Richard Cohen on Iraq: A ‘Sorry’ Case

By: Greg Mitchell

For Richard Cohen, the longtime Washington Post columnist sometimes accused of being a “liberal,” being fatally wrong on the Iraq war means never having to say you’re sorry.

Today he took the occasion of President Bush’s visit to Vietnam to offer his thoughts on the parallels between America’s two most disastrous foreign adventures. In doing so, he admits — as John Kerry might have put it — that he was for them before he was against them. But here’s the twist: He argues that in each case he was right to push for war (even if they turned out badly) — so don’t look for any apology.

This from the man who, on Feb. 6, 2003, after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deeply-flawed testimony in New York, famously wrote: “The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.”

Now consider his statement from today’s column on why he backed the Iraq invasion: “In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic.” Ponder that statement as you consider the tens of thousands of lives lost, on all sides, since then.

But the new column is one appalling rationalization after another.

Cohen reveals that he turned against Vietnam only after he joined the military and realized he didn’t particularly want to die in an “unwinnable” war. Jumping ahead, it was easier for him to support the Iraq invasion because those doing the fighting would be “after all, volunteers. This mattered to me.” In other words: It was okay if they died for a mistake — in a “therapeutic” cause — because they had signed up for the military, in peacetime.

But there’s much more. Cohen, who had so demeaned those “French” lovers who, as it turns out, correctly opposed the Iraq catastrophe from the start, now explains he was encouraged to back the invasion by the “offensive opposition to the war — silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America.”

Of course, there were some who made such arguments, but the vast majority of those who opposed the war did so on the grounds (again sustained, as it soon turned out) that the Iraqi WMDs were far from proven and that, as Chris Hedges put it, an occupied Iraq would likely turn into America’s “West Bank.”

Yet Cohen says “few envisaged” this.

It gets worse. Referring to his willing “volunteers,” Cohen writes: “If they thought they were going to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction and sever the link between al-Qaeda and Hussein, they now are entitled to feel duped by Bush, Vice President Cheney and others.” I love that “others.” Who could those unnamed others be? Certain influential pundits who once declared that there was “no choice” but to invade Iraq?

He goes on to say the “exaggerations” that led to war were “particularly repellent. To fool someone into sacrificing his life to battle a chimera is a hideous abuse of the public trust.”


“Daily,” he reveals, “I read the casualty list from Iraq — and I invent reasons to make the deaths less tragic.” And no wonder.


To read Cohen’s entire column, click here.

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