 16, 2007 09:09 AM

While I believe that a justifiable case for war could be made, I did not find it persuasive, nor did I believe that it was worthy of US invasion and occupation.

"A" justifiable case for war? Which one are we talking about? 'Cause, you know, I seem to recall somewhere around seven or eight main reasons being given, with some lesser variations. In fact, in my experience, when someone can't seem to settle on one reason for their actions, when they seem to be flailing around, desperate for whatever will work best, why, I think they might be just a smidge dishonest, and that the true reason is actually "none of the above".

And I will refrain from breaking out that worn-out, too often-quoted line from The Princess Bride about words and their meanings. I do think that it would be helpful, though, if he would explain what exactly would constitute an indefensible or unjustifiable case for war, since he seemed to consider the transparently absurd ones that were made to be acceptable.

Why are we are arguing over events that happened 5 years ago when we should be talking about how we end this terrible war and prevent this Administration from launching another ill-fated conflict against Iran?

It's an occupation, not a war. Your inability to recognize the screaming obvious doesn't speak well for you.

Posted by: anon at August 16, 2007 09:25 AM

Donald Johnson has a fascinating phrase (above) about "bipartisan tradition of support for US atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere."
Doesn't that capture either
-what we became after WWII and the Marshall Plan
and all the other good stuff we've celebrated
about ourselves
-or, represent much (not all) of what the US
establihment--envied and supported by the people,
had been about for a long time.

In either case, that's what historians, politicians and "journalists" ought to ask and debate, with an eye on acknowledging and--hoping againt hope, as always, "changing."

Posted by: donescobar at August 16, 2007 09:44 AM

Voter turnout will be high/
when your village is pacified.

I've heard it before. Hell, I've sung about it before.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at August 16, 2007 09:45 AM

Jonathan and all

It does seem that these discussions here (and the one over at Democratic Arsenal from which this has all stemmed) are really setting the standard for examining much that really happened along the earlier pathway to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

It is good to see the point(s) of view of the likes of Michael Cohen in this environment, not because he is factually correct, but because his understanding of the events that took place in the late nineties is representative of that of the entire administrations of both Clinton and Bush II, not to mention that of the US intelligence community throughout the combined period.

It is quite obvious that Mr Cohen does not have a full comprehension of the significance of many of the events that have taken place along the way. His version of history has been comprehensively debunked, both here by yourself and by (most notably) Junius Brutus on both forums.

What is equally evident is that Mr Cohen is unwilling to recant upon his uninformed revisionism. He went only as so far as to correct the year ('98 instead of '97) that he claimed (and then repeated) was the date of the inspectors removal but then went on to maintain that the debate about other factual matters was "getting very tiresome". At this point he introduced an extremely critical element into the whole picture of perceived Iraqi non-cooperation. He wrote:

"One point that people forget is that Saddam had an affirmative responsibility to turn over evidence of his WMD programs. THAT WAS PART OF THE AGREEMENT HE SIGNED WITH THE UN IN RETURN FOR A CEASE FIRE. His failure to do so put him in breach of UN resolutions. Again, this was not just the US view, it was shared by ALL the members of the Security Council."

He repeated this stance here in his reply to Jonathan's invitation to respond to the basic facts of these matters:


He goes on to say:


Herein lies the root cause of the basic dispute between Iraq and the UN via both UNSCOM and UNMOVIC. UN Resolution 687, which was the basic ceasefire resolution, stated that the UN:

9. Decides, for the implementation of paragraph 8 above, the following:
(a) Iraq shall submit to the Secretary-General, within fifteen days of the adoption of the present resolution, a declaration of the locations, amounts and types of all items specified in paragraph 8 and agree to urgent, on-site inspection as specified below;

What this paragraph called for was for Iraq to declare ALL THAT IT HAD LEFT following the 1991 conflict. IT DID NOT call upon Iraq to declare all it had done vis-à-vis WMD in the past, for instance regarding either earlier production or actual usage during the '80-'88 Iran/Iraq War.

Neither was this additional requirement made clear in the May 1991 exchange of letters, which followed Resolution 687 and had officially formalised the inspection process and modalities between Iraq and the UN.

It was a later Resolution, 707 (15 August 1991), which then introduced the notion of a Full, Final Complete Disclosure (FFCD) requiring disclosure of ALL ASPECTS of the Iraqi WMD programmes:

3. Demands that Iraq
(i) provide full, final and complete disclosure, as required by resolution 687 (1991), of all aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres, and of all holdings of such weapons, their components and production facilities and locations, as well as all other nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to nuclear-weapons-usable material, without further delay,

As far as Iraq was concerned this was a considerable upping of the ante when compared with the obligations of the original ceasefire resolution. Iraq saw in this a liability to self-admit culpability (in a 5th amendment kind of way) for illegal chemical weapons use in contravention of the 1925 Geneva Protocol which specifically outlawed such usage.

On Mr Cohen's final point here regarding "the simple truth", he does not take into account the fact that UNSCOM's original mandate, which he has very kindly linked to, did not call on UNSCOM to investigate any or all of the aspects of Iraq's earlier programmes. Therefore Saddam's regime was not in this instance preventing UN inspectors from "doing their job", this primarily because it wasn't in their job description in the very first place.

