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November 21, 2006


And now that the Iraqis have discovered the cycle of theraputic violence, we're all on the road to wellness.

Every time I see this joker quoted on the the internets, he is cheerfully admitting his incompetence while barging on ahead as self-appointed expert. First he proudly announces his inability to understand basic math; now this.

Are the rest of the WaPo staff at least embarrassed to work with this guy?

Therapeutic violence, 'cause it's all about MY FEELINGS! See, I'm a serious foreign policy pundit and I need validation for my post-911 FEELINGS.

Who cares about the people at the other end of OUR THERAPEUTIC VIOLENCE?

I need to break some eggs, or was it pottery?

"....might benefit from the attempt to make tiny, concrete, unpublicized improvements to the world, of the sort monks strove for when they tried to perform the most mundane and inglorious daily tasks in such a way that they could be offered up to God without shame."

What a wonderful sentence. I'm dumbstruck.

It reminds me almost immediately of the last paragraph of MIDDLEMARCH........

I just emailed him the url to this post, since, snark aside, I think it's the right advice to give him. We shall see what happens.

(Richard Cohen, if you read this: feel free to comment, and tell me why I'm wrong. I honestly think there are, in most occupations, mistakes that should disqualify a person from practicing it in the future, and if a person makes one, then that person should simply resign. I think you have made one, but I am open to argument.)

tens of thousands in the sense that hundreds of thousands is also tens of thousands.

theCoach: yeah, I was trying to say something that would carefully sidestep the question which figures we ought to believe while still making the basic point. i just didn't think that the arguments about sampling methods etc. were germane here.

Seriously, who are these people?? What kind of upbringing and education did they have? What kind of households did they grow up in where they got the impression that war could be therapy?

A good post ruined by the fact that "laying pipe" is a most unfortunate euphemism that's had me giggling for the last three minutes. And yes, I'm 12.


Did you mention your qualifications, lest he assume you're just some wacky shrill foul-mouthed uncultured poo-flinging blogger?

In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic.

Well that can be a fun little game:

1. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought cheating on my wife could be therapeutic.
2. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought embezzling funds from my company could be legal.
3. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of torture and extraordinary rendition could be refreshing.
4. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought ceding control of my actions to the voices in my head could be liberating.

For the 12 year old in all of us.

Hilzoy, what do you make of reading Cohen's use of "therapeutic" as meaning "we could do something helpful" rather than "it would make us feel better about ourselves"? This is suggested by the sentence that follows ("The United States had the power to change things for the better..."), and, while it's still dumb, it's less awful than your reading.

The Goldberg quote should really be ascribed to Ledeen I think - but of course it runs into "Why wasn't Afghanistan enough?" to pass over reality. Anyway, just wanted to point out that Oderint dum metuant has a long history - I think Machiavelli might have nodded at Ledeen.

Anarch, I'm glad you said it first. Rich Cohen and...yech.

I think Machiavelli might have nodded at Ledeen.

I think he might have said "good point, you just can't say it out loud," since Niccolo was at the very least sensitive to the problems of being perceived as so cruel as to be hated. Just saying.

I expect he was sensitive to the problem of being perceived as making a hash out of everything.

"virtu" almost definitional includes competence, right?

Cohen is disliked by all kinds, apparently.

I'm afraid to watch this.

Pooh, sure, I would think Bush is more or less the opposite of what Machiavelli had in mind (except maybe in being willing to rely on wiser councillors). I'm not a huge Realpolitik fan though so I wouldn't want Machiavelli's model prince in office.

The sentence that I think exemplifies Cohen's moral and intellectual vacuousness is (drumroll please)---

"If anything, I was encouraged in my belief by the offensive opposition to the war -- silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America."

Cohen apparently thought that if one wished to hear a prewar discussion on the merits of going into Iraq one's choice of authorities would be between listening to honorable people like Colin Powell on the one hand, or moonbats like Ward Churchill or Ramsay Clark on the other.

I used to rant, a little unfairly, about the vacuousness and herd mentality of self-proclaimed centrists. That's unfair to centrists in general. But I had people like Cohen in mind--back in 2002-2003 the mainstream consensus was supportive of Bush and if you were openly critical of US foreign policy or harbored suspicions about the motives of the Bush Administration then you were outside the mainstream and therefore a lunatic that didn't merit any sort of response. Cohen is one of those centrists who finds it safe to stay with the herd. Now that the herd has begun its stampede away from support for the Iraq War, Cohen runs with it.

