Falling for New Neocon Propaganda

Exclusive: One not-so-funny fact about Washington is that nearly all the news media stars who fell for neoconservative falsehoods about Iraq are still around to fall for new ones on Iran, even some like Richard Cohen who briefly regretted his earlier gullibility, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Paul R. Pillar, my former colleague in the CIA’s analytical division, has raised a warning flag, cautioning that the same imaginative neocon composers who came up with the various refrains on why we needed to attack Iraq are now providing similar background music for a strike on Iran.

He is right. And as one of my Russian professors used to say, “This is nothing to laugh!”

Pillar’s piece dissecting an op-ed by the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen about the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington first appeared on The National Interest Web site. On Oct. 21, it was posted at Consortiumnews.com under the title “Sloppy Iran Think by WPost’s Cohen.”

The Cohen column that Pillar critiques is entitled “The alarm bells behind Iran’s alleged assassination plot.” Yet Cohen’s “alarm bells” ringing now about Iran brought a painful reminder of all the alarms he and his colleagues sounded in cheerleading for the attack on Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Cohen was one of the many big-name opinion leaders to put on the pompoms after Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. Joining a cheerleading pyramid of pro-war consensus, Cohen mocked anyone who still doubted that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

“The evidence he [Powell] 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,” Cohen wrote. “Only a fool or possibly a Frenchman could conclude otherwise.”

However, six weeks after the Iraq invasion, with not one WMD stockpile discovered, Cohen’s conscience may have begun to trouble him a bit. To his credit, I suppose, Cohen seems to have been embarrassed enough to fess up, sort of, using the device of an apocryphal conversation with his long-dead grandfather.

In an April 29, 2003, column entitled “Baghdad Bait and Switch,” Cohen recounted a middle-of-the-night visit by Grandpa, who is not at all pleased with his grandson’s credulity about President George W. Bush’s case for war.

“You think maybe you got snookered?” Grandpa asks. “For this your mother sent you to college? For this you fight a war?

“I read the column where you said that [‘Saddam Hussein was like another Hitler’]. All my friends said, ‘This is your grandson, the hotshot columnist? This is the guy people read so they should know what to think?’

“Hitler? Hitler was a threat to the world. Saddam threatened only his own people. He fought for only 26 days. I had longer fights with your grandmother.

“First you wanted a war because of terrorism, then because Iraq had a nuclear program. Then you wanted a war because he has poison gas and little crawling things you can’t see. Now you want to bring democracy to the Middle East.

“You know what we used to call this when I was in retail? Bait and switch. I hope everything turns out hunky-dory, like you’ve been writing. Otherwise, you should have been an accountant.”

Cohen’s column about the imaginary upbraiding he got from his grandfather ran two days before President Bush jetted onto a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of California and gave his memorable “Mission Accomplished” address.

Accountability, Anyone?

One might think that a columnist who got something as wrong as Cohen did would have the decency to admit that Grandpa was right and switch professions.

After all, endorsing the falsehoods that led to an aggressive war in violation of international law an invasion that led to hundreds of thousands of dead and the squandering of $1 trillion or so isn’t exactly a minor mistake.

But Cohen apparently found safety in numbers. The fact that he was surrounded by scores of other big-name media stars who had fallen for the same “bait-and-switch” scam meant that he kept his place as a major national columnist and soon returned to his comfortable role defending the war policies of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

For instance, in a June 19, 2007, op-ed, Cohen rallied to the defense of Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis Libby who had been sentenced to 30 months in jail for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about his role in unmasking covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The destruction of Plame’s career was collateral damage resulting from the Bush administration trying to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for criticizing Bush’s use of a misleading claim about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa.

But Cohen showed no sympathy for Wilson or Plame, two patriotic citizens who had been personally targeted by Cheney and the White House. Cohen worried only about Libby.