Posted by: Simon at August 16, 2007 10:22 AM

On some levels Mr. Cohen's response above just plain irks me.

What he goes to great length to explain is that "defensible" and "justifiable" both mean anything which some individual can argue for.

These over-broad definitions may be technically correct, but in both cases he seems to ignore the connotation of being right that both terms imply.

By Mr. Cohen's standard there is no action or idea which isn't "defensible" and/or "justifiable."

Posted by: JaDe at August 16, 2007 10:41 AM

SteveB: "don't you understand that all possible Iraq policies must lie somewhere between Clinton and Bush"

The point served, Clinton and Bush both adjusted said policies independently of eachother, Clinton modifying somewhat the sanctions regime after '95 and creating the OFF and Bush modifying the no-fly zone policy to allow for something more like the a carpet bombing campaign in the months before the war. But only they get to touch the knobs, us plebes are left stupidly switching the breakers back and forth.

Posted by: buermann at August 16, 2007 10:58 AM

Hey Mike Cohen: You are a sack of shit. And you're probably corrupt as well. Hope the Hillary Administration gig comes through, cuz whoring for free would really suck ass for you.

Posted by: vince_foster at August 16, 2007 11:03 AM


Stop the name calling! It's unproductive and unnecessary.


You need to upgrade your mt install so that your user community can rate the comments, so that the relative value of each can be compared, otherwise reactions like the above will be used as a blanket condemnation of yourself and your community. If you are interested contact me.


The above comment is not representative of this community.

Posted by: patience at August 16, 2007 11:27 AM

I hate comment-rating systems. People who make blanket condemnations based on some comment they don't like aren't worth bothering with. (Except for the fact that they run the world, I mean. But they'd make blanket condemnations anyway, stray comment or not.)

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 16, 2007 11:47 AM

Michael Cohen, I appreciate that your are not supporting the Iraq war, but "just" saying that the arguments for it are reasonable. Let me try to explain why I still find that maddening.

I don't agree that "individuals pick up on the most minute points in [your] posts to dismiss [your] arguments, as opposed to look at the big picture of what [you] are trying to say." The points that people have picked up on are

(1) Your defense of three substantially incorrect rationales for the Iraq war as "defensible."

(2) Your statement that there are "good arguments" for going to war with Iran and North Korea.

(3) Your approval of Mr. Marshall's statement that "The challenge for Democrats. . . is to articulate their own case against Saddam."

None of these are minute points, and they add up to a big picture that's very disturbing.

Generally, I like to be conciliatory and understanding with people who I disagree with, and say that "well, we just see things differently." The trouble is that in this country the debate has shifted so far to the right, that we regularly treat as serious and reasonable positions that are completely insane, and allow conservatives to set the terms of the debate between two insane positions. This is not right. Yes, you should argue respectfully with people who hold fundamentally insane positions, if you think they can be swayed by logic, but you shouldn't act as if their insane positions were reasonable. It's insane to debate whether torture is morally acceptable, it's insane to debate whether the Consitution permits a massive warrantless wiretapping program, and it's insane to debate whether prisoners can be held indefinitely without judicial recourse. I don't want to act as if the insane position in these debates is "reasonable" or "defensible," and you shouldn't either.

You ask "Why are we arguing over events that happened 5 years ago when we should be talking about how we end this terrible war and prevent this Administration from launching another ill-fated conflict against Iran?" I don't understand this view. 5 years ago is not ancient history, and all these issues are deeply intertwined. The supporters of the Iraq war are still around, setting the terms of the debate about withdrawal, and laying the groundwork for a war with Iran, with rationales and perspectives that are very similar to the rationales and perspectives that started the war with Iraq. That's why it's important that Iraq war supporters admit that they were wrong about the Iraq war, and the reasoning behind it. Not so that those who opposed the war can gloat, but because those who were so obviously wrong about the start of the war should not be allowed to present the same "reasonable" and "defensible" arguments for a new war with Iran, or a long-term occupation of Iraq.

Your approval of Mr. Marshall's statement that "The challenge for Democrats. . . is to articulate their own case against Saddam" is illustrative. It's a false choice. I thought that the case against Saddam was incredibly weak, and don't understand why I should be asked to articulate my own case against him. Now if this was just some bit of ancient history, I'd say, yeah, that statement doesn't make any sense, but let it go. But it's not; it's the same sort of reasoning that the hawks use now. Those who oppose the continued occupation are now regularly presented with the false choice of "If you don't like Bush's strategy, how would you win the war?" My answer is that the war is unwinnable (and that I don't even understand what "winning" would look like), because it was ill-conceived from the start, and that the best of the bad options available is withdrawal, which will quite likely be followed by a civil war and establishment of an authoratarian government. But that's not an acceptable answer, given the way the Democrats have allowed the right-wing to frame the "reasonable" answers. And I envision a time in the near future where we engage in a debate over whether it's better to overthrow the government of Iran and occupy the country, or simply carpet-bomb Tehran, and when "moderate liberals" agree that both sides are reasonable and defensible, but that we should err on the side of peace, and simply carpet-bomb Tehran.

