The Talented Mr. Cohen: A Response

Ruth Wedgwood responds to Ximena Ortiz’s column on Eliot A. Cohen’s appointment to serve as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, protesting its “ barrage of personal invective and cheap-shot metaphors.”

Editor's note: On March 2, National Interest online published "The Talented Mr. Cohen", by Ximena Ortiz. Below is Ruth Wedgwood's response.

To the Editor:

By all means, let us debate whether the United States was right in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, rather than continuing with the rickety structure of no-fly zones and eroding UN sanctions. Certainly, we should figure out what went wrong in post-conflict Iraqi reconstruction, and address our halting ability to repair the economies and stand up local security forces in conflicted societies. And whether democracy or autocracy is a better prescription for Middle East regimes will continue to kindle fiery conversations, in both partisan and disinterested settings.

But as an admirer of The National Interest, I must protest the barrage of personal invective and cheap-shot metaphors recently launched by Ms. Ximena Ortiz at my colleague Eliot Cohen, who has agreed to serve as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is misplaced, and unworthy.

Eliot has directed the Security Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University for over a decade. He is one of the few teachers in the American academy to treat military history as a serious field. The theme of his "staff rides" taken with students on the major battlefields of America and Europe is that mishaps of strategy, tactics, timing, logistics and political leadership can determine the outcome. His study of Supreme Command argues that the failure of civilian leaders to adequately critique the campaign plans of their generals is often at fault. The failure to plan effectively for Phase 4 of the Iraqi invasion may indeed have involved more than one official's lapse.

Eliot has also served on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, together with Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Pete Wilson and Harold Brown, among others, in the attempt to offer private advice that might be useful. He is the father of a soldier who served in theatre. He has the right to critique the conduct of the invasion and its aftermath, no matter what Ms. Ortiz might think.

More than one member of the National Interest family favored the intervention in Iraq. Ms. Ortiz may wish to shoot her flaming arrows with greater care, lest they land in some unexpected places.

Yours truly,

Ruth Wedgwood
Washington, DC
March 10, 2007

Ruth Wedgwood is a professor of international law at the School of Advanbced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a member of The National Interest's Advisory Council.