For casually threatening economic ruin, inciting violence against entire populations, pushing for bombing faceless Muslims, or downplaying racism and child rape, there’s no better outlet than long-time echo chamber of power-serving conventional wisdom, the Washington Post. In the pages of the Post opinion section, you can say the most sociopathic things and get away with it, because you are, by definition, Serious People offering Serious Solutions in a Serious Paper.
The human cost of these extreme, reactionary opinions is of little matter; what matters is packaging calls for violence, sexism and racism in a nice, official-sounding tone. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the most sociopathic columns published under the Washington Post banner:
- If You Really Want to Bomb Iran, Take the Deal: Austin Long (4/3/15)
In a too-cute-by-half spin, Austin Long, assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, set out to convince hawkish liberals that the Iran deal was good— not because it prevented war but because it could serve to launch one, something Long had been pushing for for years in other publications (Tablet, 11/18/11; International Security, Spring/07). Supposedly, the Iran deal concentrates Iran’s nuclear activity, which means any airstrikes would need to be launched at far fewer sites. The agreement is good not because it makes nuclear conflict less likely, but only insofar as it makes Iran a more vulnerable target, something Long calls “a rare win for both Iran hawks and doves.” Softening up countries for future bombing campaigns: a total “win.”
- Closing the Door on Crime: Richard Cohen (9/7/86)
In his now-infamous 1986 column, long-time blowhard Richard Cohen defended, without qualification or irony, racist store owners for refusing to let black men into their stores. He then went on to praise Bernhard Goetz, the so-called “subway vigilante” who shot four black men for asking for money on the subway, something Cohen insisted with confidence was “boilerplate precede to a mugging.” The casual racism and matter-of-fact assertion that black males are a menace makes it a shoe-in for this list:
But then white assailants are rather hard to find in urban America. Especially in cities like Washington and New York, the menace comes from young black males. Both blacks and whites believe those young black males are the ones most likely to bop them over the head.
“A black colleague of mine thinks” it’s not racism, Cohen insisted. “He, too, would turn away young blacks if he owned a jewelry store.” Cohen’s mysterious black friend agrees that discriminating against black people is totally fine and understandable.
- Trump Shouldn’t Forget Iran’s Big Achilles’ Heel: Its Economy: Zalmay Khalilzad (4/25/18)
When Post columnists aren’t plotting war, they’re plotting the slightly more socially acceptable, liberal “alternative” to war: starving other countries’ economies into submission. Calling for “crippling sanctions” is a common enough occurrence in the Post’s editorial space that it would not otherwise merit a mention. But to add the unique sociopathic flavor needed to get on this elite list, Khalilzad discusses wrecking Iran’s economy like Mel Kiper Jr. would break down the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive strategy:
The debate over the Iranian nuclear deal has so far largely neglected a factor that potentially gives the United States leverage: the deteriorating economic and political situation in Iran. The Trump administration should integrate this factor into its strategy….
The Trump administration could, of course, opt to maintain the nuclear deal. But that would forfeit the chance to capitalize on Iran’s crisis by threatening draconian new US sanctions.
Ratcheting up sanctions, Khalilzad wrote, “could further exacerbate Iran’s internal problems and generate additional leverage,” and “would give the United States the greatest opportunity to impose costs on Iran and exploit its economic and political difficulties.”
The suffering of millions—which is what the bloodless word “costs” means in human terms—is viewed as “leverage” to be “exploited,” a “crisis” in urgent need of “capitalizing on” by Trump. Not, as most normal, morally healthy humans would view it, a tragedy to be avoided.
- Snowden Case Highlights Ecuador’s Double Standard: Editorial Board (6/24/13)
Sometimes the sociopathy is not the primary frame and is instead buried under a lot of Serious Policy recommendations, like this editorial from the summer of 2013, at the beginning of the Snowden affair. The piece begins with the casual racism and imperial arrogance one has come to expect from the Post:
When it comes to anti-American chutzpah, there’s no beating Rafael Correa, the autocratic leader of tiny, impoverished Ecuador. Mr. Correa and his foreign minister said Monday that they were considering an asylum request by Mr. Snowden.
It’s unclear how the freely elected Rafael Correa was “autocratic” (meaning “having absolute power”), but one can assume that any leader who challenges US hegemony in any meaningful way just becomes one through sheer assertion:
Some might find it awkward to be granting sanctuary to one country’s self-proclaimed whistleblower while stifling their own. Not Mr. Correa, who for years has been campaigning against the United States while depending on it to prop up his economy with trade preferences. Thanks to the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Protection Act, Ecuador — which uses the dollar as its currency — is able to export many goods to the United States duty-free, supporting roughly 400,000 jobs in a country of 14 million people.
As it happens, the preferences will expire next month unless renewed by Congress. If Mr. Correa welcomes Mr. Snowden, there will be an easy way to demonstrate that Yanqui-baiting has its price.
Here Post editors casually suggest wrecking a small and very poor country’s economy for the crime of standing up to the United States. Not only does the Post internalize the needs of the most ruthless and largest empire on earth, it nudges it to be even more ruthless in defense of its already massive surveillance powers. Keeping with this theme, the Post editorial board would later argue against pardoning Edward Snowden (FAIR.org, 5/25/17), despite the paper using him as a source on more than one occasion. Democracy dies in darkness.
- Truman Was Right to Use the Bomb on Japan: Richard Cohen (8/17/15)
This piece (a response to a Nation article by Christian Appy) recycles a Upload Filesseries of long-discredited talking points (Extra!, 4/95) about Japanese irrationality and the inevitability of using the bomb, but the real kicker is when not-at-all-racist Cohen says Japan had it coming because it lived up to racist stereotypes:
What about racism? “American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of ‘yellow peril’ racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman,” Appy writes. Yes, indeed. But at the same time, the Japanese were doing their level best to prove that the bigots were right.
See, we were animated by anti-Asian racism (just like we manifestly were in Korea and Vietnam), but it’s okay because we guessed correctly and it turns out our cartoon depictions of Japanese evil were spot on. Oh well then, I guess evaporating a quarter of a million people in an instant was the right call.
- War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option: Joshua Muravchik (3/13/15)
If there’s one thing Post opinion editors love, it’s columns threatening, plotting and advocating war against Iran. It’s the little black dress of foreign policy punditry—never goes out of style.
Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, argued nonchalantly that launching a war of aggression against Iran was “probably” “our” best “option.” He doesn’t explain who “our” refers to, or why a military attack was even an “option” to begin with. (Wars of aggression, it’s worth remembering, were called “the central crime in this pattern of crimes, the kingpin which holds all [war crimes] together,” by US Attorney General Robert Jackson in his closing arguments at the Nuremberg trials.) But never mind that—we have a massive act of unprovoked mechanized violence to undertake.
Muravichick asserts that Iran is uniquely irrational and cannot be compelled with material needs, asserting that “ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime” and concluding, as if he were settling on a Thai food order, that a bombing campaign that would kill tens of thousands is the “best option.”
Post editors even allowed Muravchik to casually throw out a material falsehood, one the Post’s own editors have corrected before (FAIR.org, 3/21/14): the idea that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. “Sanctions may have induced Iran to enter negotiations,” Muravchik writes, “but they have not persuaded it to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons.”
This is editorially not the position of the Washington Post, or the CIA, Mossad or the whole of US intelligence (FAIR.org, 10/17/17), but it’s the entire basis of the preemptive war being lobbied for, so who cares if it’s factually true or not?
- Time for an Israeli Strike?: John Bolton (7/2/09)
More bombing of Iran, you say? This time it was cartoonishly hawkish and once-fringe but now National Security Advisor John Bolton, who is so radical in his lobbying for the use of military force, he was denounced by self-identified neoconservatives and major Iraq War boosters Max Boot and William Kristol as too extreme.
Bolton—who has received large, undisclosed sums of money from the pro-regime change, Mossad-linked, fringe cult MEK—took to the pages of the Washington Post to argue the “likelihood” that diplomacy won’t “make any real difference” and that there was for Obama “no point waiting for negotiations to play out.” “Those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons,” Bolton asserted, “are left in the near term with only the option of targeted military force against its weapons facilities.”
