Richard Cohen, the longtime Washington Post columnist sometimes accused of being a “liberal,” produced a strong column today, titled “Bush Wanted War.” In it he said he had long been skeptical of this idea, but now had come to accept it. That’s all well and good, but where was Cohen a little more than three years ago, when this fact was as plain as the smirk on the president’s face, and the columnist agitated for war anyway?
If there was an “I’m sorry for being so stupid” embedded in Cohen’s column I didn’t spot it.
This is the man who, on Feb. 6, 2003, after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deeply-flawed testimony in New York, wrote: “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.”
Yet Cohen has the nerve to write today: “Colin Powell, you may recall, soiled his stellar reputation with a United Nations speech that is now just plain sad to read. Almost none of it is true.”
What about Cohen’s reputation?
Now Cohen observes that “Paul Wolfowitz was obsessed with Iraq, and that seems to have been true of the White House as well.” Of course, this was well-known in 2003, if you looked for it, but it didn’t stop Cohen from cheerleading for the war.
Today Cohen notes there is “plenty of evidence [Bush] had Saddam on his mind and in his sights from the very moment he got the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” He concludes: “Whatever Bush's specific reason or reasons, the one thing that's so far missing from the record is proof of him looking for a genuine way out of war instead of looking for a way to get it started. Bush wanted war. He just didn't want the war he got.”
Sadly, the same can be said of Cohen.
A few more excerpts from his classic Feb. 6, 2003, column on the error-strewn and dishonest Powell presentation to the United Nations:
“The clincher, as it had to be, was not a single satellite photo or the intercept of one Iraqi official talking to another. And it was not, as it never could be, the assertion that some spy or Iraqi deserter had made this or that charge -- because, of course, who can prove any of that? It was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message…. Here was a reasonable man making a reasonable case.
“[T}he case Powell laid out regarding chemical and biological weapons was so strong -- so convincing -- it hardly mattered that nukes may be years away, and thank God for that. In effect, he was telling the French and the Russians what could happen -- what would happen -- if the United Nations did not do what it said it would and hold Saddam Hussein accountable for, in effect, being Saddam Hussein.
“The French, though, are so far deaf to such logic. Their foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said that the consequences of war are dire and unpredictable. He is right about that. But the consequences of doing nothing -- and mere containment of Iraq amounts to nothing -- are also dire and somewhat predictable….
“As with Tevye, there is no ‘other hand’' when it comes to Iraq. If anyone had any doubt, Powell proved that it has defied international law -- not to mention international norms concerning human rights -- and virtually dared the United Nations to put up or shut up. There is no other hand. There is no choice.”
But, of course, there was a choice. It would be nice if Cohen would admit that, like Bush, he chose poorly, too, with disastrous consequences.
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor and Publisher.
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