Meet Eliot Cohen, Condi’s New Deputy

Afghanistan constitutes just one front in World War IV, and the battles there just one campaign. . . . First, if one front in this war is the contest for free and moderate governance in the Muslim world, the U.S. should throw its weight behind pro-Western and anticlerical forces there. The immediate choice lies before the U.S. government in regard to Iran. We can either make tactical accommodations with the regime there in return for modest (or illusory) sharing of intelligence, reduced support for some terrorist groups and the like, or do everything in our power to support a civil society that loathes the mullahs and yearns to overturn their rule. It will be wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies) to choose the latter course. The overthrow of the first theocratic revolutionary Muslim state and its replacement by a moderate or secular government, however, would be no less important a victory in this war than the annihilation of bin Laden [emphasis added].

The guy who wrote that, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on November 20, 2001, was Eliot Cohen, a professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. As the Director of the Strategic Studies department at SAIS, he has been called “the most influential neoconservative in academe.”

More recently (April 5, 2006) Prof. Cohen published a prominent op-ed in the Washington Post attacking the scholarship of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Academic Dean Stephen M. Walt and University of Chicago Political Science Professor John J. Mearsheimer and their academic paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The study, Cohen contended in his “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitism” piece, betrayed “obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews,” accusing Jews of “disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments.” It collected “everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group” while ignoring “any exculpatory information.” This from a man who almost immediately after 9-11 declared that “the obvious candidate” as a regime to “target” was Iraq, which had “helped al Qaeda”—and thereby unfairly and wrongly, and oblivious to exculpatory information, linked Saddam Hussein to 9-11.

(You can write stuff like that in the Wall Street Journal, and never have to say you’re sorry afterwards when sober investigation shows what you’d written was total bullshit. The 9-11 hijackers and Saddam were all Arabs, so what’s wrong with connecting them and exploiting ignorance and bigotry to get the war you want against Iraq?)

And now this man who thinks we’re in the middle of World War IV (against the Muslim world), and who’s written a book entitled The Supreme Command arguing that presidents need to control their sometimes reluctant generals, has been appointed by Condoleezza Rice as the new Counselor of the State Department. The meaning of the move isn’t yet clear, given some recent indications that the U.S. might be willing to talk with Iran. But given the military buildup in the Persian Gulf; the appointment of Admiral William Fallon to head Central Command; the intensifying disinformation campaign about Iran conducted by the Bush administration and its embedded reporters and reports of significant opposition within the military towards an attack on Iran; the appointment at least signals the continuing vitality of the neocon movement within the U.S. government whose current urgent project is the Iran attack.

According to the official definition, “The Counselor of the Department is a principal officer who serves the Secretary as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters. The Counselor conducts special international negotiations and consultations, and also undertakes special assignments from time to time, as directed by the Secretary.” The post was vacant from 2001 to 2005. Cohen was preceded by Philip Zelikow, another academic, who is not considered a neocon but a “realist” occupied with trade matters. On the other hand Salon’s Glen Greenwald calls Cohen “as extremist a neoconservative and warmonger as it gets.”

The man wants the “overthrow” of the Iranian regime. He wants the president to (Churchill-like) force his hesitant generals to do the right thing and attack Iran. (His Supreme Command book is especially significant in light of reports that high-ranking officers have threatened resignations if the U.S. launches an assault on Iran, and that the president has actually read the book.)

So here’s a man to watch, as Bush/Cheney policy towards Iran evolves. Others are Elliott Abrams (Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy), and Abram Shulsky (head of the Pentagon’s “Iran Directorate”), both students of Leo Strauss and comfortable proponants of using “noble lies” to manipulate public opinion to generate support for more imperialist wars. They may be desperate men at this point, when they read, for example, the recent Washington Post/ABC poll that shows 63% of Americans do not trust the Bush administration “to honestly and accurately report intelligence about possible threats from other countries.”

They may well fear that if they can’t “take the current when it serves”—by their use of noble lies, their ongoing paid, corrupt, discrete if obvious presence in the mainstream press–they will lose their ventures. Their usefully ignorant, manipulable cruel cowboy has less than two years left in the saddle, and great deeds cry out to be done!

The neocon agenda is plain enough. If only the dissident generals can be silenced! If only the assailants of the Israel Lobby can be quieted by bullying accusations of anti-Semitism! If only the war-weary American people can be made to understand that it’s “moral and wise” to attack Iran! Because it’s planning genocide! Because it’s planning what Hitler couldn’t do—wipe out the Jews! Then we can defeat the Evil which is Iran! And Syria! And the Shiite population of southern Lebanon!

The antiwar movement’s agenda should be equally plain. Expose this agenda, its sensationalism and illogic, and the key figures working overtime towards its fulfillment. Question all reports by “unnamed government sources” and reporters like the New York Times’ Michael R. Gordan (once—as a coauthor with Judith Miller—a vehicle for the dissemination of lies about Iraq) that charge Iran with supporting attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. (47% of Americans polled think the Bush administration has “solid information” the Iranian government is doing so, while 44% disagree. That latter figure needs to grow.) Challenge politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who, bending over backwards to please the Lobby, criticize the Iraq War while competing with Bush to embrace a hawkish stance towards Iran. Having never really challenged the essentialist anti-Muslim straight-of-hand that linked 9-11 to Iraq, they embrace the notion that Muslim Iran constitutes an “existential threat” to Israel (if not to the U.S.) and tell applauding AIPAC audiences that they agree “no option should be off the table” in dealing with Iran.

The neocons determined to reconfigure the “Greater Middle East” through the use of “shock and awe” military force may be down as a result of public revulsion at the results of their initial criminal ventures. But they aren’t out, as Cohen’s appointment dramatically shows. That’s a big problem for the future of this country and the planet.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

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Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: