Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist, has wielded—what else?—the Holocaust against The Nation. Quoting the magazine’s recent editorial stance criticizing the war in Libya, Cohen describes The Nation as exhibiting the “cold heart of liberalism.” Though he admits that “good arguments…can be made in opposition to the Libyan intervention,” Cohen dredges up the 1938 conference in Evian, France, called “to deal with the urgent problem of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.” He then says: 

“The Evian conference is not much mentioned anymore—although it should never be forgotten. It was a monument to international apathy and indifference, not to mention appalling selfishness—‘as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one,’ said the Australian delegate. Participants convened at the Hotel Royal, a fine resort on Lake Geneva, and resolved only to wring their hands. They had their reasons.

“We heard some of those same sentiments expressed by opponents of US intervention in Libya.”

Cohen immediately follows that with the non sequitur that “I do not liken the situation there to the imminence of the Holocaust.” But that’s precisely what he’s doing. 

Like countless other commentators, and like President Obama, Cohen assumes that the US action in bombing Libya—a war that has itself caused hundreds, if not thousands of deaths among Libyan soldiers and, we must assume, at least some civilians—averted a “bloodbath” caused by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. However, not only was no Holocaust in the offing but it isn’t even clear whether Qaddafi’s forces are engaged in anything that resembles genocide or mass murder. What’s happening in Libya is a brutal civil war, yes, in which outgunned rebels are battling better-armed troops. 

But, first, it isn’t clear that the rebels couldn’t have repelled the Libyan armed forces in Benghazi even without the US-led attacks. Second, even if Qaddafi’s forces had seized Benghazi, there is no certainty that they’d have massacred anyone, although many of the rebel fighters would have died fighting. But there’s no resisting a good Holocaust analogy, I guess.

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