The Post should fire Cohen and hire a wildebeest. They run faster and probably write better.

I suppose it is all too easy to get one's Richard Cohen's crossed.

Huh, the plural is "wildebeests" or "wildebeest" - I thought just the latter, though "wildebeesties" would be amusing.

I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic

If therapy was what he was looking for, I would have chipped in for some aroma candles. A little less messy, I would think.

Rilke, I think realpolitik gets a bad name from some of its more heartless adherence who use the rubric of "realism" to cover what is actually cynicism and amorality.

I was only thinking of the hiring of one wildebeest, but use of the word "they" in the next sentence gave the impression I wanted the Post to hire an entire herd. That would be silly.

Laying pipe, h--l.

Richard Cohen admitted in an earlier column that he deserted from the National Guard.

He could quit his column and fulfill his defective Vietnam era service by shouldering a rifle in Iraq.

Who was the war therapy supposed to help? Cohen? Me? The Planet?

As a construction worker, I can't accept your suggestion that this sorry fool Cohen should become a pipelayer. Construction is serious business. Maybe you don't need an astronomical IQ to do it but you do need a certain amount of common sense. I'd quit my job before I'd put up with my boss inflicting a witless-yet-arrogant moron like that on my crew.

WK: As I said, he might have a talent for it. Who knows. As I also said, if he doesn't, he should go to work at McDonalds, which I think requires no talent at all.

which I think requires no talent at all


Perhaps you should have chosen something more mundane and mindless than laying pipe, like working as a middle manager of a major corp stuck in a cubicle, or telemarketing, or being an associate at a wall street law firm.

Laying pipe is challenging, dangerous, requires great skill and can result in great benefits to lots of people, or a huge disaster with lots of people dead.

The key people involved in laying a gas pipeline have to be on the ball and have their act together or people are going to die. You can't get away with the kind of wackery and fantasy you find common among the professional punditry 'elites'. Cohen's pipes would be leaking all over the place. It's not at all like carrying water for the 'elite' politicians.

I think it's clear hilzoy sees pipelaying and shrub-planting as skilled activities, but it obviously came across as dissing skilled labor to suggest someone like Richard Cohen might have a talent for either. And the fry cooks have been heard from, though I doubt anyone who is complicit in the creation of a MacDonald's hamburger really has much cause for complaint here.

So perhaps it's best to stick to Cohen-herd beast comparisons. No wildebeest have lodged any complaints and indeed, I think
they might be pleased to think they could give up their annual trek across the African plains and write political commentary for major American newspapers, where their contributions would be perceived as a cut above the rest of the herd.

On 9/11, Osama bin Laden thought the "prudent use of violence would be therapeutic," too, I have no doubt.

During migration season, the wildebeest in the Ngorogoro crater try to migrate. Since they're stuck in an enormous caldera, this means that they randomly start running from one side to the other.

a fitting analogy, i think.

As someone who is proud to represent pipefitters for a living, let me just say we don't want Richard Cohen, as he lacks the brains and the cojones to do this kind of serious work. Send him to the New Republic where no one will read his crap anyway.

Laying pipe? Not likely. Richard doesn't do math, not even elementary school math.

By the way, if you must compare Cohen with animals, why not pick on the lemmings? Now those fur balls are some myopic little fucks.

Laying pipe very carefully and very well would do, as would trying very hard to keep the root balls of shrubs intact during transplantation.

Knowing how the term "lay pipe" is used in rap music makes this sentence, and the entire passage, very funny.

Not as funny as the claim that "Cohen's pipes would be leaking all over the place," mind you.

It depresses me to think that people like Cohen and Joe Klein occupy prime pieces of journalistic real estate - and, worse, are considered representative of the liberal viewpoint - while people like Digby, Arthur Silber, and our own hilzoy are unknown to the non-blogging world.

For that matter, the conservative columnists are a general embarrassment as well. I'd much rather see, say, Sebastian or Andrew on the editorial page than Rick Lowry or Jonah Goldberg.

It's a great mystery to me how those silly, simple, lazily dishonest people get their gigs at all, much less keep them. "Beltway wisdom" is an oxymoron, and they never ever step outside the tiny little insiders' boxes they occupy.

"Therapeutic violence". Wow. Very Clockwork Orange.

I was puzzled by one of Cohen's columns advising a nurse who was debating whether to go Iraq in a non-military role, in order to help those wounded in the violence.

His advice was that if one opposes the war, then going to do good work for those injured by the war would be inconsistent ... i.e., would amount to an implicit expression of support for the war effort.

