Roger Cohen is Ahmadinejad's Charlie Brown

By Jeffrey Goldberg

It's inevitable: Roger Cohen writes a column either defending the Iranian government; excoriating Israel for being unkind to the Iranian government; describing Iran as a Middle East version of Scarsdale; calling for negotiations with an I-just-realized-they're-odious-but-no-matter Iranian government; whatever -- and almost immediately, Ahmadinejad, or one of his minions, pulls the football out from under him.

Earlier this week, Cohen wrote, in reference to the "Cooperation for Peace, Justice and Progress" platform just issued by Teheran (the platform that neglects to mention Iran's nuclear program) that:

There's a lot of verbiage -- some that Orwell would have seized on -- in the Iranian "package," but that's just the way of things in Iran. Like many much-conquered countries, not least Italy, Iran loves artifice, the dressing-up of truth in elaborate layers. It will always favor ambiguity over clarity. This is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as "taarof" (hypocrisy dressed up as flattery), and one that is no stranger to "tagieh," which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.

Yesterday, Ahmadinejad, on "Qods Day," the day designed to divert the attention of Iranians from the failures of their own bloody and repressive government to the supposed sins of the Jews, once again denied that the Holocaust took place. I guess "that's just way of things in Iran."  It's uncanny -- every time Roger Cohen tries to explain why the Iranian regime might just be ripe for rational negotiations, Ahmadinejad enters the room with a plateful of crazy.

I suppose, at this point, I need to say it again: I'm opposed to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, and I'm for a time-limited negotiation between the U.S. and Iran. Unlike Cohen, however, I think the Iranian regime is not so hard to understand. It's malevolent and narcissistic and violent and corrupt and anti-Semitic, and for all those reasons, I hold out virtually no hope that something good will come from these talks. But at least, at the end of the talks, we'll see the Iranian government for what it is.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/09/roger-cohen-is-ahmadinejads-charlie-brown/26806/