Posted by: Autumn Harvest at August 16, 2007 12:03 PM

Michael asks “Some will argue Saddam didn't have WMD. They're right. But why didn't he come clean about that fact before 2002?”

Let’s speculate… the majority population of Shites in the south have wanted you dead for decades, as have the Kurds in the north. Your regime is reviled by your neighbor Iran, against whom you waged a brutal war for eight years or so killing millions. You owe your continued existence to the perception among your enemies that you are not a toothless tiger.
Sure, why not announce to the world that you have no defenses and are indeed a weakling.

Posted by: RT Firefly at August 16, 2007 01:01 PM

Mr. Cohen, thank you for responding to the original post. Welcome to the rough and tumble world of Left Blogistan, a place where people have the temerity to think that citizenship should give them an a priori right to a place at the table, where advocacy is passionate, where Bull Shit is called with regularity. It's a place where nits are picked, not merely to be querulous, but because we rightly view these nits (a metaphor for all of those unquestioned - unquestionable, actually - presuppositions of The Serious People that set a limit on the ambit of the permissable discussion) as disease-carrying vectors in the civic discourse of the nation.

Why are we so pissy towards journalists, pundits, think tank "scholars" and such? Well, it's because they have been such signal failures in their responsibilities to question the conventional wisdom of the Powers-That-Be. The Powers-That-Be are never going to perform this function themselves. The advancement of defensible arguments (snark) as to why their presuppositions and preferred courses of action are questionable is required of journalists, pundits, think tank "scholars" and such since these are ostensibly the people best positioned to fulfill this role. And boy, have The Serious People ever screwed the pooch on this one. So we of Left Blogistan are constantly engaged in questioning this lack of questions. We aren't impressed with how The Serious People are circling the wagons, with how loyalty to the Inner Circle of Kewl Kids trumps loyalty to the guiding principles of the Republic. Expect more of this insolence from the hoi polloi; clutch your pearls as much as you like. We don't hate you personally, but we certainly wonder how you can square holding war-justifiers harmless when you see all of the real havoc that their fecklessness has wrought on our country's present and future prospects. In various countries around the world where bad stuff has happened, it has been understood that a failure to examine past misdeeds leaves a nation fatally hobbled and vulnerable to repetition of the mistakes; and in the case of the US, we're supposed to set an example for good. So glossing over the real-world ramifications of this enabling behavior isn't just bad for us here in the US, it is pernicious on a global scale.

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at August 16, 2007 01:16 PM

I find it appalling, not just as a history major (why that twenty five page paper on Dred Scott? that was (at the time) 135yr ago), about this assumption that it is silly to talk about what happened five years ago.

We act now by judging what we did in the past. You know, live and learn. This includes treating people with the knowledge of what they did (or did wrongly) in the past. You cannot act in a vacuum.

I deleted an ephitet in that last sentence, but I'm still thinking it. It is simply not reasonable discourse to discuss what to do now without reference to the past. We cannot take people who argue that (and seem amazed that we find it troubling) seriously.

Posted by: Joe at August 16, 2007 01:24 PM

The point about "defensible war" is, indeed, crucial.
I would like Michael Cohen to consider this.

1. Is there a defensible case for Iran to go to war against the United States?

2. Was there a defensible case for Japan to attack the US at Pearl Harbor?

I understand Cohen was against the war and, I am sure, he was against a Japanese attack then an an Iranian one now.

But Michael Cohen's intellectual stand (there was a case for war but I didn't agree with it) de facto implies a positive answer to 1 and 2. I would just love to hear someone in Democracy Arsenal say so.

In fact, by any historical measure you want to throw in, the US case for war against Iraq was the weakest of them all.

As for the humanitarian case, given our support of Saddam (against Iran) and the devastating sanctions under Clinton, the argument does not even pass the laugh test.

(Recently released documents indicate that the sites for Saddam's chemical attacks against Iranian troops were chosen hours before by the CIA from satellite imagery.)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 16, 2007 01:32 PM

Jersey Jeffersonian is a genius.

A genius.

A genius.

Posted by: mister muleboy at August 16, 2007 02:00 PM

"maybe getting rid of Saddam and freeing the Iraqi people from his rule was the only proper thing for the US to do"

You don't need a big brain to come to this conclusion. The real problem is how to accomplish this without causing chaos and the deaths of 100's of thousands of innocents. That is what the big brains are supposed to be solving. Not coming to ridiculous position that 'something must be done, no matter what' and then going no further.

The deaths of 100s of thousands of innocents is immoral. It is beyond disgusting. It is worse than leaving the big boogey man in power. I despise any of the so called experts who can't address the problems of the world in a more serious way.

