Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at TheNation.com.) Cohen argues that the real enemies of US national security are the American senators (McCain, Graham and their bipartisan allies in Congress) and mainstream media (now spearheaded by The New York Times and seconded by The Washington Post) waging a campaign against Trump’s proposed cooperation with Russia, presumably first and foremost against terrorists in Syria and elsewhere. In this connection, Cohen makes the following points:
§ Cold warriors insist, as they have for years, that “Putin’s Russia” represents the “No. 1 existential threat to America.” (Russia seems not to appear on the short list of threats that Trump’s transition team has given to the Department of Defense.) Cold warriors promote their myopic priority by adding two new allegations to their longstanding vilification of Putin: that he intervened in America’s presidential election to tilt the scale in Trump’s favor; and that he has committed war crimes in Syria, particularly in Aleppo. Cohen explains there are—at least at this time—no facts or logic to support either allegation, only an obsessive desire to disqualify Putin, potentially the most valuable US national-security partner, as such a partner. In this reckless pursuit, the enemies of détente engage in neo-McCarthyite tactics intended to silence pro-détente Americans, branding them “lackeys of the Kremlin,” and seek to cripple Trump as a foreign-policy president even before he takes office and thus US national security itself. (Their demand for retaliation against Russia for its purported “cyber-attack” on the presidential election is viewed in Moscow as a threat approaching a declaration of war.)
§ More generally, American cold warriors blame Putin for the failure of their polices around the world, from their support for “moderate rebels” against Syria’s President Assad to the rise of anti–status quo electorates in Europe, the UK, and the United States itself. In fact, Putin, whom President Obama pledged “to isolate” two years ago, has less to do with these failures than do the follies of US foreign policies, including regime-change wars and “liberal globalization,” whose economic and cultural dimensions have increasingly alienated voters in many countries. As a result, Putin has emerged for millions of people abroad, without much trying, as a symbol of resistance to the “American hegemon” that, they believe, has undermined their economies, offended their traditional values, and, in the Middle East, brought war to their countries. Still more, to the extent that the image of American democracy abroad has been damaged by the 2016 presidential election, the fault lies not in the Kremlin but in America itself.
§ Above all, demonizing Putin has become a bipartisan excuse for not rethinking bipartisan US foreign policy. Vilifying President-elect Trump as a “Kremlin puppet,” or “Kremlin poodle,” as the Times’s Nicholas Kristof labeled the new president, has become an additional excuse. Meanwhile, the real threats to US and international security continue to grow.