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.) For years, Cohen has pointed to the gradual collapse of what Washington calls “the post–Cold War world order,” from which Russia was excluded by the expansion of NATO, including the (in effect) US-led European Union, whose multiple crises—from economic hardships and the refugee crisis to the Ukrainian civil war—were abetted by policies favored by bipartisan Washington. Brexit is the most recent manifestation of this ongoing historic process.
Instead of reconsidering its policies, Cohen argues, the US political-media establishment is blaming Putin for “ruthlessly playing a weak hand” (New York Times editorial, June 26) and “imbecilic” British voters (columnist Roger Cohen, Times, June 28). In fact, Putin took a determinedly neutral stand on Brexit throughout, partly because Moscow, unlike Washington, is hesitant to meddle in elections in other distant countries, but also because the Kremlin was—and remains—unsure as to whether Brexit might be on balance a “plus or minus” for Russia. Judging by the debate still under way in Russian media, Moscow worries it will be a “minus” due to adverse economic consequences for Russia. In addition, the Kremlin worries that with the UK soon to be outside the EU, the United States and its British partner will now increase NATO “aggression” against Russia, as indeed a Washington Post editorial urged (June 27). Therefore, contrary to the legion of American cold warriors, there is no “celebration in the Kremlin,” only wait-and-see concern.
The denigration of British voters, who mostly voted their working- and lower-middle-class economic and social interests, as they saw them, is perhaps even more shameful, because it reveals elite attitudes toward democracy and “imbecile” citizens. Not surprisingly, the UK establishment, with US encouragement, is desperately seeking a way to reverse the Brexit referendum, much as, Cohen points out, the Republican establishment is trying to deprive Donald Trump of the presidential nomination he won democratically in the primaries. Cohen adds that this is not the first time elites have shown their contempt for democratic process. Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, Soviet elites in pursuit of state property disregarded a national referendum that by a much larger majority than in the Brexit case favored preserving the Soviet Union.
Cohen also points to an irony. During the week that Brexit furthered the disintegration of the EU, Putin was further integrating Russia’s economy and security with China and with the multinational Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which may soon include India and Pakistan. Considering the size of those economies and of their populace, who, Cohen asks, is “isolated”—Putin or the American president who announced his determination “to isolate” him?
Considering the largely negative US role in world affairs since the end of the Soviet Union, not the least of which its new Cold War against Russia, Cohen suggests it may be time for an American Exit (Amexit) from Washington’s ceaseless quest for international hegemony.