Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Earlier installments are at TheNation.com.)
Having entered academic Russian Studies in the late 1960s, Cohen recalls that even then the field was still afflicted by remnants of the self-censorship bred by the McCarthyism of the 1940s and 1950s. Cold War brings with it this kind of limitations on free speech, so he is not surprised that it may be happening again as a result of the new Cold War with “Putin’s Russia,” only that it is coming this time from longstanding liberals who purported to protect us against such abuses at home.
Many liberals (and their publications) have recently branded Donald Trump as Putin’s “puppet” (Franklin Foer), “de facto agent” (Jeffrey Goldberg), “Kremlin client” (Timothy Snyder), and would-be “man in the White House.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman spells out the implication that Trump “would, in office, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy, at the expense of America’s allies and her own self-interest.” These disgraceful allegations are based on little more, Cohen argues, than a mistranslation of a casual Putin remark about Trump, Trump’s elliptical suggestions that he may favor détente with Moscow and tacit endorsement of Obama’s refusal to escalate the military conflict in Ukraine, and Russian business relations of Trump’s “associates” of the kind eagerly sought since the late 1980s by many American corporations, including Exxon Mobil and MacDonald’s.
This is, of course, an ominous recapitulation of McCarthy’s accusations, which seriously damaged American democracy and ruined many lives. Still worse, this Putin-baiting of Trump is coming from the Clinton campaign, which most of the liberals involved evidently support, as reflected in a page-one New York Times story headlined “A Trump-Putin Alliance.” Clinton, it seems, intends to run against Trump-Putin. If so, the new Cold War can only become more dangerous, especially if she wins and if this McCarthyite tactic reflects her hawkish views on Russia, and the wildly demonized Putin in particular.
Perhaps not unrelated, Obama’s proposal for a US-Russian alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with its potential for easing the conflict in Ukraine and NATO’s buildup on Russia’s borders, which Cohen and Batchelor have discussed in recent weeks, is now being openly opposed by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. As a result, Cohen thinks, the original proposal to Putin was withdrawn for one that would subordinate Moscow to longstanding US policy in Syria, particularly to the removal of Syrian President Assad. Not surprisingly, it was rejected by Putin, though Secretary of State John Kerry has resumed negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, expressing hope for a positive outcome. Neither Cohen nor Batchelor can understand where the silent President Obama stands on this vital issue.
Finally, Cohen and Batchelor briefly discuss the failed coup in Turkey, which is certain to bring President Erdogan back to a cooperative relationship with Moscow, with important consequences for NATO and for the war in Syria, none of them to Washington’s advantage. And recalling the role of Olympic politics during the 40-year Cold War, Cohen thinks this recapitulation involving Russia may have more to do with politics than doping, though, as with the Turkish coup, we are likely to learn more in the days and weeks ahead.