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May 12, 2009

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Question--I understand, sort of, why they publish Krauthammer. He's crazed, but at least there's a constituency that agrees with him. But who agrees with Cohen? I never see anybody, anywhere, point to his column and say "This is exactly right". Who supports him, and why can't I find them?

Nice touch of Cohen's too, by beginning his column

Blogger Alert: I have written a column in defense of Dick Cheney. I know how upsetting this will be to some Cheney critics...

he basically says, welll, I expect those wackos outside the Beltway not to like what I say, but I'm going to say it anyway...

Hey, Peter, don't forget us wackos inside the Beltway!

Oh, it gets even better. Check this out.

http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/tapped_archive?month=05&year=2009&base_name=can_richard_cohen_remember_the

Cohen seems to have this pathetically desparate need to be seen as one of the tough, serious men of Washington, DC. But is too much of a weeping willow to actually take a stand on anything.

I understand, sort of, why they publish Krauthammer. He's crazed, but at least there's a constituency that agrees with him. But who agrees with Cohen? I never see anybody, anywhere, point to his column and say "This is exactly right". Who supports him, and why can't I find them?

"Even the liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen agrees that if Cheney is right..."

I've long thought of Cohen as a useful idiot for the right, but the more columns of his I read, the more I am convinced that, useful or not, he certainly is an idiot.

I'm glad you wrote about that. It just reduced me to fury. "Start" having the debate? Please.

It's as though he had been living on some remote island for the last eight years, like one of those Japanese soldiers who hadn't heard that WWII was over, and had simply missed not just the debate, but also the evidence.

Gag.

I've long thought of Cohen as a useful idiot for the right

Eh? He's gotten nearly endless flack from those on the right who bother reading him. He's not worth my time.

Oh, that guy over at Ace Of Spades HQ refers to Cohen as "The WaPo's usually tired, predictably hack liberal columnist." Which I thought was kind of an interesting counterpoint.

No, Cohen is just your garden-variety idiot, who is mysteriously still employed after various public misadventures, including this one:

Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not.

This depth of stupidity is not further explained by assigning a political viewpoint to it, IMO.

I think you're making my argument for me, Slartibartfast.

Let's start with your last link, the Ace of Spades piece from 2005 that calls Cohen a "usually tired, predictably hack liberal columnist." The post is entitled "Richard Cohen is on F'n Fire" and it praises Cohen for criticizing Democratic criticism of Tom Delay.

This post encapsulates how useful-idiotry works. Richard Cohen is only useful to conservatives as a liberal, who, like "even the liberal New Republic, can be hauled out on occasion to suggest that important voices on "the left" actually agree with them. Just search under his name on Townhall.com and you'll find an equal mix of attacks on his liberalism and praise for his "surprising" agreement with conservatives on some issue or other.

Why is no one making the following blindingly obvious point:

The US practice of torture was directly responsible for recruiting insurgents who killed American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq?

There appears to be some sort of sadistic calculus at work in the torture enthusiasts. If you gain information about "plots" and the only cost is a moral one that you lack in any case - hey, it works.

In the real world you end up expanding the circle of torture endlessly (as you torture people, who name other innocents to stop the pain; they in turn get tortured and implicate other innocents.) Or you chase ghosts and delirious fantasies.

Or the families and friends of the tortured decide to plant roadside IEDs in Iraq because they view America as an occupying torture state. The Gestapo used all of the Bush-Cheney tactics and yet somehow the Resistance did not weaken. Burning civilians alive in churches did not prevent attacks on Germans; it motivated them.

Why isn't this argument anywhere?

I think you're making my argument for me

I don't actually understand your argument, apparently. Cohen emits such a politically scattershot variety of idiocy that it's tough to tell whose useful idiot he's serving best as.

Possibly he's never said anything liberals have publicly agreed with, though.

praise for his "surprising" agreement with conservatives on some issue or other

Amazing how it's always a surprise no matter how many times it happens.

Marc, that argument is made, most convincingly by Matthew Alexander, but you're absolutely right that it's not featured enough. Nor is it pointed out often enough that torture is immoral and clearly illegal… or that Alberto Mora and others working for the Bush administration told them exactly that.

At least Cohen supports disclosure. I actually thought his op-ed two weeks ago was pretty horrible, and maybe worse than this one. He's argued several times that torture "works," actually. That he insisted so two weeks ago just makes the amnesia more glaring. (Honestly, I think he just tries to make copy.) As always he doesn't really consider the consequences of his positions - two weeks ago and here again, he never grapples with Matthew Alexander's key points, that torture is counterproductive, ineffective and has endangered American troops by radicalizing Iraqis and others. Alexander's first major op-ed appeared in Cohen's own paper in Cohen's department. As Publius notes, Cohen also ignores the Soufan op-ed that made many related points about rapport-building techniques versus abuse, and directly challenges Cheney's account, as did earlier reporting such as Suskind's One Percent Doctrine and Mayer's The Dark Side.

