Prof. Stephen Frand Cohen is an American scholar of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University and a contributing editor of The Nation. His academic work concentrates on modern Russian history since the Bolshevik Revolution and the country’s relationship with the United States.
As the neo-McCarthyite search for Americans with Russian "contacts” spreads, the new Cold War is increasingly fraught with possibilities of hot war.
Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Now in their fourth year, previous installments are at TheNation.com.)
Discussion begins with the new McCarthyism, driven primarily by Democrats, other cold warriors, and their media alleging, without any real evidence, that President Trump has been "compromised” or is otherwise controlled by the Kremlin. (Here, Cohen emphasizes again that nor is there any actual empirical evidence that Russia hacked the DNC, only "assessments” and allegations.) Cohen laments that this hysteria is growing into a witch hunt for Americans with "contacts” with Russia, which could ensnare many legitimate, essential relationships with Russia, from those of American scholars and diplomats to CEOs of large-scale businesses in Russia. Once respectable media are recklessly feeding this frenzy. Echoing his fellow columnists, The New York Times’s Charles Blow (March 6), for example, applauds the "gathering fog of suspicion” in the hope it will bring down the president. MSNBC contributes a two-hour kangaroo tribunal on "The Trump-Putin Power Play” (no question mark) featuring "experts” without any doubts (or much actual knowledge) on their minds. Both MSNBC and CNN regularly feature "former intelligence officials” whose wildly misinformed statements about Russia’s leadership can only give the CIA and US "Intel” generally a very bad reputation, as should those agencies’ politicized anti-Trump leaks to the media. Not surprisingly, experts with dissenting analyses and points of view are systematically excluded. Cohen thinks the accompanying clamor for "investigations,” which in the enveloping "fog” can hardly be independent or objective, may only make things worse.
Meanwhile, Cohen observes, the "fog of suspicion” is chilling, even freezing, public discourse about worsening US-Russian relations, which should be the foremost media topic. As the bipartisan political-media establishment "redirects” President Trump away from his professed wish for some kind of détente with Russian President Putin, some academics and journalists are reluctant to speak out. As are CEOs in pursuit of profits in Russia who would normally have welcomed Trump’s détente, as did such corporate heads in the years of the Nixon-Kissinger détente with Soviet Russia. Also not surprisingly, only one or two members of Congress have publicly expressed any principled alarm over the hysteria. Most apparently share the anti–national security mission of Senator Lindsey Graham to make 2017 "the year of kicking Russia in the ass.”
As this "statesmanship” prevails in Washington, Cohen points out, the three new Cold War fronts become more fraught with the possibility of hot war. He and Batchelor discuss each of them:
§ The Baltic-Black Sea region, on Russia’s western border, where NATO’s unprecedented buildup continues, is provoking equally dangerous forms of Russian "brinkmanship.”
§ Syria, where the growing number of American troops is increasingly in military proximity to the Russian-Syrian alliance, another realm of mishaps waiting to happen.
§ And Ukraine, the political epicenter of the new Cold War, which is worse off in every respect than it was before the crisis erupted in late 2013, including the state of its "democracy,” where recent developments show again that the US-backed government in Kiev is hostage to armed ultra-nationalist forces and that Moscow’s patience with Kiev’s refusal to implement the Minsk peace accords is running out. The alternative, Cohen continues to think, is more war and the growing possibility that Ukraine will fragment permanently into two or more parts.
Cohen also reflects on the hyperbolic charge that Putin is now at war against the entire "post–Cold War liberal world order,” including the European Union, an allegation trumpeted by the "liberal” American media almost daily. For this too there are no facts or logic. Why would Putin want to destroy the EU, his essential trading partner? Why would Putin undermine European politicians who favored ending sanctions against Russia, as is claimed? More, is Putin really the cause of Europe’s multiple crises today in ways that the superpower Soviet Union never was? And what is this international "order” that has featured so many wars, many of them US ones, since 1991? Blaming Russia for America’s domestic problems—for Hillary Clinton’s defeat and for President Trump, in particular—is political evasion now being projected onto the entire "world order.” This indeed is a "fog,” but not the one the Times, The Washington Post, cable "news,” and other US mainstream media are so busy promoting.