Posted by: BushYouth at August 16, 2007 02:05 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 16, 2007 02:08 PM

Let's be clear. The purpose of the sanctions against Saddam was to remove him from power. It had nothing to do with inspections and WMDs. Just as the inspectors were about to certify Iraq as free and clear of WMDs, Clinton sent Albright out to make a major speech in which she basically let Saddam know the sanctions would never be lifted so long as he was in power. Christopher had said the same thing as far back as 1994. THAT's why Saddam stopped cooperating with the inspectors. He knew the WMD/inspector thing was just propaganda BS.

The LAST thing the Clinton administration wanted was for Saddam to be certified in compliance with UN resolutions. It was bound to be a major political embarassment when Clinton continued the sanctions anyway. So they decided to goad Saddam into digging in his heels, and it worked.

And I agree with the posters who have said it was pretty cheeky to blame Saddam for the Iraqis who died because of our sanctions. We have a long history of killing Iraqis, directly and indirectly. We supplied Saddam with chemicals for his CW program, even after we knew he was using them on his own people. Then we killed a 100k or so Iraqi children through the sanctions. Now we've added about a million more to our body count (and the invasion was still a capital war crime, regardless of whether some humanitarian gloss was put up in defense of it). Oh, and we supported Saddam in both his coup attempts, so we have some degree of responsibility for EVERY Iraqi (and Iranian) he killed, even if we were not directly implicated.

Posted by: shargash at August 16, 2007 02:16 PM

Mr. Cohen,

You state the following in your original post:

"There is a good argument to be made for going to war against Iran and North Korea."

You acknowledge that you do not want to see a war in Iran, but how can that be if the argument is, admitted by yourself, a "good" one? That would be intellectually bankrupt, no? ("Yes, you make a very good argument that I should buy car insurance, but you know, I just don't agree. Why? Because I have some other argument...")

But then, in the above post, in trying to defend your first comment, you provide us with the following comparison:

"For example, there is a defensible argument for privatizing social security. I wholeheartedly reject it. Simply because I say there is an argument doesn't mean I am endorsing it."

Although I agree with what you say after (about politeness), that particular point is rather unimportant. There is the name-caller, and then there is the name-called, and one can simply decide to ignore the actual name-calling and focus on the arguments themselves. We're all adults, right?

What I find bothersome is that you seemingly present as equivalent something that is a "good" argument to something that is a "defensible" argument.

Good > Defensible!

These are NOT equivalent, and I think you need to recognize that. The arguments leading to the Iraq War were indeed defensible, but they were, as has been noted and are supported by the facts, NOT strong.

What is also rather bothersome is that there are those on the left (and right) who seem intellectually incapable (or unwilling) to simply admit that their analysis of the respective arguments were WRONG. And that they are willing to LEARN from these errors.

What would be your preferred terminology for someone who made a mistake, and when confronted with their error, chose to just continue with their faulty reasoning? "Stubborn" comes to mind. "Obtuse." "Dense" is also appropriate. See, the problem is that there are very few polite terms to describe the mindset of deliberately not learning from one's mistakes. From refusing to engage in intellectually honest growth.

It is also intellectually dishonest to try to frame an error in analysis with an error in data. That is, as many of those against the war have noted, the information was there to make a really "good" argument that war in Iraq was illegal and wrong was out there, but many liberal hawks either did not do the research or chose to ignore the facts in coming to their conclusion. This is different from the argument being put forth by the "recently abashed" who claim that they were "mislead" or that "the intelligence was bad..."

No, the fact is the information was out there, readily available enough so that those outside the "Serious" circle could figure it out.

So, labels such as "Dishonest" and "Deceitful" seem to be somewhat appropriate, albeit perhaps impolite. But is it really name-calling when the labels are accurate?

Posted by: Dr. Grumpus at August 16, 2007 02:19 PM

"recognize that I am indeed on your side in this debate"

After trotting out just about every historical fallacy ever put forward as fact and then chalking up hard and fast contrary evidence - it's just not a matter of interpretation as to who it was that pulled the inspectors out in '98, nor is there any evidence to support the time honored lie that "he continued to mislead the UN" - as mere subjective whimsy, it takes a real tool to then say they're on your side of the argument. No wonder we lost it.

Having friends like this makes having enemies fairly impossible.

Posted by: buermann at August 16, 2007 02:19 PM

I'm betting that of all the responses to Cohen that have been written here, Vince Foster's "you're a lying sack of shit" will be the only one Mr. Cohen remembers.

"I tried to talk to them reasonably, but they just called me a lying sack of shit!", he will say to his fellow Foreign Policy Experts in the break room over at Democracy Arsenal. And they will all nod knowingly, and sigh, and say, "Yes, that's just how those people are. There's just no reasoning with them."

But I don't blame Vince Foster for this, because I think there is a "defensible argument" for saying Michael Cohen is a lying sack of shit. Not that I endorse such a statement, heavens no.

Posted by: SteveB at August 16, 2007 02:45 PM

Mr. Cohen: Give Nancy Pelosi a call and discuss IMPEACHMENT. It'll do YOUR SOUL some good. (1-202-225-0100)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 16, 2007 02:54 PM

like people have been saying, it's the body count involved that debases this from the clubby "ogg make good case, but me unpersuaded" sitch, to amorality.

a person could probably get arrested for saying things like "there's a good case for murdering president bush in cold blood, but i'm against it." the framing of the crime shows a deep and troubling sympathy -- not for the criminal -- for the criminal's ethics -- and at that point, when that person then says, "not to worry, i'm on your side," the natural response is, "till when?"

