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Paul R. Pillar, my former colleague in the CIA's analytical division, has raised a warning flag, cautioning that the same imaginative neocon composers who came up with the various refrains on why we needed to attack Iraq are now providing similar background music for a strike on Iran.
He is right. And as one of my Russian professors used to say, "This is nothing to laugh!"
Pillar's piece -- dissecting an op-ed by the Washington Post's Richard Cohen about the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington -- first appeared on The National Interest Web site. On Oct. 21, it was posted at Consortiumnews.com under the title "Sloppy Iran Think by WPost's Cohen."
The Cohen column that Pillar critiques is entitled "The alarm bells behind Iran's alleged assassination plot." Yet Cohen's "alarm bells" ringing now about Iran brought a painful reminder of all the alarms he and his colleagues sounded in cheer-leading for the attack on Iraq in 2002 and 2003.
Cohen was one of the many big-name opinion leaders to put on the pompoms after Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. Joining a cheer-leading pyramid of pro-war consensus, Cohen mocked anyone who still doubted that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.
"The evidence he [Powell] 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," Cohen wrote. "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise."
However, six weeks after the Iraq invasion, with not one WMD stockpile discovered, Cohen's conscience may have begun to trouble him a bit. To his credit, I suppose, Cohen seems to have been embarrassed enough to fess up, sort of, using the device of an apocryphal conversation with his long-dead grandfather.
In an April 29, 2003, column entitled "Baghdad Bait and Switch," Cohen recounted a middle-of-the-night visit by Grandpa, who is not at all pleased with his grandson's credulity about President George W. Bush's case for war.
"You think maybe you got snookered?" Grandpa asks. "For this your mother sent you to college? ... For this you fight a war?
"I read the column where you said that ['Saddam Hussein was like another Hitler']. All my friends said, 'This is your grandson, the hotshot columnist? This is the guy people read so they should know what to think?'
"Hitler? Hitler was a threat to the world. Saddam threatened only his own people. He fought for only 26 days. I had longer fights with your grandmother. "
"First you wanted a war because of terrorism, then because Iraq had a nuclear program. Then you wanted a war because he has poison gas and little crawling things you can't see. Now you want to bring democracy to the Middle East.
"You know what we used to call this when I was in retail? Bait and switch. ... I hope everything turns out hunky-dory, like you've been writing. ... Otherwise, you should have been an accountant."- Advertisement -
Cohen's column about the imaginary upbraiding he got from his grandfather ran two days before President Bush jetted onto a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of California and gave his memorable "Mission Accomplished" address.
One might think that a columnist who got something as wrong as Cohen did would have the decency to admit that Grandpa was right, and switch professions.
After all, endorsing the falsehoods that led to an aggressive war in violation of international law -- an invasion that led to hundreds of thousands of dead and the squandering of $1 trillion or so -- isn't exactly a minor mistake.