I kind of thought performing a humanitarian service could simply be expressing support for those harmed by it, independent of one's personal feelings about the rightness of the war, but Richard didn't. I kind of thought that administering to the wounded could even possibly be seen as acting in opposition to the effects of war. But Richard didn't.

Now I understand Cohen better, I think. The words that happened to form that day when he was having his first cup of coffee were just that, not necessarily connected to any serious reflection and logic. So, if she decided not to go, and a few more died because of that, oh well ... she was opposing the war. So it's all good.

This is the person right after the election said Gore was not worthy of the job.

But, the column that annoyed me was the pre-war one that made some cheap shots at France. Like a little twerp, or FOX News reporter, he sneered that only some frog sympathizer could think the war was not necessary and compelled.

I thought "screw you" then because even if you argued for the war, a faux liberal should at least have the taste not to sneer at those who did not. It wasn't so bloody obvious, and the anti-France comment was just childish taunting. You don't argue for war that way. Sorry.

Just par for the course, obviously.


I agree about the general quality of the thinking that appears on op-ed pages.

What bothers me is the idea that "silly, simple, lazily dishonest people" somehow have an advantage over more intelligent and thoughtful types in getting themselves into those positions. This seems especially true for TV punditry, where superficiality is a major virtue.

For all the contempt hurled at blogs by MSM types, the quality of commentary and insight offered by many bloggers vastly exceeds that available through other media.

In the meantime, Victor Davis Hanson appears to have jumped the shark (link to Dr. Davis's column here)

TV punditry has been all about heat, not light, at least since the McGloughlin shoutfest premiered. There might have been a time the wise and thoughtful talking head ruled - though I wonder if we went back and watched those revered old shows, we'd discover they were also rehashes of the conventional wisdom of the time.

The MSM hates bloggers because they know competition when they see it. Quality's got nothing to do with it - there are more horrible blogs than there are horrible MSM pundits. It's just that blogs can do things that TV and print simply can't. Like the rapid-response which moved so many stories out of blogdom and into the MSM; and like the egalitarian interactive nature of blogging ("Everyone's a pundit!").

The next generation of "media consumers," conditioned to customized content and rapid response, will insist on those attributes for their primary info source. I haven't seen any demographic breakdown of who watches the TV shoutfests, much less of who reads the major newspapers, but I'll betcha the numbers for under-40 and esp. under-30 are declining fast.

Donald Johnson, on the Internet nobody knows you're a wildebeest.

John Spragge, was VDH ever un-jumped?

I could swear Cohen was criticizing America, discussing Iraq and yelling 'Allah' as he wrote that column.

it's not just depressing that "we" are represented by such idiots as klein and cohen (oh what a fraught we! we=liberals, we=progressives, we=jewish liberals, we=boomers, we=mediocre layers of pipe).

it's a fucking travesty. a tragedy of epic proportions. truly the two sides of the debate are about an inch apart. it's fucking useless. a consensus is developed, david fucking brooks and richard fucking cohen argue around the edges, agree to disagree and go to a cocktail party in cleveland park or georgetown and the rest of us are supposed to nod sagely and otherwise stay-out-of-the-public-discourse.

and the horse they rode in on. they have ruined our country with their pusillanimous punditry and their mush-mouthed middlebrow horsehit.

Welcome, new people! One of our original founders used to read this blog at work, and in his case 'work' had one of those annoying filters that screened out profanity. Thus it was that, in order to allow him to read his own blog, we adopted the 'please don't swear on our blog' rule. He has gone, but the rule remains, partly because for all we know other people are in the same situation, annoying-filter-wise, and partly also because it seems to help keep things civil.

Thanks. And stick around and read about something cheery like fistulas or what I learned while I worked in a biker bar.

In the meantime, Victor Davis Hanson appears to have jumped the shark

Reading your link, it's not just VDH who's jumped the shark...

I think Richard Cohen is an idiot, but to be fair, the statement "prudent exercise of violence can be therapeutic" is being willfully misinterpreted here as if Cohen wanted thousands of people to die just so he could feel better. It's quite obvious to any reasobnable person that this is not what he meant: and that he meant this therapy to apply to the ills of the world, not his own emotional outlook.

Anyone who thought that the war in Iraq would solve anything was not thinking clearly about the issue at all. This is Cohen's downfall, not some trumped-up crap about advocating war as some kind of anti-depressant.

In other words, you have applied no greater intelligence to analysing Cohen's writing than he applied to two major mistaken wars. He should be ashamed, but so should you (in probably a lesser way). You are both quite unimpressive.

