Commentary Magazine


Topic: Roger Cohen

Ridiculous Writings on Totalitarian Countries

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

Read Less

Should the U.S. Step Back from Its Special Relationship with Israel?

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (Feb 9) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether the U.S. should step back from its special relationship with Israel. Roger Cohen and Rashid Khalidi, no surprise there, will argue that it should. Countering their arguments and defending the diplomatic affinity between the U.S. and the Jewish state will be Stuart Eizenstat and Itamar Rabinovich.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website: if you purchase tickets now you can save 30% by using the code 30OFF at checkout.

We hope to see a lot of you there.

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (Feb 9) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether the U.S. should step back from its special relationship with Israel. Roger Cohen and Rashid Khalidi, no surprise there, will argue that it should. Countering their arguments and defending the diplomatic affinity between the U.S. and the Jewish state will be Stuart Eizenstat and Itamar Rabinovich.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website: if you purchase tickets now you can save 30% by using the code 30OFF at checkout.

We hope to see a lot of you there.

Read Less

The World Inverted?

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

Read Less

Could This Be the Worst Newspaper Column Ever Written?

It could. Roger Cohen’s piece today praises Hugo Chavez and attacks the United States because Venezuela just demonstrated it is more of a democracy. I wish I were joking. I mean, really. It quotes Chavez in the aftermath of the defeat of the referendum that would have made him a dictator: “The people’s decision will be upheld in respect of the basic rule of democracy: the winning option is the one that gets most votes.” After which Roger Cohen observes: “The United States might ponder those words — not just because of what happened in the presidential election of 2000; not just because the arithmetic of voting has proved unpalatable in Palestine; not just because of the past U.S.-abetted trampling of elected Latin American leaders in Chile and elsewhere — but because democracy was alive and vital in Venezuela on Sunday in a way foreign to President Bush’s America.”

Foreign to Bush’s America? You mean Bush’s America where out-of-power Democrats won 32 seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate only 13 months ago? Is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times?

It could. Roger Cohen’s piece today praises Hugo Chavez and attacks the United States because Venezuela just demonstrated it is more of a democracy. I wish I were joking. I mean, really. It quotes Chavez in the aftermath of the defeat of the referendum that would have made him a dictator: “The people’s decision will be upheld in respect of the basic rule of democracy: the winning option is the one that gets most votes.” After which Roger Cohen observes: “The United States might ponder those words — not just because of what happened in the presidential election of 2000; not just because the arithmetic of voting has proved unpalatable in Palestine; not just because of the past U.S.-abetted trampling of elected Latin American leaders in Chile and elsewhere — but because democracy was alive and vital in Venezuela on Sunday in a way foreign to President Bush’s America.”

Foreign to Bush’s America? You mean Bush’s America where out-of-power Democrats won 32 seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate only 13 months ago? Is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.