Roger Cohen is back in Tehran this week but the good news is that, unlike his previous visit, this trip does not find the New York Times columnist harassing the beleaguered remnants of the once great Jewish community of Persia into giving testimonials about the magnanimity of their oppressors. (For a more thorough discussion of Cohen’s earlier visit see my article “An Ominous Turn in Elite Opinion,” in the May issue of COMMENTARY.) Instead, after a refreshing break in Vietnam (where he penned columns whitewashing the communist dictatorship of that country much as he did for the tyrants of Tehran) Cohen has returned to the land of Omar Khayyam for what we may laughably term “coverage” of Iran’s presidential election.
The point of today’s Cohen column (available only in the online edition of the Times), and virtually every other piece he has written about Iran this year, is to knock down the popular and accurate image of the place as a police state run by fanatical mullahs. The election appears to be a lively affair with what may well be a close race between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hussein Moussavi — the man western reporters term a “reformer.” But, as usual, Cohen gets so caught up in the atmosphere into which he has parachuted that he interprets what he’s seeing as the end of the long night of Islamist rule:
For months now, I’ve been urging another look at Iran, beyond dangerous demonization of it as a totalitarian state. Seldom has the country looked less like one than in these giddy June days.
I wandered in a sea of green ribbons, hats, banners and bandannas to a rally at which Ahmadinejad was mocked as “a midget” and Moussavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, sporting a floral hijab that taunted grey-black officialdom, warned the president that: “If there is vote rigging, Iran will rise up.”
A Moussavi kite hovered; a shout went up that “It’s even written in the sky.” I don’t know about that, but something is stirring again in the Islamic Republic, a nation attached to both words in its self-description. … Moussavi is dour but seen as a man of integrity, the anti-Ahmadinejad who can usher back the 1979 revolution’s promise rather than incarnate its repressive turn.”
What’s lacking here is analysis of any real differences between Moussavi and Ahmadinejad. While Moussavi may tone down the outward and obnoxious face of Iran (i.e. Holocaust denial), will he cut off the spigots of aid for Hamas and Hezbollah, the terrorist groups that form the long arm of Iranian foreign policy? Will he end Tehran’s nuclear delusion?
We don’t know the answers to these questions and neither does Cohen. While diving headfirst into the minutia of the feuds between the rival groups of mullahs and their hangers-on that constitute Iranian politics, Cohen doesn’t mention that the Islamist religious figures that run the country (and who vet each potential candidate for president) have no intention of changing course even if a new front man adopts a more civil tone.
The real fallacy in this column is Cohen’s astonishing belief that it was America that created Ahmadinejad: “Why the sudden turbulence? … Radicalism in the Bush White House bred radicalism in Iran, making life easy for Ahmadinejad. President Obama’s outreach, by contrast, has unsettled the regime.”
The lack of historical perspective in this sentence is breathtaking. George W. Bush created Iranian radicalism? The Iranian regime created by the Ayatollah Khomeini and perpetuated by his followers after his death has never ceased being a radical revolutionary movement aimed at oppressing its own people and spreading its vision of Islam and hatred for the West elsewhere. Iranian support for terror and its hopes for a nuclear option didn’t begin with Ahmadinejad and, it is fairly easy to surmise, won’t end without him.
Roger Cohen may actually believe that Obama and Moussavi will together usher in an era of “rapprochement with the United States that will at the same time preserve a modified regime.” But, even if that happens, why will the preservation of an Islamist regime that will, no doubt, keep its nuclear options as well as its terrorist satraps, be something that the United States would desire? The only thing that Obama’s appeasement of a more moderate-sounding Tehran would accomplish would be to further isolate a still threatened State of Israel and undermine any hope of genuine reform in Iran. But anyone who has been reading Roger Cohen’s columns this year will understand that it is precisely this outcome the columnist desires.