Is it through a process similar to osmosis that causes pundits to take in propaganda and spew deception.

In the final weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq there was a glut of government officials, ex-government officials, and retired military officers who appeared on various news programs. This group was all over the place in each one's attempt to explain the necessity for the invasion. The lack of agreement between "experts" I understood as none of them actually knowing why the U.S. was going to war, although each of them had a different excuse. It was obvious to me that the experts were in search of a reason, some of them briefed and scripted so poorly that during interviews there rarely was depth to their excuses for war.

In the months leading up to the war FAIR studied the balance of coverage concerning the invasion of Iraq; eighty-seven percent of the "experts" interviewed were pro the attack on Iraq. Only thirteen percent of network and cable interviews for their news programming were critical of the unilateral war against Iraq.

Rarely were the experts views for war plausible, occasionally they were absurd, and quite often they were laughable, but for the advance toward war.

Collateral damage, minimal casualties, victory would be swift, and shift the cost for the war until after the current administration leaves office is how budget responsibility is cynically rationalized away. Only then will it become necessary to raise taxes to pay the cost for the atrocity labeled Iraqi Freedom.

Did Americans believe that they have sacrificed to pay for the unnecessary war? No one has begun to pay for this murderous adventure... thus far.

The generals' roles are to bring a war to a conclusion and restore peace, normally by breaking the will of the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If the enemy's will cannot be broken except through genocide; a nation must have a serious reason to attack to attack the perceived threat. Foremost, war "must" be in the best interest of the nation, not the interests of only the people who will profit from it.

Journalists who do not understand that the reason war should be the last resort is that it will result in the slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians have no business reporting about war. It requires no military service experience to know that mass-murder for profit is criminal and morally reprehensible.

The causes for war must be set high, because war sets the value of human beings so low, victor and defeated alike.

Oh baby, you done ripped RC such a big one that as he's eating his chair will be filling up; laying pipe right on his chair as he's eating. man oh man oh man I don't want to get on your bad side.

Landscaping would fit Cohen to a T. It would allow him to continue to serve rich people, insulating their reality from that of us unwashed hoi polloi.

BB, in context, what Richard Cohen is saying (On the contrary, I thought. We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic. The United States had the power to change things for the better, and those who would do the changing -- the fighting -- were, after all, volunteers. This mattered to me.) is that he thought that the violence the United States could commit would be therapeutic for Americans. It's plain that it hadn't occurred to him that "those who would do the fighting" when the US attacked Iraq - the fighting, and the dying - were not only Americans, but Iraqis. And the Iraqis did not volunteer.

"I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic."

Therapeutic, I took as a more gentle phrasing of what Ledeen/Goldstein meant as emotionally satisfying. Adding the second sentence, "The United States had the power to change things for the better" does add some context to FL's better reading, but you could still take his meaning as "making me (the writer) feel good" in a vengeful manner. As yes, "prudent use of violence" is weird. It's not like he'll slap his wife around the house, he's not advocating that. The phrase just naturally leads to hyperbole. Only Clint Eastwood can get away with saying that in a movie, "fiction." And even Clint seems to be tiring of violence.

Given that RC gets paid to write for a premier US newspaper, the responsibility for being clear as to what he means when throwing around potentially explosive phrases like "violence could be therapeutic" rests with him. I for one wouldn't hazard a phrase like that unless I was planning on spending the entire column explaining precisely what I did--and didn't--mean by it. As it is, I could spend an hour conjuring up a fairly benign interpretation on his behalf if I worked at it, but I'd still be at a loss whether that interpretation matched Cohen's intent, if any.

But the more substantive issue I fell must be addressed here is the one that has so far gone unmentioned: the fact that the man looks like a complete dork.

I know this isn't normally considered fair game, but then few people present an appearance so aggressively dorkish as to constitute a blatant provocation. Given how obstinately inane his pieces are, the addition of his idiotic appearance constitutes a grave insult to the public. I just don't think any thread dealing with the man can be considered comprehensive if this most fundamental issue is not addressed.