In the column, Cohen denounced the trial as “a mountain out of a molehill.” Following the neocon propaganda themes on the Plame case, Cohen concluded there was no “underlying crime” and poked fun at Americans who thought the invasion of Iraq might have been a bad idea.

“They thought if ‘thought’ can be used in this context that if the thread was pulled on who had leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to Robert D. Novak, the effort to snooker an entire nation into war would unravel and this would show . . . who knows? Something,” Cohen wrote.

Smirking at Torture

Cohen also sympathized with Cheney over his enthusiasm for torturing Muslim detainees. In a May 11, 2009, column entitled “What If Cheney’s Right?” Cohen justified “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including the near-drowning tactic of waterboarding, as worthwhile in eliciting important intelligence information and thus saving American lives.

Starting the column, Cohen made light of the whole issue of torture with the quip, “Blogger Alert: I have written a column in defense of Dick Cheney.”

While conceding that torture is morally wrong, Cohen wrote, “where I reserve a soupçon of doubt is over the question of whether ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ actually work. That they do not is a matter of absolute conviction among those on the political left, who seem to think that the CIA tortured suspected terrorists just for the hell of it.”

Cohen noted that Cheney through his declaration that critical intelligence was extracted by these means “poses a hard, hard question: Is it more immoral to torture than it is to fail to prevent the deaths of thousands?”

With unintended irony, the columnist regretted that Cheney’s credibility on torture had been dinged by the fact that his pre-Iraq War claims had proved false, like his insisting “that ‘the evidence is overwhelming’ that al-Qaeda had been in high-level contact with Saddam Hussein’s regime when the ‘evidence’ was virtually non-existent.”

What Cohen left out was the very relevant point that precisely those claims of a Saddam-al-Qaeda connection resulted from a coerced confession from one of the CIA’s “high-value detainees,” Ibu al-Sheikh al-Libi.

A June 2002 CIA report cited claims by al-Libi that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives. Al-Libi’s information was then inserted into a November 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

Al-Libi’s false claim which he later said he offered to escape torture also found its way into Cheney’s public presentations and into Powell’s UN speech. But Cohen did not deign to mention this inconvenient fact in his column defending these harsh tactics.

On Oct. 6, 2009, Cohen was back serving the neocon cause, baiting President Barack Obama into a major military escalation in Afghanistan, through an opinion piece entitled “Does Obama Have the Backbone?” questioning Obama’s mettle as a war president.

“The war in Afghanistan is eminently more winnable than was Vietnam,” Cohen wrote. “Still, the war will require more than a significant commitment of troops and, of course, money. It will take presidential leadership, a consistent staying of the course an implacable confidence that the right choice has been made despite what can be steep costs.”

So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Richard Cohen is now helping to set the stage for another war with Iran.

Quick! Someone conjure up Cohen’s grandfather again. We need him to pin back Richard’s ears once more before the gullible grandson falls for a new round of neocon propaganda and enables another catastrophic war.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and then CIA analyst for a combined total of 30 years, he is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. (VIPS)

22 comments for “Falling for New Neocon Propaganda

  1. Cc davidson
    October 24, 2011 at 12:21

    Ha! MIC is saving us from ourselves w/ steep and deep assists from neocon traitors. Those who prevent most Americans from preserving our Ben Franklin Republic w/ lies, disinformation and Market controlling tactics that economially spook average citizens into slavishly buying the MIC line. IKE WAS RIGHT. BEWARE.

  2. skeptic
    October 24, 2011 at 10:20

    What I meant to say was that thankfully there are a few old CIA hands such as yourself committed enough to the public interest to give it to us straight.

  3. skeptic
    October 24, 2011 at 10:14

    Thankfully, old there are at least a few CIA hands who not only know the facts and understand the system, but are also committed enough to the public interest to give it to us straight.

  4. October 24, 2011 at 01:47


  5. Kenny Fowler
    October 23, 2011 at 20:51

    This has come up a number of times as a serious future problem. Operation Iraqi Liberation( OIL ) is now over but the cheerleaders who drummed up the fever for the war are still lurking and won’t hesitate to do it again Beware.

