So this guy with an odd name writes an article in the Asia Times that says Bush plans to run an air strike on Iran by August. Do we ignore it or do we start squirreling away canned pears in the family fallout shelter?
Self described “former broadcast news producer” Muhammad Cohen writes in a May 28 article that “The George W. Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months.” This is according to something “an informed source tells Asia Times Online.” We can be reasonably certain that “Asia Times Online” is Mr. Cohen. The identity of the “informed source” is somewhat less scrutable.
The “source,” according to Cohen, is “a retired U.S. career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously.” What seems to make the source so reliable, in Cohen’s estimation, is that he or she is “echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently.”
Hence, what the source told Cohen seems reliable because it sounds like the noise the rest of the echo chamber is making. That’s the new journalistic litmus test for veracity all right, but Cohen’s the first writer I’ve heard come right out and admit it.
The anonymous former assistant secretary of state, assuming that’s a genuine credential, has to be one of oh, twenty or thirty people, so one has to wonder why he or she felt the need to cling to anonymity. I’m starting to think it’s a status thing in Washington now to be cited anonymously about something electrifying as long as everybody inside the beltway knows the anonymous source was you.
Cohen says the former assistant secretary told him that details of the planned strike “raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill.”
“After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike,” Cohen writes, “Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece ‘within days.’”
Cohen didn’t bother to confirm any of that with Feinstein or Lugar because “Senate offices were closed for the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, so Feinstein and Lugar were not available for comment.”
Senate offices were open on Wednesday the 28th, the day Cohen’s story hit the Asia Times web site, so I called Feinstein and Lugar’s offices. Both senators’ press secretaries said the story was untrue: neither senator had been given a briefing on a strike on Iran, secret or otherwise, and neither senator intended to write a New York Times op-ed piece about the brief they hadn’t received “within days” or any time after that.
All we know for certain about the former assistant secretary is that whomever he, she or it may be they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. On Muhammad Cohen we have a bit more granularity.
The first thing I noted when visiting muhammadcohen.com on May 28 was the banner at the top of the page that read “Muhammad Cohne.” Cohen tells us that he’s an alumnus of Yale and Stanford; apparently the criteria for graduating from those bastions of higher learning don’t include knowing how to spell your own name. (Heck, Bush graduated from Yale and Condi Rice taught at Stanford, so the standards can’t be all that high at either place.) Neither, evidently, is spelling one’s name a talent required to be a cable news producer. Cohen worked for CNN and he moved to Hong Kong in 1995 to help start CNBC Asia. Cohen is presently promoting his book Hong Kong on Air which is, as you may have guessed, fiction.
Oh, about the name… Native New Yorker Eliot Cohen married a Muslim woman in 2002 and changed his first name to prove, according to one of his press releases, “that the ‘Muhammads’ and the ‘Cohens’ are not all that different. Can’t we all just get along?” A praiseworthy sentiment to be sure, but for the net effect his name change had Cohen might as well call himself Gary Goof.
I hope his goofiness helps him sell a lot of books, but I sure wish he hadn’t written his stupid article on Iran for Asia Times, and I wish his editor buddy at Asia Times had said, “Interesting, but we can’t use this just now. I’m sure you can find other ways to promote your novel.”
Thanks to legitimate investigative efforts by serious journalists like Gareth Porter and Larisa Alexandrovna and Seymour Hersh, we know about the efforts of Dick Cheney and the “crazies” in his Iranian Directorate to sell young Mr. Bush and the American public on a war with Iran the way they peddled the invasion of Iraq. We also (thankfully) hear more and more voices in the information sphere pointing out how the Cheney Gang broadcasts unfounded allegations against the Iranians through compliant media conduits like Michael R. “Anonymous Officials Say” Gordon of the New York Times.
But every time a yahooligan like Muhammad Cohen writes something alarming about the impending assault on Iran that turns out to be as genuine as a blue dollar bill, it makes everybody who’s making responsible efforts to keep Cheney’s crew in check sound like a kook too. The more the public hears false alarms, the more likely it is to ignore the warning when the wolf is really at the door.
Most of these sky-is-falling-on-Tehran stories involve a “revelation” that someone is planning a military action of some kind on Iran. Everybody needs to understand that there are probably more than 10 thousand people on active duty whose full time job it is to plan operations. When they don’t have any new operations to plan they pull out old plans and re-plan them. I’m not shocked that there’s a plan for any and every conceivable kind of operation against Iran. I’d be shocked if there weren’t.
If you’re shocked that we have standing war plans for Iran, it’s a good thing you don’t know about all the other military operations we have in the can. You’d be so scared you’d never get up off the toilet.
Don’t worry too much, though, there’s good news in all this. When I visited muhammadcohen.com around noon on the 29th, “Cohen” was spelled correctly. The guy’s former assistant secretary pal must have tipped him off.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) is on sale now.