It amazes me how hard the prewar cheerleaders are now working to hide their own prewar foolishness: "I -- No. 3 -- originally had no moral qualms about the war. Saddam Hussein was a beast who had twice invaded his neighbors, had killed his own people with abandon and posed a threat -- and not just a theoretical one -- to Israel." What a crock. He, along with the whole bunch of insiders who were collectively wetting themselves at the time, denies history when he pretends that the pre-war drum beating was about anything other than mushroom clouds and smoking guns and drones-capable-of-killing-us-all-within-minutes. There was no debate about the finer points of installing democracy at gunpoint. Hell, at that time, no one who was tossing Iraq around bothered to think far enough ahead to consider what to do with it if they broke it. And now they would have us believe that they were the ones--not Hans Blix or Mohamed ElBaradei or Richard Butler --who were soberly assessing the facts at the time. Cause, you know, the only people who disagreed with them were the dirty hippies.
Resign now, Cohen, and spare yourself any further embarrassment.

Can we all agree that Richard Cohen should lay off the pipe?

While I'm in total agreement, I think you give Cohen too much credit; he was/is a bit player in the lead up to war. Nobody in power gives him a thought, and quite rightly. Now, Brooks, there's an equally contemptible pundit, who actually has more throw weight around policy circles.

He gets to be 4 people just so one of them can be right.

Holy shit, I hadn't actually read the Cohen column until today - and wow. What a sick, sad man. Despite being in the situation of being asked to die for a questionable cause, he couldn't see the parallels. And then to advocate the position he was disgusted by in Vietnam, all because of some backwards ass bloodlust!? Am I wrong for thinking this guy has left the human race?

WJK: bit player, yes, but even bit players should ask themselves, from time to time, whether they are up to their jobs.

Also, he would have been a lot more important had he been opposed to the prevailing consensus.

This is interesting.

Cohen's column appeared in my local paper today.

The line about prudent use of violence being therapeutic is missing. I wonder why that is.

john miller: could you email me the name of your local paper? (Click on my name.) This interests me too.

"Every ten years or so, the United States (etc.)."

That's Michael Ledeen. Goldberg is nowhere near that succinct.

I believe Cohen is what is referred to as a "useful idiot".

He was useful to help sell the war, which clearly had no end of cynical motives, and is merely a tool of the powers that be.

"I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic."

Isn't this basically what Tom Friedman was saying for a while?

"i just didn't think that the arguments about sampling methods etc. were germane here."

Way too late for any relevence, but I am quite sympathetic to this position. However, it strikes me that GWB's sympathizers have figured out that honest people's desire to keep the topic germane can be taken advantage of, and thus bully down the true costs of the war. Attacking tangential points in a post seems so common that it seems likely a deliberate strategy to avoid the main points. So, while I am sympathetic to the desire to stick to the main points, and think it was probably appropriate here, I think there is also something to be said for using the best data available regardless of whether the other side will whine about it.

Slartibartfast @ 3:27: It's always nice to know that when plugging "richard cohen is an idiot" into google, my blog is the first to appear!

There's a simple term for what Richard Cohen displayed (aside from 'evil'): political correctness. He took the KewlKidz position of the media elite, in favor of the war. Now that the war has clearly failed, he's still taking the revised KewlKidz position of the media elite, which is that it's none of their fault.

Everything else just demonstrates that Cohen is not even competant enough to BS his way out of a few morally repugnant flip-flops.

mss: To answer your question:

"Are the rest of the WaPo staff at least embarrassed to work with this guy?"


Hilzoy: do you apply your logic with equal force to those Democratic members of Congress who voted for the AUMF? Should they also resign in disgrace for that mistake? After all, Cohen, whatever his credentials, was merely cheering from the sidelines - they were the ones who took the actual step that made the war legal. On a scale of "mistakes and their consequences," that one has to rank higher than whatever Cohen said at the time.

On the other hand, if there is room for politicians to redeem themselves through their subsequent acts, as I certainly hope now that we have a Democratic Congress again, then perhaps there is also room for a columnist who acknowledges his error to still write some columns of social value.
Although I had never read Cohen prior to your article here, I took the time to read his available on-line columns to get the measure of the man before judging him, and I found several I thought well worth reading. Perhaps others are reacting to him out of opinions formed by reading earlier columns that I have not read, but it seems like some are taking the worst possible interpretation of his current words, rather than taking them in context at face value.

The interpretation of "theraputic" seems to be an example. It seemed clear to me in context that he meant theraputic in the sense that chemotherapy is theraputic for cancer, not in the sense of feeling better about yourself. His very next sentence starts "The United States had the power to change things for the better," which implies that he is talking about the physical transformation of the world, not working out some inward trauma. If there is any further doubt, I think he clarified it in his earlier column "Punctuated by Life and Death," in which he said:

You come across the mention of a war -- the Crimean, the Civil, the Vietnam, the Boer, the Algerian -- and then, like a cemetery dangling from two commas, comes a mention of the number of dead. They get the same prominence -- sometimes less -- as the amount of ordnance used or ships sunk or airplanes built.

