Is Roger Cohen a liberal mugged by reality?


Is New York Times columnist Roger Cohen a liberal mugged by the reality of the Iranian regime’s authoritarianism? asks Guernica blogger Jordan Hirsch.

“So long as people are being clubbed on the streets, so long as hundreds, perhaps thousands of people have been thrown into jail just for what they think,” Cohen argued with characteristically vivid rhetoric, the U.S. faces a “moral imperative” to postpone engagement. “I don’t think it can be business as usual, absolutely not.”

Despite his indignation, however, Cohen claimed that he still believed in engagement. In his mind, the “moral imperative” of honoring “millions defrauded” in Iran requires that President Obama’s outreach “await a decent interval.” Yet what does a “decent interval” entail? Is diplomacy with the Ayatollah only ethically repugnant for, say, the next six months? Will we, by then, have conveniently forgotten about the Green Wave? Will it no longer be too distasteful to resume “business as usual?”

At the core of this swirling confusion of politics and morality, many conservatives contended, is a classic tale of “liberals mugged by reality”—naïve optimists rendered crestfallen by the revelation of the true nature of the Ayatollah’s rule. Indeed, the stark contrast between Cohen’s writing prior to the election and his commentary in its wake lends credence to this notion…

It appears that Cohen’s case is not one of a “liberal mugged by reality,” but one of inherently conflicting aspirations for the direction of U.S. foreign policy. Two competing fantasies dance across his post-June 12th writing on Iran. One continues to be enthralled by Obama’s “heady, history-making” wish for rapprochement—comparable, Cohen argues, “to the China breakthrough of 1972.” The other marvels at the “limitless potential” of the three million Iranians who gathered to protest the election results, and glorifies the dissident movement.

The conflict between these two inclinations—both in Cohen’s mind, and in the Obama Administration’s policy—is unlikely to resolve itself soon. But it does reveal that Cohen, along with others, remain hesitant to embrace Obama’s “game of realpolitik” fully.

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