Neoconservative Eliot Cohen's new position at the State Department

As they have done many times before, neoconservatives, with Iran in their sights, have installed one of their own at State to block any war-avoiding rapprochement.

Published March 5, 2007 12:38PM (EST)

(updated below - updated again)

On Friday, Condoleezza Rice announced that Eliot Cohen has been chosen to be the new Counselor of the State Department. It is not hyperbole to say that Cohen is as extremist a neoconservative and warmonger as it gets. Even The New York Sun's Eli Lake -- in an article claiming that Cohen's replacement of Philip Zelikow signals a more militaristic approach for the administration -- points out that Cohen " intellectually is neoconservative" and that "he was an early supporter of the military intervention in Iraq and came out against recommendations from the Iraq Study Group in December to launch negotiations with Iraq's neighbors," i.e., Iran and Syria -- especially Iran.

But Cohen's record is far more extremist than just that. In a November, 2001 Wall St. Journal Op-Ed, Cohen criticized the attempts up to that point to name "The new War" -- all the names chosen were far too limiting and unglorious. Rejecting all the possibilities, Cohen insisted that "a less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV." Even back then, look at what was on Cohen's mind:

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. . . . 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.

Cohen's second priority -- after Iran -- was changing the government of Iraq, and he showcased what would be the false war-justifying propaganda before Don Rumsfeld, Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz began the process of feeding it to the President:

The U.S. should continue to target regimes that sponsor terrorism. Iraq is the obvious candidate, having not only helped al Qaeda, but attacked Americans directly (including an assassination attempt against the first President Bush) and developed weapons of mass destruction.

Cohen was most worried that Afghanistan would be the only real Churchillian war we would fight, rather than getting on with World War IV in all its glory: "if after the Afghan campaign ends, the government lapses into a covert war of intelligence-gathering, arrests, and the odd explosion in a terrorist training camp, it will be a sign that it would rather avoid calling things by their true name."

Over the next several years, Cohen became one of the most militant advocates of expanded regional war in the Middle East. A 2003 Asia Times article by Ahmad Faruqui called him "the most influential neoconservative in academe":

Cohen refers to the war against terrorism by a chilling name: World War IV (citing the Cold War as the third world war). . . . Cohen claims that America is on the good side in this war, just like it has been in all prior world wars, and the enemy is militant Islam, not some abstract concept of "terrorism".

Cohen argues that the US should throw its weight behind pro-Western and anticlerical forces in the Muslim world, beginning with the overthrow of the theocratic state in Iran and its replacement by a "moderate or secular" government. After September 11 he was one of the first neoconservatives to call for an attack on Iraq, even though there was no credible evidence linking Iraq with the attacks on the US or al-Qaeda.

It likely goes without saying by now that the reason Iraq was so quickly at the forefront of Cohen's mind in the aftermath of 9/11 was because invading Iraq and changing its government was long one of Cohen's dreams, and the 9/11 attacks became the pretext dressed up as the "justification" for Cohen's dream to come true.

This continues to be the most astounding, significant, and alarming trend -- as the recognition grows even in Beltway elite media circles that the people who designed and sold the Iraq war to the American public are completely untrustworthy and discredited figures, they are exactly the ones who continue to exert the most influence, by far, on the President, and their influence seems only to be growing. Here is a question which Tim Russert asked Lindsay Graham this weekend -- a question that is three years overdue but nonetheless welcome -- after Graham kept insisting that Americans give the Great Surge Plan " a chance" to succeed:

MR. RUSSERT: But many Americans will say that those who supported the war are saying, "Trust us, see this through," the same people who said, "There are weapons of mass destruction. General Shinseki's wrong, we don't need hundreds of thousands of troops. We will be greeted as liberators."

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: "The cost of the war," according to Lawrence Lindsey, "won't be more than $200 billion."


MR. RUSSERT: "There won't be any sectarian violence." All those judgments were wrong. Why should the American people continue to believe in those same people who had so many misjudgments leading up [to] and executing the war?

The premise of Russert's question is exactly right, and it is one of the most crucial propositions to emphasize -- "Why should the American people continue to believe in those same people who had so many misjudgments leading up to and executing the war?" They should not, of course. And we know exactly who "those same people" are. Eliot Cohen is not just one of them, but he is one of their leaders. He has been wrong about everything. If he had his way, we would have far more wars than we have already.