Wars are fought with commas. They are essential. Here and there is a world leader who does not care about human life, but most do. The only way they can function is to plant commas around the misery they cause, to subordinate the loss of life to a supposedly greater cause. This is what Bush is doing. If he did not think he is on his way to something grand, that he is doing immense good, then he could not face what is between those two commas -- almost 3,000 American lives and immense suffering. He is not a man given to introspection. Still, he could not live without the succor of cliches: breaking eggs to make an omelet and all of that. In between his commas are all those broken eggs. As yet, there is no omelet.

Not too long ago, I embraced the commas myself. I favored this idiotic war because I thought that the deaths of some would improve -- even save -- the lives of many. I likened the about-to-die soldiers to firemen or cops, the people we summon to risk or lose their lives for the common good. I had the common good in mind when I supported the war, and I did not expect much space between the commas. Now, the space expands and expands, one comma marching away from the other. It seems we will need room for all of Iraq.

We may regard his expectation as naive, but I see no reason to regard it as insincere. And I think there may still be room for a columnist who can acknowledge the tragic costs of his misjudgement in such words to continue writing.

Me kicking Cohen in the groin would certainly be therapeutic.

It's prettty obvious that FL is right (at 2:28 pm yesterday) that by 'therapeutic' Cohen just means helpful here. (The next sentence does seem to confirm this reading.) So the sentence that everyone thinks is so terrible is just another formulation of Cohen's support for the war: in a post-9/11 world he naively thought that a prudent use of violence could make the world a better place.

I wouldn't defend the column, or Cohen's position on the war, but reading 'therapeutic' to mean cathartic or self-helpful here strikes me as simply perverse. It's obvious that no one would mean to say that!

It really all comes down to how willing the reader is to allow the kind of glib naivete that the guy was capable of when he supported this conflict. The guy lived through and ran from a guerrilla style conflict, WTF did he expect to happen in this environment. How utterly naive. And the remarks about the French were childish and petulant. He deserves his bitch-slapping.

By the way, where does Hilzoy suggest that therapeutic meant cathartic or self-helpful? Nowhere that I can see.

Actually, I wondered whether he meant 'helpful to, say, the Iraqis', but I couldn't figure out what the 'after 9/11' part would be doing there if that were right. Also, 'therapeutic' seems like a strange word to use if he just meant 'helpful generally', as opposed to curing some psychological or other illness. So I took it to mean 'psychologically useful', whether to us or to the world, and the next sentence as an additional point. If so, as I said, it's repellent.

Like I said, it was the 'after 9/11' part that made no sense on the other reading.

I think he did indeed mean "helpful to the Iraqis generally as well as ourselves," as supported by that quote from his other column. If I can guess at the missing steps in his argument, I think it might have been something along the lines of:

After 9/11, we saw that tolerating failed and/or tyrannical states wasn't just bad for their citizens, but created an environment in which those who wished us harm could acquire the means to do so. Therefore, I thought that the prudent use of violence could be theraputic in excising these infections from the global body politic, freeing their citizens and protecting ours at the same time.

If you consider that viewpoint in a post-Afghanistan, pre-Iraq world, it doesn't sound so obviously flawed as it does today. If the Bush administration had stopped after Afghanistan and devoted half the resources they have wasted in Iraq to rebuilding Afghanistan instead, such a statement might sound visionary now. Cohen badly misunderstood the actual costs and benefits of the Iraq invasion, but if that's what he meant, I am willing to consider him merely mistaken (and now repentant), not callous, stupid or evil.

How could U.S. forces be considered responsible for current Iraqi civilian deaths?

Aren't they killing each other over religious differences?

Aren't the U.S. forces are trying to stop this?

How could U.S. forces be considered responsible for current Iraqi civilian deaths?

How many aerial bombing raids is the US military currently carrying out in Iraq? That's actually a real question, as a swift trawl through Google news provided no immediate answer. Whenever the US military are bombing populated areas, they are killing civilians.

Long term, the US is responsible for all deaths in the current war in Iraq: the US started the war, and mismanaged it into the current crisis. But it would be unfair to blame US forces for this, except that percentage of them which committed war crimes such as torture and murder, and the (larger) percentage of them who knew that US forces were committing atrocities, and yet did nothing to prevent them.