Posted by: hapa at August 16, 2007 03:52 PM

i swear up down and sideways i did not inhale the perrin before adding my own 16 words.

Posted by: hapa at August 16, 2007 04:04 PM

I too like the Dennis Perrin piece, until he had to bring in the old Arendt bit about "the banality of evil." Yes, Arendt's unoriginal observation--"Evil is unspectacular and always human, And shares our bed and eats at our own table," W.H. Auden, and others before him, is valid. But she had to insist that "this normality is much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together." No, no, no it ain't. Ask someone who survived--the camps, the Gulag, Pol Pot, Vietnam, Iraq, El Salvador, Abu Ghraib.
Brecht understood it better. Find out why some of us can say "No," why, under what circumstances, and why so many can't or won't.
Arendt was trying to please her old mentor Heidegger. Right there she joined in her own allegiance to "this normality."
Time to retire b of e.

Posted by: donescobar at August 16, 2007 04:10 PM


That was the first time -- ever -- that I referred to Arendt's old line. I had no idea it was tied to all manner of philosophical posturing. Well, I won't make that mistake again!

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at August 16, 2007 04:19 PM

Alas, donescobar, b of e does not retire so easily, as the later testing of Arendt's proposition by Milgram clearly demonstrated.

We don't know why some "can't" or "won't", but this much is clear: Given the proper circumstances, a frightening majority (over 90%) of "normals" will, either perform "evil" or will help with "evil."

It is important to realize that one of the dangerous mental traps is to be convinced that it could never be you or me.

Posted by: Dr. Grumpus at August 16, 2007 04:28 PM

*Herr* Doctor Professor,

What can I tell you? Not much, since after the Milgram studies, for better or/and worse, follow-up research on obedience has not been permitted by university institutional review boards.

So we can suppose and theorize about "evil" and obedience all we want. But we do have what the *evidence* shows, and that's important, despite the "unoriginality" of Arendt's thesis (unless you want to propose that we ignore actual evidence, something that would strike me as ironic given this thread).

Anyway, I'll stop since we are veering quite off-topic.

Posted by: Dr. Grumpus at August 16, 2007 05:25 PM

Let us take Mr. Cohen at his word, and not discuss those tragic events of 5 years ago when the allegedly liberal acceded to a policy course which has not produced...ah...the ends desired. So, the question then becomes, what are the ends that are desired?

Perhaps we should list some policy goals. This seems a basic requirement, no? So here goes:

democracy and peace everywhere
prosperity everywhere
hapiness everywhere

Well, my. This appears rather expansive, obviously well beyond our means, and most likely, given human nature, utterly unattainable. Let's downsize:

Peace in the Middle East
Recognition for Israel and secured borders
End "Islamofascist terrorism"
End of the rule of the mullahs in Iran

Now we are getting somewhere. This is a set of policy goals that (in today's tortured political environment) fairly screams of 'realism'. How do we achieve these goals?

This can be attained by simply marching into the Middle East and slaughtering every man, woman, and child living there (Iraelis excepted). With our preponderance of wealth and firepower, the job would be easy. Nuclear weapons would most likely not even be needed.

Now Mr. Cohen may disagree with this policy prescription, but by his logic he is bound to admit that it is 'justifiable' and 'defensible', but at the very least, he needs to come to terms with those 'bad arabs'.

Posted by: earl of canwich at August 16, 2007 05:29 PM

Dr. Grumpus

Yep, we have what the evidence shows us, even if we argue about what to make of it forever.
In God's Country, we don't even want to look at the evidence. "American Idol" will do.

Posted by: donescobar at August 16, 2007 05:46 PM

*Herr* Doctor Professor,

What can I tell you? Not much, since after the Milgram studies, for better or/and worse, follow-up research on obedience has not been permitted by university institutional review boards.

So we can suppose and theorize about "evil" and obedience all we want. But we do have what the *evidence* shows, and that's important, despite the "unoriginality" of Arendt's thesis (unless you want to propose that we ignore actual evidence, something that would strike me as ironic given this thread).

Anyway, I'll stop since we are veering quite off-topic.

Posted by: Dr. Grumpus at August 16, 2007 05:46 PM

I like Perrin's post a lot. And it's not just that his last name is French and I am always there to cast the empathy vote of the fellow sufferer.

Cohen's calm attitude toward the possibility of slaughtering thousands vs his allergy to name-calling reminds me less of Arendt than of Dr Strangelove:

"Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! This is the war room!"

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 16, 2007 07:14 PM

Indeed, Prof. Chazelle. Our real problem with the Baath regime was not "weapons of mass destruction," but a mineshaft gap.

Or perhaps the spider-hole gap? Take your pick, I guess; as we've observed, it's nice to have options.

