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). This installment comes in the immediate aftermath of allegations that the Kremlin possesses compromising materials, from sexual to financial, that would enable it to “blackmail” President-elect Trump. The leaked documents were first bannered by CNN in the early evening of January 10 and quickly followed by an array of press stories and other TV reports. The allegedly incriminating documents were published in full by BuzzFeed—all raising serious questions about the sub-tabloid reporting of admittedly “unsubstantiated,” even “unverifiable,” allegations. Cohen raises the following issues, which he and Batchelor discuss:
§ Two conflicting interpretations are suggested, says Cohen. Either Trump is about to become a potentially seditious American president. Or powerful US forces are trying to destroy his presidency before it begins, perhaps even prevent him from taking office. Even if the allegations are eventually regarded as untrue, they may permanently slur and thus cripple Trump as a foreign-policy president, especially in trying to diminish the exceedingly dangerous new Cold War with Russia, which would constitute a grave threat to US national security—particularly in an existential nuclear confrontation like the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. If anti-Trump American forces are behind untrue allegations of this magnitude, those forces are the primary enemies of US national security and should be investigated fully and publicly.
§ The timing of the “revelations,” Cohen adds, is suspicious. They come on the heels of the “Intelligence Community’s” utterly bogus “Report” that Russian President Putin directed a campaign, including hacking of the Democratic National Committee, intended to discredit Mrs. Clinton and put Trump in the White House. Though anti-Trump mainstream media also bannered this story, it had less impact than evidently intended, perhaps because, as even the determinedly anti-Trump, anti-Putin New York Times “analysis” concluded (Scott Shane, January 7) the much awaited, three-intelligence-agencies report was “missing…hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims”—because of “the absence of any proof.” Leaking allegations by a private former British intelligence agent—his own report seemingly culled from long circulating Russian, American, and NATO media scuttlebutt—may have been a desperate effort to “stop Trump.”
§ Cohen points out that even before the latest “revelation” there has been an unprecedented media campaign to defame Trump as a would-be traitor in his relations with Russia. On the night of January 4, a CNN paid contributor characterized the next president as a Russian “fifth columnist”—no one on the panel dissented or demurred. Subsequently, Washington Post columnists warned that Trump might have committed “treason” as president or replicate with Putin the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Another set out the articles of his impeachment even before his inauguration. Here, too, nothing so poisonous, or potentially detrimental to national security, or to the presidency itself, has occurred in modern American history.
§ Throughout, the anti-Trump American media has warned him and the public against being “skeptical” of the quality and motives of US intelligence. Given the long history of the CIA’s misleading American presidents into disastrous wars, from the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam to Iraq and Libya, Cohen wonders why anyone would think this is sound advice. US national security requires a president who is able to evaluate critically intelligence reports or have people around him who can do so. Whether Trump and his appointees are such people is a separate question.
§ All this comes on the eve of Rex Tillerson’s hearings for confirmation as secretary of state, one such appointee. Few doubt that Tillerson was a successful CEO of the global Exxon-Mobile Corporation, though many charge that in doing so he became “a friend of Putin.” Cohen counters that the United States does not need a friend in the Kremlin but a national-security partner whose national interests are sufficiently mutual for sustained cooperation—détente instead of Cold War. In this regard, Tillerson, whose success was based on reconciling national interests, would appear to be well qualified, though he too is defamed for suggesting any kind of cooperation with Moscow, no matter the benefits to US national security.
§ Finally, Batchelor asks what Putin may think about this political uproar in the United States. Cohen replies that Putin’s leadership motives are usually wrongly surmised solely from the fact that he is “a former KGB agent,” which appears to be his middle name in most US media coverage. On the other hand, Cohen points out, that biographical circumstance does enable Russia’s leader to analyze intelligence reports and understand the conflicting politics inside large national intelligence agencies. Putin’s reaction may have been shock over the embarrassing paucity of the “report” produced by the three leading American intelligence agencies and a reconsideration of his long-proposed cooperation between Russian and US intelligence in the fight against international terrorism. Putin might now conclude, they need us more than we do them.
Batchelor and Cohen agree, in regard to the latest “revelations” against Trump, that anything is possible. But if US policy and the functioning of the American presidency itself are dependent on facts, unless and until some are actually presented, we are in a Cold War much more dangerous than was the preceding one and our Republic has entered dark times at home as well.