On Friday, the Times' international edition printed Cohen's filing from Istanbul , in which he accused Israel of lying about Iran's nuclear capability and cringing over Israel's new prime minister, the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu ("Israel Cries Wolf").
"Iran is the center of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is in my view more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb, whereas the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option."
Benjamin Netanyahu 2009? Try again. These words were in fact uttered by another Israeli prime minister (and now Israeli president), Shimon Peres, in 1996. Four years earlier, in 1992, he'd predicted that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.
You can't accuse the Israelis of not crying wolf. Ehud Barak, now defense minister, said in 1996 that Iran would be producing nuclear weapons by 2004.
Later, Cohen actually praised Iran:
It's also the same "messianic apocalyptic cult" that has survived 30 years, ushered the country from the penury of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, shrewdly extended its power and influence, cooperated with America on Afghanistan before being consigned to "the axis of evil," and kept its country at peace in the 21st century while bloody mayhem engulfed neighbors to east and west and Israel fought two wars.
The Israelis, by contrast, have been consistent in sounding the alarm about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. So have the U.S. government (under Presidents Clinton and Obama as well as Bush), America's European allies, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and to some extent the regimes in Russia, China and some Arab lands. Is the whole world crying wolf as well? Or have the Israelis managed to fool everyone except Roger Cohen into taking seriously a threat they know is phony?
Undaunted by criticism, Cohen filed another column on the same matter for Monday's Times, this time from Vienna, in which heconducted a favorable interview withthe vitriolic Mohamed ElBaradei, who as the head of International Atomic Energy Agency has been accused of being an Iran enabler. He was opposed to Bush to the point of apparently working against his re-election by leaking unflattering stories. In Cohen's column, ElBaradei referred to former Vice President Dick Cheney as "Darth Vader."
For Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, "a combination of ignorance and arrogance" under the Bush administration squandered countless diplomatic opportunities with Iran and so allowed it to forge ahead with its nuclear program.
Referring twice to Dick Cheney as "Darth Vader," ElBaradei told me in an interview that "U.S. policy consisted of two mantras - Iran should not have the knowledge and should not spin one single centrifuge. They kept saying, wait, Iran is not North Korea, it will buckle. That was absolutely a mistake."
Imagine if Roosevelt in 1942 had said to Stalin, sorry, Joe, we don't like your Communist ideology so we're not going to accept your help in crushing the Nazis. I know you're powerful, but we don't deal with evil.
That's a rough equivalent on the stupidity scale of what Bush achieved by consigning Iran's theocracy to the axis of evil and failing to probe how the country might have helped in two wars and the wider Middle East when the conciliatory Mohammad Khatami was president.
Cohen relayed his naive dream of an Iran that will stop supplying terrorist groups by no longer funding terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, concluding with his standard line: The U.S. must get tougher on its one true friend and ally in the region, Israel.
Here's one normalization scenario:
Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a "Malaysian" approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.
"Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran," ElBaradei said. "I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world."
To avoid that nightmare Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It's time.