Posted by: StO at August 16, 2007 07:29 PM

i would disagree that venomous personal attacks on mr. cohen are out-of-bounds. his utterly specious rejoinder above is deserving of withering contempt, as is his obvious careering to keep his kids in school or whatever his financial pressures are. he's the worst kind of liberal--and that he can claim to be representative of a liberal mindset without "troll ratings" is much worse than some commenter on a website being mean to him.

if you still haven't grasped why this is so you are stupid. it's just that simple. michael cohen has some real (albeit small) role to play in making the world better or worse for millions--he chooses to use his brain to make up reasons for why he should do the thing that helps his career rather than the people in question. he deserves excoriation, whether with fancy words or a simple "eat me, no talent ass clown".

Posted by: Robert Green at August 16, 2007 09:33 PM
We can argue over the semantics of whether he kicked out inspectors or whether they left on their own, but the simple truth is that he actively prevented them from doing their job.

i think i just had a brain-freeze from the clintonian level of dissembling going on over here.

the people most actively preventing the inspections were the people gunning for war.

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 16, 2007 09:57 PM

there were meant to be quotes around "dissembling" like so...

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 16, 2007 10:20 PM

Everybody knows the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their Father or their Dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows
L. Cohen-S. Robinson

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 17, 2007 12:13 AM

Mike Meyer: this is spooky. I was just listening to that song when I got to your comment. I swear!

For anyone interested.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 17, 2007 12:38 AM

I've been on a Leonard Cohen tear this week, so maybe it's not so surprising, but still...

When Leonard Cohen meets Sonny Rollins, you get something you don't want to miss:

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 17, 2007 12:51 AM

When Leonard Cohen meets Sonny Rollins, you get something you don't want to miss:
Posted by Bernard Chazelle

When first I saw that show (was it David Sanborn's Night Music?), maybe twenty years ago, I tuned in just to see Was Not Was (the guys singing back-up). Leonard left me speechless. I hadn't seen him since his 'Songs from a Room' days, when he was de rigeur accoutrement for sophomore girls with ironed hair. Been a fan, as in fanatic, ever since.

Posted by: cavjam at August 17, 2007 02:32 AM

Autumn Harvest, I have the same kind of friends. They can be decent, kind, generous people in all sorts of ways, more so than me, but some of their political beliefs would make a buzzard vomit. And yes, if politeness makes it more likely that we could wean Michael Cohen from the dark side, then we should try it. I think this involves telling him that he is dodging responsibility for the sanctions deaths. And yeah, some of my friends responded in exactly the same way as he does when the sanctions are brought up--it's all Saddam's fault, he's using the sanctions to kill his own people, we're not to blame at all, our intentions are good, blah, blah, blah. It's a normal human reflex. Apparently my friends identified with US foreign policy--Cohen actually worked for the State Department and hobnobs with other political types to his right, so it's going to be ten times harder for him to change.

As for allies, it's true that in politics you take them where you can. Probably some politicians start out as idealists, find themselves compromising because it's the only way to get things done, and then (and this is where they go wrong) they start thinking that the beliefs of their allies aren't all that bad, and before you know it they're pretending that absolutely repugnant positions taken by their friends are "serious". The trick is in making alliances without falling into that last step.

This whole civility thing is a sore spot with me at a group blog I frequent. Civility is the mantra there. The way it often works out in practice is that you have some people who take morally repugnant positions on one side of the fence (defending Israel's bombing of Lebanon last summer, for instance or the Iraqi sanctions) and nobody taking the morally equivalent position on the other side (defending suicide bombers or rocket attacks on Israeli towns or Saddam's murders), so the two "extremes" are people who oppose the targeting of civilians and people who oppose the targeting of civilians by Arabs, while pretending that the West doesn't do such things. Discussion starts off with the well-intentioned "civil" liberals weakly criticizing Western actions as ill-advised. with everyone accepting that Arab terrorism is bad, and then it quickly turns into a flamewar when the less civil folks jump in.

It's kind of inevitable--there are some subjects where being polite only makes sense as a form of irony. I often wonder how civil that group blog would be if an Arab defender of suicide bombing showed up. Would the civil liberals then write posts criticizing this tactic as ill-advised, and unlikely to make the Israelis behave better, or would something stronger be said?

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 17, 2007 09:55 AM


Posted by: at August 17, 2007 11:46 AM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 17, 2007 11:48 AM

Donald Johnson is probably one of two or three people I'd talk with about the Israel-Palestine madness. I've been screamed at by Zionists and pro-Palestine American lefties too often. Both sides demand total, unquestioning allegiance to their side, everything else is either Zionist apologia or anti-Semitism.
Now, in a German cafe you can find understanding for both sides, supported by knowledge of the history and empathy. Of all people, the Hegelians have become more Anglo-Saxon and the Americans more beer-hall old Krauts. Ain't irony grand!

