Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. Previous installments (now in their fourth year) are at TheNation.com.
Cohen thinks three moments of truth about the current state of American-Russian relations were recently revealed, but so little covered in the mainstream media that he was reminded of an old routine by the comedian George Carlin. A local radio newscaster begins his report: “Nuclear war in Europe. Details after the sports.” Cohen and Batchelor discuss each of the developments at some length:
First, Cohen has long warned that the new Cold War is fraught with the possibility of a Cuban missile crisis–like situation on any one of its several fronts: in the Baltic and Black seas regions, where NATO is undertaking a major military buildup on Russia’s borders; in Ukraine, where a civil and proxy war, also on Russia’s borders, is now in its fourth year; and in Syria, where American and Russian warplanes are conducting mounting operations in increasingly approximate air space with, it turns out, less “deconfliction” than thought, at least by American commanders. On June 18, a US plane shot down a Syrian military aircraft. Allied with Syria and fighting there at its government’s official invitation, unlike American forces, which are there in violation of international law, Moscow regarded this as a provocative act of war. After a nearly 24-hour pause, during which the Putin leadership debated its response, the Russian military announced that henceforth any US aircraft flying where Russia and Syrian were conducting operations would be “targeted”—that is, warned to leave immediately or be shot down. A red line had been crossed by the United States, as the Soviet Union had done in Cuba in 1962, and this time Washington had to decide whether to cross yet another in the direction of war between the nuclear superpowers. Washington wisely retreated, the Department of Defense announcing it would “reposition” its war planes away from Russian-Syrian operations, adding that it “was ready to cooperate with Russia in Syria.” Whether such a crisis has actually been averted in Syria depends on who made the decision to shoot down the Syrian plane. If made by a Washington faction determined to sabotage President Trump’s professed hope to cooperate militarily with Moscow against terrorism in Syria—as happened in September 2016, when President Obama had reached a similar agreement with Russian President Putin—the struggle inside the Trump administration and its warfare agencies, along with the crisis of June 18-19, may not be over.
In any event, Cohen argues, such potentially fateful US-Russian confrontations are inherent in the new Cold War, not only in Syria. Hence the imperative to end, or at least seriously diminish, it.
Meanwhile, new economic sanctions against Russia adopted by the US Senate—they are uninformed, exceedingly unwise, and without any verifiable cause except political showboating and ambition—have exposed longstanding and growing tensions between Washington and several European capitals over the escalating US confrontation with Moscow. With their agricultural producers already hurt by Moscow’s counter-sanctions on imported produce and other goods, several European governments strongly protested the Senate’s new anti-Russian sanctions, one even threatening sanctions against the United States. The primary reason, whether the Senate noticed or not, is that the new sanctions would impact European companies deeply involved in a new pipeline bringing Russian gas to their countries, which are heavily dependent on Russian energy. If the sanctions gain House approval and Trump’s signature—or if his veto is overridden—the result could be an economically driven, and thus political, crisis in the vaunted transatlantic alliance. (Some observers think the real purpose of the new sanctions is to increase the European market for American liquid gas exports, despite its technical and financial improbabilities.) In this respect, Cohen points out, it is not Putin who is disrupting the US-European alliance but Washington itself.
Third, “Russiagate”—nearly a year of still unproved allegations that Trump and his “associates” colluded with the Kremlin in its alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign—has resulted in perhaps the worst political crisis in modern American history and, to the extent it has distorted or paralyzed Trump’s Russia policies, has itself become a threat to US national security. Recent public statements by Obama’s top intelligence officials have indicated, perhaps inadvertently, that Russiagate may have been concocted by those officials. If so, what they have done far exceeds the transgressions of Watergate and should be fully investigated as a truly subversive Intelgate. What those statements reveal includes the following:
§ The January 2017 Intelligence Committee report accusing Putin of having directed the hacking of the DNC and of making public its e-mails via WikiLeaks was not based on a consensus on the part of all “seventeen US intelligence agencies” but on “handpicked analysts” from only three: the CIA, FBI, and NSA. This we learned from former CIA director John Brennan and former director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
§ Brennan, in his own words, was hardly an objective, dispassionate CIA director, explaining at one point in his testimony to a House committee that any Americans who have contacts with Russians can embark “along a treasonous path” and “do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”
§ Clapper then told NBCs Meet the Press (May 28) that “Russians …are typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate…” and that thus Russia is “genetically driven” to attack American democracy.
§ As for former FBI Director James Comey, he emphatically assured a congressional investigative committee that Russiagate was entirely true, though also without producing any evidence whatsoever, adding, in the spirit of J. Edgar Hoover, “They are coming back!” More importantly, considering the paramount role leaks to the media have played in creating and perpetuating Russiagate, Comey, who was supposed to be investigating such leaks, testified that he had himself leaked a self-serving document to The New York Times.
Cohen wonders why mainstream media outlets have not explored these revelations by an apparently paranoid CIA director, an ethnically biased director of National Intelligence, and an admittedly duplicitous FBI chief. Instead, those outlets have simply ignored these statements and continued to parrot the core allegation of Russiagate. Thus, the Times lead editorial of June 18 asserted, alluding only to the fabricated January Intel report and Comey’s more recent comments: “Under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, hackers connected to Russian military intelligence broke into the email accounts of senior officials at the Democratic National Committee…. in an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.” It added that this Kremlin “attack on our democracy” had occurred similarly in Germany and France, even though security officials in those countries have denied the allegations against Moscow. The intent of the Times editorial, or certainly its effect, can only be characterized as fearmongering and thus warmongering. Who, Cohen asks, has actually been undermining our democracy?