  6. SuzeO
    October 23, 2011 at 13:32

    I always thought that outing Valerie Plame was about more than punishing her husband. She was a well-conected watchdog on the efforts of several Middle Eastern Nations’ plans on acquiring nuclear material and equipment. Cheney wanted an excuse for a war on Iran, and did not want his propaganda to be contradicted by someone who knew more than he did. So in removing her, along with many of her contacts, he would be more likely to succeed in coaxing and scaring more of the public into another military intervention. Fortunately, an NIE came out claiming that Iran had ceased building a nuke in 2003, which took the wind out of Cheney’s sails.

    I think the Iranian-Mexican drug cartel plot sounds too amateurish – ham-handed enough to be easily discovered. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a right-wing setup to justify an attack on Iran.

  7. Hillary
    October 23, 2011 at 11:37

    Nearly all the news media stars WHO PROMOTED neoconservative falsehoods about Iraq are still around to PROMOTE new ones on Iran.

    Where in the MSM can we find anyone against an attack on Iran ?

    A tiny foreign state dominates US policy & wants to dominate the Middle East.

    The US has waged a war on Iraq & Lybia both orchestrated by and from Tel Aviv.

  8. October 23, 2011 at 11:09

    Al-Libi’s coerced confession is an example of what Cheney really meant when he talked about “actionable intelligence.” Actionable intelligence is not necessarily true, and in fact, for Cheney’s purposes, lies were the best kind of actionable intelligence. Torture is uniquely well suited for the creation of Cheney’s brand of actionable intelligence.

  9. October 23, 2011 at 10:01

    Very good expose! Now someone needs to expose the NY Times’ best neo-con propagandist for war, Thomas Friedman. If I remember right, he used his wife similarly to Cohen using his grandpa, as a rhetorical device-foil to make himself seem open-minded. Do these neocon columnists all study their tricks of the trade together or do they just compare notes at cocktail parties? Too bad so many liberal readers fall for their devices. Eric “Cakewalk” Edelman was reported toasting the successful launching of the pre-emptive war on Iraq in a self-congratulatory celebration with Dick Cheney and other neocons.

    • SuzeO
      October 23, 2011 at 13:45

      I suspect that right-wing think tanks come up with these propaganda “campaigns”. All the Republicans get the same marching orders. For a while there, it seemed that every Republican that found himself in front of a camera or a microphone was implicating Iran. I remember one entire show devoted to discussing the war with Iraq and the Republican (Santorum?) kept talking about Iran. He was NOT confusing the two. The show’s host, however, didn’t bite – the topic stayed on Iraq.

    • October 25, 2011 at 14:49

      OOOOOOPPPPPPSSSSS! I got Ken “Cakewalk” Adelman’s name confused in the above comment. It’s Kenneth L. Adelman who urged the US to attack Iraq, claiming it would be a “cakewalk” and then who reportedly toasted with Cheney, Rumsfeld and other neocons their success in launching the illegal war afterward: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Adelman

  10. el retiro
    October 23, 2011 at 09:42

    Cohen noted that Cheney – through his declaration that critical intelligence was extracted by these means – “poses a hard, hard question: Is it more immoral to torture than it is to fail to prevent the deaths of thousands?”

    The comment made me gasp. …to prevent the deaths of thousands? It implies that only American lives are worth saving. How many lives have we ended by these wars? Thousands upon thousands of men, women and children. But then they are only Arabs. What about the several thousand of our own children in the war zone who lost their lives fighting a make believe monster? How does he sleep at night?

  11. News Nag
    October 22, 2011 at 19:28

    God, Cohen is a complete jackass. No, wait, he’s a total asshole. Okay, he’s both a moronic jackass and a Santorum-filled asshole. And that’s letting him off way way too easy.