Almost 10 years later, with neither bombing of Iran nor Iranian nuclear weapons in evidence, one might be shocked to hear that this prediction was totally incorrect.
- Hamas Could Have Chosen Peace. Instead, It Made Gaza Suffer: Dennis Ross (8/8/14)
When the columnist pages of the Post aren’t used to incite violence against Iran, they can be a useful venue for victim-blaming Palestinians for Israeli bombings and sieges. This was the case when Dennis Ross of the AIPAC spinoff Washington Institute for Near East Policy held Hamas responsible for Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, which killed over 1,500 Palestinian civilians. (As a point of reference, Israel lost a total of six civilians to Palestinian rockets fired in response to the Israeli bombing.)
Staring at this entirely one-sided bombing campaign, one would think Ross would set aside even a little blame for the massive body count on the party that actually did the bombing. No, he pins the blame entirely on Hamas, insisting Israel had little choice but to bomb “schools and hospitals” because that’s where the militant group stores its weapons caches. The conflict is entirely decontextualized; Ross reinforces the myth the Israelis “pulled out of Gaza,” which is an odd way to describe Israel’s continuing control of Gaza’s airspace, ports and land entrances in what is effectively a large open-air prison.
Ross peppers his piece—the ultimate purpose of which is to pin the horrific images of bloody corpses and maimed children then coming out of Gaza on the Palestinians themselves–in decades-old gaslighting cliches about “choosing arms over civilian investment and development,” while painting the image of a stubborn Palestinian population rejecting “peace” and embracing some masochistic death force. Palestinians are expected to be the only population on earth to unilaterally disarm and accept their own subjection in exchange for the right to have cement and basic supplies. Somehow, 70 years on, Palestinians are always responsible for their own occupation, humiliation and bombing.
- Racism vs. Reality: Richard Cohen (7/15/13)
Another barn-burner from Cohen, this widely criticized piece begins with his usual “I’m not racist but…” defense of racism:
I don’t like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don’t know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I’m tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist. The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.
People who don’t think unarmed African-American teenagers should be killed for the crime of wearing a hoodie are just as bad as those who think they should! It’s two sides of the same coin: opposing extrajudicial racist murder and supporting it. The piece is chock-full of this type of false equivalency, the summation of which is—like so many of Cohen’s other columns throughout the years—that racism is good and necessary.
- The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski: Anne Applebaum (9/27/09) / Thank You, Switzerland, for Freeing Polanski: Richard Cohen (7/13/10) [tied]
In the annals of terrible takes, few have aged more poorly than Anne Applebaum and Richard Cohen’s breathless, self-righteous defense of Roman Polanski, c. 2009. The sociopathy of these arguments was shocking and direded in certain circles at the time, but in today’s #MeToo era, it reads like something from 17th century Jamestown, Virginia.
Applebaum, who waxes frequently about the necessity of “rule of law” against the threat of “populism,” thought Switzerland’s decision to respect the US extradition treaty was “bizarre” and hinted vaguely at conspiracy, insisting there “must be some deeper story here.” Arresting fleeing child rapist is such an extraordinary deviation from Western norms, clearly this is evidence of a plot of some kind.
“He did commit a crime,” she handwaves. “But he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.” Oh no, lawyers’ fees! Applebaum, as many noted at the time, also failed to disclose the fact that her husband, then–Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, was lobbying the US government on behalf of Polanski, a Polish native.
Cohen, making his first non-racist appearance on this list, was even more callous in his reasoning, writing one of the grossest and most heartless opening paragraphs in the history of any paper:
The Swiss got it right. Their refusal to extradite film director Roman Polanski to the United States on a 33-year-old sex charge is the proper dénouement for this mess of a case. There is no doubt that Polanski did what he did, which is have sex with a 13-year-old after plying her with booze. There is no doubt also that after all these years there is something stale about the case, not to mention a “victim,” Samantha Geimer, who has long ago forgiven her assailant and dearly wishes the whole thing would go away. So do I.
It’s hard to say which is worse: Cohen putting “victim” in irony quotes, or referring to the rape and forcible sodomy of a 13-year-old as “sex.”