In a Comment piece here (May 12), Wayne Smith deplored Castro’s crackdown on Cuban dissidents but also scored US policy. That earned him a rebuke from ostensibly liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. He condemned Smith to obloquy as one of the “blame-America-first crowd,” citing the phrase used by Jeane Kirkpatrick in a 1984 speech defending Reagan’s policies, which Cohen once “hated” but now finds dead-on with regard to leftist critics of US policies. Smith differed with Cohen in a letter the Post hasn’t published. In it he notes that, according to Kirkpatrick and apparently Cohen, “anyone who took issue with, say, the invasion of Grenada or aid to the contras was guilty of blaming America first. Absurd.” As for Cuba, the crackdown and executions were “deplorable, reprehensible or any other condemnatory word one chooses. And certainly it is the Cuban government that must bear full responsibility.” But the crackdown was “at least in part a response to the repeated provocations on the part of the US. In the real world, a superpower which threatens and undermines the stability of a small nearby country breeds fear, distrust and, occasionally, irrational reactions. It has been apparent for decades that our policy towards Cuba only serves to stifle progress towards a more open society. It is past time for the US to review its approach…. If so saying be taken as ‘blaming America first,’ make the most of it.”


On the commencement circuit: New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, author of an antiwar book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, was booed off the stage at Rockford College in Illinois for criticizing US Iraq policy. At North Carolina State, liberal ex-TV host Phil Donahue provoked boos and walkouts when he warned about the erosion of civil liberties in the Reign of Bush.