That US forces are killing Iraqi civilians in conflict, and then claiming that anyone who dies with bullet-holes in them is an insurgent, was certainly true at the beginning of the insurgency, when independent witnesses were more likely: the country is so dangerous now that while US forces probably are still directly killing civilians, since nothing has happened to change the policy of letting US soldiers kill civilians and get away with it, we're less likely to have independent witnesses to report back.

Aren't they killing each other over religious differences?


Aren't the U.S. forces are trying to stop this?


Thank for a great article. Don't try to figure out what these guys were thinking. They are spineless wimps interested only in keeping their jobs. Thanks for bringing up the repugnant Jonah Goldberg. Another candy-ass creep. Did you ever notice that the guys who used the loudest megaphones cheerleading for the violence in Iraq are actually too physically weak to beat a 10-year-old girl in a fist fight. I say, "Off with their heads!"

Thanks for your reply.

Help me understand how the U.S. is resposible for the sectarian violence.

Michael, it's been covered before, on Obsidian Wings. Please read previous posts on Iraq before requesting 'help'.

Mr. Williams, I think, is asking to differentiate between the perpetrators of the violence (Iraqis) and their enablers (US). As if the guy who releases the animal from its cage bears no responsibility for its subsequent behavior.

Michael Williams: this might help. Scroll down to the section called 'Is responsibility zero-sum?' if you don't want to read the whole thing.

Interestingly to me, I just scanned that thread and reread my comments, which I have not the least memory of having written. I rather wonder if someone running a pretty good simulation of me posted them.

I have to disagree with the statement that the sentence that, "all by itself, shows that the person who wrote it should never be taken seriously again" is the one about therapeutic violence. It is at least capable of an interpretation that is not totally self-centered, as in ridding the world of a tyrant would be beneficial blah, blah, blah.

But there is no possible charitable interpretation of his key comparison between Viet Nam and Iraq: "[Bush's] aides... insisted that no parallel existed. But these aides are dead wrong. There is this: I would have fought neither war."

Can we say "egocentricism"? See, now it turns out the Viet Nam War and the Iraq War are all really about...Richard Cohen.

I also remember his prewar column where he sneered at critics of the war as looney-tune "frog-lovers" incapable of serious understanding. Funny, now that the critics have been proven right on every point, I have never seen a column where he thoughtfully and seriously apologizes for ridiculing us. No, instead we should now understand that this war is bad because "I, Richard Cohen" would not fight in it.

Really he's an embarrassement as a columnist. For its own credibility the Washington Post should fire him on the grounds of pathological stupidity, and hiring one of the people who got it right about the war from the start.

Barbara, he has the pathological stupidity that they like. He supported the war when that was elite opinion (and insulted the critics). When elite opinion shifted, he shifted, as well, but only as far as elite opinion has. He still cricizing the anti-war people, he defends his previous support. But note that he doesn't put out any harsh, hurtful cricisms of the elites who got us into it.

Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher has a few things to say about Richard Cohen:

"For Richard Cohen, the longtime Washington Post columnist sometimes accused of being a "liberal," being fatally wrong on the Iraq war means never having to say you're sorry."

There's more. Here's the link: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/columns/pressingissues_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003410810

"Michael, it's been covered before, on Obsidian Wings. Please read previous posts on Iraq before requesting 'help'."

Better to have said " the information you're seeking may be found on earlier postings on Obsidian Wings." I'm new to Obsidian Wings so your instructions were mildly insulting.

When you walk into a thread like this, on a new site, you might make an explicit reference to things like this, rather than posing a question which had (almost certainly) been discussed on earlier threads. It is 2006, after all, and a cursory look at the most recent few posts would have indicated that this sort of thing had probably been discussed before.

Michael, in addition, the answer to your question is obvious to any non-ignorant person who has the average amount of common sense:

The Bush administration destroyed the government of Iraq - not just a regime, or a ruler, but the entire government. The administration hindered the efforts of numerous Iraqis and Americans to get things going, and threw many major obstacles in their path. Therefore, the Bush administration, and all of its supporters, bear responsibility to what happened to Iraq.

Therefore, when you walked in and asked such a question many, including myself, doing the favor of assuming that you're both non-ignorant and possessed of average common sense, assumed that you were asking a question to which the answer was both known and obvious. This can lead to people assuming that the question was more of a challenge than a genuine question.

Sorry. The question was genuine, not a challenge. I'm not ignorant or devoid of common sense. Barry, your implication is unnecessarily rude. I'm guilty of seeking information and opinions while apparently being unaware of protocol.