Posted by: donescobar at August 17, 2007 11:49 AM

I think, donescobar, that with pro-Palestinian lefties they probably mistake your viewpoint at first. Or at least it might be that in some cases. In the US the mainstream commentary has been so pro-Zionist (though I think this is starting to change, at least in some quarters) that people who sympathize with Palestinians tend to make the kneejerk assumption that if you criticize Palestinian terrorism you're part of the mainstream Arab-bashing crowd. After a few iterations of shouting and explaining you can probably sort out whether your critic is making this mistake, or alternatively, maybe he (or she) really does have a double standard on human rights. In which case you back away slowly and head for the nearest German cafe. But yeah, having kneejerk assumptions made about oneself can get tiresome.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 17, 2007 12:14 PM

Zionism is an ideology. It can be criticized or defended. One can choose to become a Zionist or decide to stop being a Zionist. 'Palestinian terrorism' - this phrase doesn't mean anything one could criticize, it can only be analyzed; it describes a pattern of behavior a non-Palestinian person like Donald Johnson or donescobar or anybody else would likely to follow under the same set of circumstances.

Posted by: abb1 at August 17, 2007 03:24 PM

Not necessarily, abb1. I don't know how I'd behave if I lived in the Gaza Strip, or what actions I'd support, but I don't think it's true that every Palestinian supports having some kid strap on explosives and go into a pizza parlor to kill other kids. I was just reading Scott Atran a week ago (no link) and he mentions how he has interviewed the parents of suicide bombers and in fact they aren't at all happy with what their children have done and the father he quotes treated Hamas propaganda on the glorious martyrdom with contempt. Scott seems to be fairly leftwing (I think he and Chomsky are on friendly terms.)

Some Palestinians might support armed resistance (attacking Israeli soldiers, for instance), but not terrorism aimed at civilians. Some, like Marwan Barghouti, fall in-between. I think he supports attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers on the West Bank, but not attacks inside Israel. (Which isn't good enough by human rights standards, but is at least drawing a line somewhere.) Some even support non-violent resistance, or so I've heard, which gets virtually no coverage in the US press.

Of course, Israeli spokesmen will lump all acts of Palestinian violence into the same category of terrorism, but that's no reason not to make distinctions.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 17, 2007 04:44 PM

I'll go along with DJ and want to add that dread old Zionism wasn't (maybe still isn't) a monolithic ideology or practice. Take this statement from Ahron David Gordon, one of the founders of the Zionist Labor Movement: "Our attitude toward them (Palestinian Arabs) must be one of humanity, of moral courage which remains on the highest plane, even if the behavior of the other side is not all that is deired. Indeed, their hostility is all the more reason for our humanity." "Erloesung durch Arbeit," Berlin, 1929, p.243.
Not many Gordons left, I grant you, but his spirit needs to be rekindled in Israel--and among the Arabs. Is that still possible? Doubt it, but that's no reason not to acknowledge it existed nor to revive it. I feel very, very old writing this. That, I hope, you will understand.

Posted by: donescobar at August 17, 2007 05:28 PM

What strikes me most forcefully about Cohen's response is that he doesn't devote a single word to this point of Jonathan's:

[I]f I can speak for Atrios and most progressive bloggers, their perspective is not that they're refusing to "advance the debate." Rather, their point is that as far as US foreign policy goes, there is no debate. We can screw around on blogs for the rest of our lives, we could be proven correct about 100 more wars, and no one with our perspective would ever be allowed on TV. Likewise, Kenneth Pollack could be catastrophically wrong about 100 more wars, and he would still be on Nightline every week. That's because being right has absolutely nothing to do with "the debate." That's the way it is, and unless it changes, all the time I spent writing this was absolutely pointless. I hope Cohen can appreciate that it's a bit frustrating to be asked to "advance the debate" under these circumstances, and to be told we have "seemingly forgotten" things that never happened.

As long as our political culture consists of a class of people who are always right even when they're wrong, and another class who are always wrong even when we're right, I'm afraid incivility and bad words are going to occasionally ensue. Michael Cohen will just have to live with the dreadful burden of privilege.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at August 17, 2007 06:01 PM

Well, yeah--they are a "class" of people, just like the "legacies" admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Not just for family, money, background etc--but for their willingness or eagerness to talk the establishment talk and walk the establishment walk. So it has been, so it likely will continue to be.

Posted by: donescobar at August 17, 2007 06:17 PM

"As long as our political culture consists of a class of people who are always right even when they're wrong, and another class who are always wrong even when we're right, I'm afraid incivility and bad words are going to occasionally ensue. Michael Cohen will just have to live with the dreadful burden of privilege."

Given the cumulative effects of the American public's forfeiture of democracy and casual acceptance of a system comprised solely of ruling class whimsy, one can only hope today's dreadful burden of privilege metastasizes into something greater than the tiny marshmallow of resistance seen thus far.

Posted by: The Match at August 18, 2007 01:08 AM

Take this statement from Ahron David Gordon, one of the founders of the Zionist Labor Movement: "Our attitude toward them (Palestinian Arabs) must be one of humanity, of moral courage which remains on the highest plane, even if the behavior of the other side is not all that is deired. Indeed, their hostility is all the more reason for our humanity." "Erloesung durch Arbeit," Berlin, 1929, p.243.

