Sunday, March 15, 2009

More good sense on Iran from Roger Cohen

I highly recommend Roger Cohen's latest essay, in today's IHT, in which he once again makes the case that too many in the West (and I include Israel under that umbrella) have bought into the trope of Iran as a society and state run by "mad mullahs" who'd be more than happy to see their own country incinerated if they could incinerate Israel (and inflict another Holocaust) on the Jewish people. Cohen penned several essays from and about Iran's Jewish communities, which he found to be tolerated and doing reasonably well during his visit; and his observations and conversations led him to conclude that the hype about Iran as an existential threat was being dangerously overplayed, much to the peril of Iranians, Israelis, Americans, and people throughout the region.

He also makes it clear that he has taken some nasty shots from Israel-firsters and Iranophobes of various stripes, and I can only admire his willingness to go out and meet some of his detractors and, if need be, be raked over the coals in public gatherings if it gives him an opportunity to promote good sense and less apocalyptic thinking. From such courage and forthrightness perhaps will come at least some baby steps in turning around some of the vicious and (given the potential to critically destabilize the Middle East) frightfully dangerous demonization both of Iran and of people (like Cohen) who would try to make the point that US diplomats do our nation's interests a huge disservice to the extent that they buy into the Holocaust-mongering of - among others - Benjamin Netanyahu, who has often tried to tell the world that Ahmadinejad = Hitler and Iran's Islamist regime = Nazi dictatorship. (And, of course, by associating Hamas with the mullahs in his rants, Netanyahu and his ilk provide themselves implicit justification for maintaining the strangling economic blockade of Gaza and launching military attacks against the "terrorists" there as it suits them.)

And any of you who've been looking into the Mondoweiss site will have noted the frequent contention there that debate in the US, especially within the liberal Jewish community, is turning away from Israel in the wake of the "Cast Lead" slaughter, and perhaps toward an attitude with greater balance, as well as toward a growing awareness that the calculation of the US's international interests ought not be done by Israeli fingers on the keys of the calculator. It was surely his persistence in promoting this awareness that cost Charles Freeman his spot as National Intelligence director (an incredibly unfortunate event that left me stupefied and angry over a period of several days when I had little internet access). Freeman had gone on the record on several occasions as a strong critic of Israel's hamhanded approach to its relationship with the Palestinian Authority (and he well and duly blasted what he openly termed the "Israel lobby" in his public statement taking himself out of the running for the intel position). People (like Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Steve Israel) who torched him downplayed, of course, the issue of Freeman's alleged lack of fealty to Israel's interests, instead raising the issue that the policy forum he heads - the Middle East Policy Council (which BTW publishes an excellent periodical, Middle East Policy, of which I am proud to be a subscriber, as is the library here on campus) is funded by the Saudi government. I invite any of you to examine the contents of a recent issue of that periodical. You'll find that they regularly include (besides high-quality, well-sourced articles by respected academic specialists in Middle Eastern history and international relations) the proceedings of MEPC-sponsored forums to which are invited academics, diplomats, and journalists of established reputation and different political perspectives. Yet, because the Saudi government (= let's be real here - the Saudi royal family) funds this organization, the conclusions reached in these forums and articles must be - by definition - suspect; indeed, were likely bought and shaped by Saudi money.

Anyone who regularly reads the journal knows that that's preposterous. And equally preposterous is the Saudi-phobic bloviating on the Freeman issue by Schumer, Israel, and their comrades. These are the same people who - as far as I can make out - had no major problem with the influence of Saudi royals in influencing discussion and policy-making under Republican administrations. I give you - to be very specific - Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, who for years served as the Saudi ambassador to the US and who (in that capacity and many others, official and not) worked so closely with George H.W. Bush, James Baker, and George W. Bush that W. bestowed upon him the nickname "Bandar Bush." All of this - and much more - was laid out in considerable detail in Craig Unger's book, House of Bush, House of Saud - and in his book Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward reported that George W. Bush informed Prince Bandar of his plan to invade Iraq even before he'd informed Colin Powell (who was, at that time - we all remember, don't we?) Secretary of State. George H.W. Bush, as you may also recall, was director of the CIA during the 1970s.

Yet, because the Saudis funded his think tank, Charles Freeman - a long-time public servant as a member of the State Department - should be disqualified from directing national intelligence?! That's the real reason? I think not. And it's at least a little comforting to note that many others also think not, and think instead that Chuck Schmer and his pals have deprived the US intelligence community - not to mention that little entity we call national security - of a formidable asset, all because some people of inordinate and undeserved influence are fearful that Freeman might have held Israel's leaders more accountable for the consequences of their ill-conceived, and arguably destructive, policies. Such an accountability is well - indeed, decades - overdue. Charles Freeman - and brave journalists like Roger Cohen - do us all a huge service in reminding us of that.


Anonymous said...

An interesting piece as well at Lenin's Tomb.


John Robertson said...

Gene - thanks for the heads-up!


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