Your first comment (11:31) consisted of 3 questions, which were answered immediately. That was followed by another question. Unfortunately, simply asking questions establishing one's position is rather common 'trolling' behavior, which seeks to disrupt conversation. Here is the wikipedia entry, which covers most of the bases. Absent any idea of what your position is, could you please answer the following questions?
-Did you support the US invasion of Iraq?
If so, why?
-Do you still support the current occupation?
If so, why, if not, why not?
-Could you briefly summarize what your understanding of the situation in Iraq is?

If you could do this, then it will be much less likely that we will insult you inadvertantly.

Did you support the US invasion of Iraq?
_-Do you still support the current occupation?
_-Could you briefly summarize what your understanding of the situation in Iraq is?
The Bush administration misled the public and congress leading them to believe that Iraq was a danger to us because of WMD’s and ties to terrorist groups. Neither was correct. Our invasion without valid reason resulted in an increase in hatred of the U.S. in world opinion of not only the Muslim community but also the international community in general, putting us in much greater danger than before. The lack of reporting in the U.S. media of innocent civilian deaths as a result of our military actions in this invented war is appalling.

What I have difficulty finding information on is the conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites. Did its existence before our invasion have anything to do with the United States? By toppling Saddam and therefore losing his ability to “control” the conflict, is the U.S. completely to blame for the current violence?

Michael, thank you for responding with such clarity.

You can find out the religious differences between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims in any reasonably good encyclopedia. But it won't tell you why Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims are killing each other in Iraq any more than studying the religious differences between Catholic and Protestant will explain the Troubles in Northern Ireland or even the Huguenot Wars in France.

Iraq is a modern nation: it was one of the chunks cut out of the Ottoman Empire (by Gertrude Bell, if any one person can be blamed) after WWI. Bell certainly urged that, despite Shi'ite Muslims being in the majority in the area that would become Iraq, Sunni Muslims should be the governing class. Sunni Muslims have been the ruling class in Iraq ever since - Saddam Hussein is a Sunni Muslim.

Just as in many parts of the world, Catholics and Protestants live together without any conflict, so in many parts of the world Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims live together without conflict. Whenever one religion is politically favored over another religion, so that members of one faith are given education and training and jobs and privilege that members of another faith are not (as was the case in Ireland for centuries, Protestants favored over Catholics) there will be friction between the two faiths - not caused directly by religious differences, but by imbalance of political power.

I don't think the US should have invaded Iraq at all: there was no justification for doing so and every sensible forecast was that it would only make the situation in Iraq worse.

But, having invaded Iraq, and overthrown Saddam Hussein's government and announced majority rule in Iraq, the US was then responsible directly for ensuring a peaceful transition of power, in extremely volatile circumstances. This would have been difficult had the US planned, contingency-planned, and provided sufficient boots-on-the-ground: without any of these things, the peaceful transition of power was pretty much bound to go wrong.

The UK - in its last hurrah as the British Empire - was very directly responsible for creating the nation of Iraq with Sunni/Shi'ite friction just waiting to happen, by favoring Sunnis over Shi'ites.

But that was done 80 years ago: nothing can change it now, it's a given factor in that country, just as Catholic/Protestant hostility is a factor in Northern Ireland.

The US government and military should have recognized that problem as something that would have to be studied and planned for and dealt with: should have called in experts on Islam to advise them. They did none of these things. But when they invaded Iraq, and set themselves up as a foreign military occupation, they became legally responsible, under the Geneva Conventions, for keeping the peace: and morally/ethically responsible, for kicking apart a functioning society and turning it into a failed state in which rival factions can kill at their pleasure.

Thanks very much. Your opinions about post-invasion Iraq make perfect sense.

When you describe pre-invasion Iraq as a functioning society I would think you mean that the populace had access to minimal health care, utilities, food and education. I would agree with that. However, wouldn't the judicial system (or lack thereof) at the time preclude Iraq as being described as a truly functioning society? And wouldn't the threat of government backed violence play into this?

Michel, if the thread of government backed violence precludes defining a society as truly functioning, there are not very many societies which would be described as functioning. As for judicial system, my understanding is that while dissent against Sadaam was punished severely, there apparently was normal law enforcement, property rights were generally respected, society 'functioned'. I don't want to be accused of being an apologist, but pre war Iraq was not a place of 'minimal' health care, etc, but would probably have been placed on the middle of the Human Development Index.

Would you agree that threats of government-backed violence have different degrees of severity (meaning the amount of victims) and therefore could more accurately be described as less functional than others?

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