    • Hillary
      October 23, 2011 at 12:01

      “God, Cohen is a complete jackass”–News Nag.

      Mrs.Jonathan Pollard the wife of the imprisoned Israeli spy stated that it was every American Jew’s owes their first loyalty to Israel.

  12. ToLo
    October 22, 2011 at 15:11

    Swinney: love your facts, but not your shorthand. More complete sentences would really make your stuff readable. Not a complaint, but an observation and a suggestion.

  13. clarence swinney
    October 22, 2011 at 14:27

    1921 -2009
    Republican presidents created 800,000 jobs per year
    Democratic presidents created 1,800,000 per year

    Want Full Employment Hire a Democrat
    Under Bush 2,300,000 good good good jobs went to just China.

    Want a Recession or Depression hire a Republican
    Each each “significant” Recession and the Depression were under a Republican President

  14. clarence swinney
    October 22, 2011 at 14:22

    Flat Tax who is kidding
    Total National Income is 12,000B
    Budget 3800 Flat 32% pass that one!

    Flat Tax on Spending
    Total Consumer spending is 10,000B
    38% Flat tax try it!

    9-9-9 is 18-18-18 Try it
    Total National Income(individual and corp)
    Total Consumer spending 10,000B
    Cain Total Taxable Income is 22,000B
    9% is 1,980B or one half our budget

    How can they even get a discussion on such junk

    Suckered press

    • yuri_nahl
      October 22, 2011 at 17:18

      Does anyone remember the “We don’t need this complicated tax code” malarkey from Regan? (1985 or so)…I rolled my eyeballs so much over that one, I got eyeball blisters. Like all these rich tax accountants are going to go along with it!

  15. clarence swinney
    October 22, 2011 at 14:16

    252 bush lies clarenceswinney + bush lies on google
    100+ clarence swinney + Bush waffles nutto guy

    Newt Congress, per GAO, spent $110,000,000 on Hearings and Investigations trying to destroy Clinton. 13 Hearings on Whitewater a simple land deal
    Republicans are doig same to Obama. Spare no cost to destroy.

    What way to ruin a country!
    Want War— Hire a Republican–Initiated our involvement in 10 foreign conflicts since 1980.
    Want Debt-Hire a Republican–Since 1980 added 11,000B
    Want Spending–Hire Republican-Since 1980 took 600B budget to 3600B less wjc itsy
    Want Jobs–do not hire republican–created 99,000 net new jobs per month since 1980 as to Carter=Clinton 222,000.
    Want Lies-Hire a Republican. Center for Integrity in Media documeted 935 on WMD by Bush and 11 staffers. My 254 swinney+bush lies on google
    Want Hell On Earth-Hire Republicans–Took Clinton Peace on Earth to Hell via alienating 1500 Million Muslims
    Want Inequality In America–Since 1980
    got 10% a 70% of Net Wealth–80% 15%
    got 10% a 70% of financial Wealth–80% 7%
    got 10% 50% of individual income and 70,000,000 a 13%
    70/15 70/7 50/13 190/35= Inequality

    Jesus Christ preached daily on Inequality which today would be sermons anti republicans..Yet! Hear Minsters preaching on Inequality???
    Ministers of America? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ GOT YOUR TONGUE??????
    I would love to hear a response.

    Eric Cantor yesterday–“The democrats have had the presicency and congress for two years and done nothing” Cantor is a blatant LIAR Often..
    The House passed 420 Bill many with unanimous votes and 420 are in Senate Dumpster following McConnell “Our priority is to assure this is a one term president.”

    How can intelligent people allow such an anti american jackass in our Congress? This kid is sicko. He is dangerous to our Democracy.
    Get rid of vermin.Hire Achmed.

  16. bobzaguy
    October 22, 2011 at 13:59

    Ray, screw the old grandpa gimmick. Get Cohen’s wife on the job. She’ll make his life utter hell until he stops this stuff!

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