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Roger Cohen’s Liberation

Roger Cohen is at it again. This time, he has put his cards on the table. “Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery,” he writes in the New York Times. “Passage to the Promised Land involves rethinking the Middle East, starting in Iran.”

Offering yet another column in which bald assertions are backed up with little evidence, Cohen claims that Israel has been “crying wolf” by repeatedly offering estimates of when Iran will have nuclear weapons that proved too early.

But regardless of how near he is to our skin, there really is a wolf out there. Yesterday Ahmadinejad declared that Iran now has 7,000 centrifuges working to enrich uranium. Does that mean it is months or years away from a bomb? Cohen doesn’t really know. Neither does Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Frankly, neither do I.

The trouble is, while the true timetable for Iran’s nuclear program may be hard to point out, it doesn’t mean that people who warn of it are crying wolf. On the contrary, not knowing is exactly creates the urgency: How much nuclear technology do we want the mullahs to have before we stop them? Without a clear understanding of Iran’s progress, the threat is a perpetual one.

There are two arguments against confronting Iran’s nukes, arguments which cannot live side-by-side. One is that the Iranians has already crossed the threshold, and that we therefore need to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. The other is that they’re nowhere near it, and therefore there is no urgency to confronting them. One does not need to be a nuclear engineer to recognize that neither seems like a basis for sound policy: If Iran had already crossed the threshold, it would be proving it to the world, and a radical shift in the balance of power between Iran and the West would already be detectable. If it’s years away and not months, this is precisely the time to maximize the confrontation and deter Iran from taking any further steps.

We may not know how much sand there is in the glass, but we can easily imagine what would happen if Iran is allowed to become a nuclear power. Cohen’s strongest arguments concern the least important parts of this debate. Iran doesn’t care if Cohen wants to be its friend or what he would offer at the negotiating table; it has positioned itself, from the birth of its regime, as an implacable enemy of the West, and has made every effort to (i) make this clear to its citizens and the world; (ii) support, finance, and train enemies that are actively targeting Western countries; (iii) enlist as many other countries as possible, such as Venezuela, to join its opposition to the U.S.; and (iv) develop much more fearsome weapons than it currently has, from nuclear weapons to the long-range missiles it needs to launch them. That it has not yet succeeded, that these are small threats compared to those of the past, that the last American administration failed to wage this conflict with aplomb, or that many Americans are just sick and tired of all this war mongering — none of this should calm us in the slightest.

Nor is the answer to be found in undercutting allies and cozying up with our enemies. If Cohen thinks that America’s alliance with Israel is a form of “slavery,” then he will certainly enjoy the liberation that the mullahs are offering him. It may give new meaning to his next Passover.


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