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.) Continuing the subject of last week’s discussion—the growing possibility of actual military conflict between the United States and Russia—Cohen and Batchelor agree that more recent developments have made this prospect even more dire.
Cohen argues that we should be “shocked” less by Donald Trump’s sex talk or by Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds as secretary of state than by the entire political-media establishment’s indifference to Washington’s drift toward war with Russia. Since the breakdown of the Obama-Putin agreement to cooperate militarily against terrorists in Syria, which Cohen blames primarily on the Obama administration, Washington has escalated its warfare rhetoric against the Kremlin and Russian President Putin in particular. The man with whom the Obama administration proposed to partner with in Syria only two weeks ago is now denounced as a “war criminal” for Russia’s fight against terrorists in Aleppo, which was to be “liberated” by the now aborted US-Russian military alliance. The Washington Post was more specific, publishing a leaked account of how Putin might be arrested outside of Russia and put on trial. But the first victim might have been Secretary of State Kerry, who negotiated and advocated the proposed alliance and who now must level against Russia the same charges of “war crimes,” dealing a devastating blow to his own reputation. Putting another nail in the coffin of its jettisoned cooperation with the Kremlin, the White House officially accused the Putin leadership of trying to undermine the American electoral system through systematic hacking, even though it presented no real evidence for the allegation. Meanwhile, the mainstream media continues to base their coverage of US national security in this regard solely on unrelenting vilification of Putin, not on US national interests. Any talk of partnership with Russia, as still advocated by Donald Trump, is traduced as “insanity” (Rachel Maddow on MSNBC).
The discussion now turns to Moscow, which has reacted to Washington’s words and deeds in kind. Cohen cites several examples, including speeches by Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (formerly Kerry’s partner); a nationwide civil-defense exercise; a proposal to give military officials control over regional political leaders in the event of war; and a beefing up of Russian ground-to-air missile defense systems in Syria. While Lavrov spoke of an American policy driven by “aggressive Russophobia,” Putin said normal relations could be restored only by Washington reversing all of its Cold War policies in recent years, from NATO expansion to Russia’s borders to economic sanctions.
In response to Batchelor’s question, Cohen again points to a historical precedent of a way out in dark times in US-Russian relations, when President Reagan decided to meet Soviet leader Gorbachev halfway in the mid and late 1980s, though, he adds, no such leader seems likely to occupy the White House any time soon. He also adds that while the possibility of war is the constant and primary subject in the Russian mainstream media, its near total absence in the America media is itself a very bad sign. Meanwhile, Cohen points outs, US-Russian cooperative relations created over decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses, are being systematically destroyed both in Washington and Moscow. Here, too, relations have not been as ominous since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.