Hilzoy dissected Broder's thoughts on torture wonderfully a while back, and Scott Horton noted on the same piece that Broder simply did not know his subject and hadn't bothered to try. After following this subject for a few years now, I've noticed that trend – most torture apologists, and most of the crowd opposed to prosecutions even before a full investigation, seem to ignore most of the major articles on the subject, as well as the official reports, such as those from the Red Cross and the Senate. As Hilzoy says, where has Cohen been? (It's all the more galling for him to mention the run-up to war when he mocked those who questioned it and still insists he was right for the wrong reasons while those who opposed the war were only right accidentally.) The public has been horribly served by most outlets on the torture "debate" (the NYT, NPR and others choosing not to call torture "torture"), and Cohen sure doesn't help much.

Here's the Alexander op-ed, BTW (since there seems to be an embedded link issue for me):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/28/AR2008112802242.html

"This depth of stupidity is not further explained by assigning a political viewpoint to it, IMO."

Also from the essay that you cite above:

"I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took."

Bolds mine, other than that offered without comment.

Slarti, here's Digby:

"Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard is thrilled that torture is no longer taboo and he thanks "evunthelibrul" Richard Cohen for his perspicacity in understanding that Cheney is right..."

http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/weekly-standard-celebrates-its-own.html

On the one hand I really want to know how much the WP pays Cohen for his garbage. On the other hand I'm afraid to find out because I'm sure the anger would explode my heart.

I agree, he should have been fired long ago. The WP has given several (better) veteran staff writers severance packages, why, why, haven't they gotten rid of Cohen. It's not that his columns are controversial. It's that his writing is sooooo bad - so poorly reasoned and poorly written.

What Marc said.

I would only add two things:

1) When al Qaeda arranged for suicide terrorists to fly planes into the twin towes, the Pentagon, and the Capitol or the White House, their leaders almost certainly intended to produce exactly this result. They wanted an American reaction that would outrage millions of people across the Arab and Muslim world.

2) This gift to the terrorists will keep on giving. Photos out of Abu Ghraib will poison American relations with the Arab and Muslim world for years to come, and make the lives of pro-American governments more difficult for years to come.

I don't actually understand your argument, apparently. Cohen emits such a politically scattershot variety of idiocy that it's tough to tell whose useful idiot he's serving best as.
The point is, Slarti, that Cohen is identified as being a liberal columnist. He fills a "liberal" slot on the Washington Post op-ed page (and those slots are quite real, as we see in yesterday's letter "defending" Yoo's appointment as a columnist in Philly), and more generally his ideas are always stated as coming from "a liberal".

But he's not anyone actual liberals find worthwhile, or want as a standard bearer and representative of their side. The only people who find him useful are those who can refer to specific burblings of his that happen to coincide with their views, and start their citation with "even the liberal Richard Cohen".

It's like, say, Joe Lieberman - on most issues he's probably left of most Republicans (if right of Connecticut, or at least Connecticut Dems), but the thing aout him that so infuriated the Dems was that he always appeared in print knifing the Dem position, as "even the Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman". I could name several Democratic Senators plausibly more conservative than Lieberman, but none of them were nearly so useful to the Republicans in setting the terms of the debate.

Short response to your comment (not that brevity is my forte): the only "useful idiots", by definition, are the idiots at least nominally identified as belonging to the other side.

I understand what you're saying, Warren. But my understanding of what "useful idiots" means may be the source of the problem, here. To me, it means guys who are nominally on your side and serving your ends, but who you're just using.

I'm not sure how that definition applies to Cohen, but maybe my understanding of what "useful idiot" means is wrong or antiquated.

"To me, it means guys who are nominally on your side and serving your ends, but who you're just using."

It's attributed to Lenin, but is probably apocryphal.

If it's such a stupid point then why is it being repeated by pundits all over DC? When it comes to DC, if you are Cheney and you say something ridiculous, so-called journalists and respected columnists will jump up and say "hey everybody, he has a point" --even if he doesn't have a point or even if his point is so wrong that it's proven false at first glance. By the way, this is the same media that puts a column in my paper on Monday all about how Megan McCain is the future of the GOP and just months ago did an article about how Joe Biden makes gaffes and that John McCain is a maverick --yes, all this in 2009! My failing SF Chronicle is paying their correspondent in DC to write this crap! Connect the dots folks.

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