That's the problem right there. If you want to move to Palestine (or Finland or Zanzibar, for that matter) to stay there for the rest of your life, you better aspire to become a Palestinian or Finn or Zanzibarian, otherwise we've got a potential problem already.

But when not only you're refusing to become a Finn, but you're coming with the attitude of a superman who promises to treat the local Finns 'humanely' - then they will definitely try to kick your arrogant ass all the way to where you've come from. I know I would.

Posted by: abb1 at August 19, 2007 12:58 AM

OK, the Jews should have been given Austria around 1947/48. But they wanted out of Europe.
Taking up on your point, shouldn't many European countries today kick the asses of a lot of Muslims to where they came from? After all, many are refusing to become Dutch or Danish, expecting instead to impose sharia on their "host countries?"

Posted by: donescobar at August 19, 2007 10:39 AM

Dear abb1 & donescobar,

You're hopefully aware of my admiration for you both. However, may I respectfully request that you let this particular subject drop for the moment? By my count, it comprises 87% of all comments that have ever appeared on all blogs everywhere, and I'd like to do my part to bring this number down a little.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Delighted to let it drop.
So, now maybe we can talk about what really matters?
On 87% of all "progressive" blogs we talk about "change," about "returning democracy" to America, about wrestling control or power from the corporations and Wall Street and their employees in DC.
Not by marching, not by the "ballot box," not by letter-writing, not by anything that's proposed or done by small numbers today.
Maybe only economic collapse and a few years of FDR-like policies and then back to the same old.
Too bleak? What else that's better could happen? And how?

Posted by: donescobar at August 19, 2007 11:39 AM

Sorry, I assumed this thread was already in the spam mode.

Alright, then. No biggerr 0rrgasm links for you, mister.

Posted by: abb1 at August 19, 2007 11:42 AM

That's why it's called culture shock--The Clash of Civilizations.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 19, 2007 11:13 PM

Ok...after reading about half of comments on this page I think I'm beginning to understand the basics here.

The U.S. is unquestionably the root of all evil. Case closed! You're a lyin' sack of shit if you say otherwise.

Republicans are by far the more evil, but some Democrats aren't too far behind.

In retrosect Saddam wasn't so bad. He was a lot more trustworthy and an lot less deceptive than has been portrayed. It's the U.S. that's really less trustworthy and more deceptive.

The U.N. and its weapons inspectors possess omniscient capabilites and if guys like Blix and Ritter say there are no weapons, then its a fact that there are no weapons. They know exactly what is in Iraq and exactly where everything is and that is an unquestionable fact. I'll bet they could have even told Saddam where he left his car keys. You're a lyin' sack of shit if you disagree.

There is hard evidence and there is historical fallacy. Everyone else's evidence seems to be historical fallacy. Either that or they're a lyin' sack of shit.

Posted by: TW at August 20, 2007 12:07 PM

TW: FACT IS there were NO WMDs. So Saddam was telling the TRUTH. And the whole Rai'son de guerre, GWOT, OSAMA BIN LADEN is and was in Pakistan. And THE REPUBLICANS had control of the Congress, WhiteHouse, and enough of the Supreme Court to UNCONSTITUTIONALLY sieze the 2000 election, during the WHOLE misadventure. (my guess is EVEN YOU would like to see us leave Iraq, if possible)(A DRAFT IS starting to blow, and WE are ALL sailing toward the desert)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 20, 2007 05:57 PM

Can we (including Michael Cohen) please all agree that the question before the house is not "Was Saddam a stand-up guy?" or "Was Saddam a real straight shooter?" but rather: "Was there a defensible case for war?"

Your personal opinion on this question will hinge on what you think makes for a defensible case for war. Michael Cohen seems to think attacking and invading another country is defensible as long as we have reason to believe that country has been less than honest on important diplomatic matters or is in violation of its international obligations. However, the list of countries that fit these criteria happens to be very long and happens to include the United States and many of its allies.

It may seem shocking nowadays, when certain self-described "progressives" hold such opinions, to realize that for most of modern history and in most societies, these have been considered illegitimate reasons for starting a war. Most people believe that attacking another country is only justifiable when that country poses an imminent threat to the safety of others.

That is why throughout the entire post-1991 Iraq saga the US was never able to convince the Security Council -- or even the governments of more than a bare handful of the 180-odd countries of the world -- that a war against Iraq ought to be authorized. Even in the neighboring Middle Eastern countries to which Saddam supposedly posed a direct threat, it was politically impossible for a government official to publicly call for such a war without exposing himself to public outcry.

The proper analogy to Michael Cohen's argument is that if there is credible evidence that a suspect in a murder case repeatedly perjured himself and that he had committed crimes in the past, there is a "defensible case" for breaking into his house and opening fire. Afterward, when it turns out he wasn't even guilty of the crime he had been suspected of, you can then point to his perjury and his prior record and say: "So I was wrong. But hey, look -- there was a defensible case for what I did."

I don't know what kind of moral compass this reasoning is based on.

Posted by: Seth Ackerman at August 21, 2007 07:57 PM