The Cohen appointment is clearly another instance where neoconservatives place a watchdog in potential trouble spots in the government to ensure that diplomats do not stray by trying to facilitate rapproachments between the U.S. and the countries on the neoconservative War hit list. In that regard, behold the head-patting reaction to the Cohen appointment from one of the country's most radical Iran obsessives:

Michael Ledeen, a former government official and conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Cohen's appointment was good news.

"You want your leaders to hear disagreements," he said. "You don't want monotonous conformity."

Unlike the more political neoconservatives, who are very careful about what they say and go to great lengths to conceal their ultimate goals, Cohen has been an academic and thus more explicit about the theoretical underpinnings of his worldview. In a 1998 essay in (fittingly enough) The New Republic, Cohen called for the U.S. to build up and modernize its military capabilities faster and more aggressively, and to "justify" that plan, he laid out his neoconservative vision of the role of the United States in the world:

Another way to put it is that the United States needs an imperial strategy. Defense planners could never admit it openly, of course, and most would feel uncomfortable with the idea, but that is, in fact, what the United States at the end of the twentieth century is--a global empire.

Talk of "cooperative security" masks the reality that in any serious military confrontation, the central question is whom the United States asks to cooperate. . . . One cannot separate the so-called "soft power" of the United States--the global dominance of its culture, beginning with its language--from its military strength.

Rock fans around the world listen in English; so do fighter pilots. The same information technologies that make the Internet a decidedly American phenomenon provide the nervous systems of American military power. Free trade rests on common consent, to be sure, but would it exist absent America's military dominance?

Even Cohen recognized what a profound departure from America's founding principles it is to call for America to dominate the world as The Great Imperial Power:

The United States is today by far the most powerful state on the planet. If it chooses to remain so, citizen and soldier alike must brace themselves for the occasional imperial fiasco. More important, they will have to accept the uncomfortable notion that they are wielding military power in a way that is historically unusual for a country that has long viewed empires with proper republican suspicion. America's strategic vision will thus have to peer inward, as well as out, if we are to play our new role in the world successfully.

These are the radical principles laid out unabashedly by the Bush State Department's new Counselor, which are the same principles still driving the administration. We are in the middle of World War IV. We have numerous countries against whom we must wage war. The highest strategic priority is to change the government of Iran, with whom we can never negotiate. And the ultimate goal is to rule the world with our military force as the Supreme Imperial Power.

That is the neoconservative vision at its core. And the untold damage it has wreaked on our country has not diminished their influence in any way in this administration. They are still in control, particularly in the area they care about most -- the Middle East. And they have dealt with their greatest fear -- war-avoidance with Iran prior to regime change -- by installing one of their very own extremists to scrutinize and check the State Department.

This is really the debate America needs most, but is also the one we are furthest away from being able to conduct -- is the goal of the U.S. really to maintain and expand imperial world domination? The dangers to our country from that pursuit are grave and obvious. They are precisely the ones about which, among others, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Dwight Eisenhower most urgently warned, and Jefferson similarly emphasized continuously that the most important obligation a country has is to avoid war except when the nation's security is directly attacked.

But that, more than anything, accounts for the current predicament of America. We have ceased adhering in these matters to the principles of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Dwight Eisenhower, and have instead become a nation of Dick Cheneys, Victor Davis Hansons, Richard Perles, and Eliot Cohens.

These are -- to use Russert's phrase -- "those same people" who caused the Iraq disaster and have their sights set on further damage still. They do not want to avoid war at all, but instead believe that it's glorious and elegant and empowering. They want to ensure a state of Permenant War, complete with all of the internal constrictions of liberty which wars inevitably entail, because they view the United States not as a republic, but as an empire which -- in order to fulfill all sorts of agendas -- can, should and must rule the world with superior military force. There is a temptation to dismiss "those same people" as irrelevant extremists, but as Cohen's Friday-announced appointment reflects, they are anything but irrelevant.

UPDATE: Over at This Modern World, Jonathan Schwarz cites an anecdote from Gen. Wesley Clark which reflects both the radicalism and (one must never forget) the sheer ineptitude that has driven this administration's Cohenesque War project from the start.

UPDATE II: Unrelated (mostly, not completely) to the topic of this post, The Washington Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, will be hosting his weekly chat today at 12:00 noon EST, where readers can pose questions to him regarding his column.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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