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 argues that the mainstream (or Beltway) media narrative of the new Cold War, and of “Russiagate,” which has become a constituent part of US-Russian relations in American politics, excludes important elements of events that do not conform to the orthodox view that Russian President Putin is solely to blame for the new Cold War and, with his alleged accomplice President Trump, for “Russiagate.” Typically, the narrative is generated by stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post, often based on anonymous sources, and immediately amplified for hours, even days, on CNN and MSNBC. (The Times’s credo, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” seems to have become, in this regard, “All the News That Fits.”) Informed alternative views are not welcome. (For such alternative views and reporting, see the website of the American Committee for East-West Accord, eastwestaccord.com.)
Cohen discusses several instances of such selective reporting and commentary:
§ News that Trump and Putin had met privately after their formal “summit” meeting in Hamburg earlier in July was treated as a sinister development on the part of one or both leaders. Omitted was the history of previous summit meetings. For example, Reagan and Gorbachev met alone with their translators in February 1986, when they agreed that the abolition of nuclear weapons was a desirable goal. That did not happen, but the following year they became the first and only leaders to abolish an entire category of those weapons. Moreover, advisers of American, Soviet, and post-Soviet leaders frequently thought it wise to arrange some “private time” for their bosses so they could develop a political comfort level for the hard détente diplomacy that lay ahead.
§ The history and politics of sanctions, now in the news, is also omitted. When it turned out that a Russian lawyer actually wanted to speak to Donald Trump Jr. about “orphans,” this was derided as laughable. But it is a serious issue both in Russia and in the United States. In 2012, Putin signed a legislative bill banning all subsequent American adoptions of Russian orphans, thousands of whom had been adopted by American families since the 1990s. This was said to have been Putin’s retaliation for the US Congress’s Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russian “human rights violators.” Several aspects of this saga are rarely, if ever, reported in the US mainstream media. One is that the account of William Browder, a onetime American financial operator in Russia who spearheaded the US legislation, has been seriously challenged. Another is that Putin was already, prior to the Magnitsky Act, under considerable Russian public and elite pressure to end American adoptions because of the deaths of several former Russian orphans in the United States. Yet another is the pain of more than 40 American families who had virtually completed the formal adoption process when the ban was enacted, leaving their children stranded in Russia. Still more, there is the possibility, almost certainly under discussion, that Putin might enable at least these Russian children to come to their would-be American families as a détente concession to Trump. Meanwhile, and similarly unreported, Putin badly needs a “sanctions” concession from Trump. In December 2016, on his way out of the White House, President Obama seized two Russian diplomatic compounds in the United States, both Russian private property, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats as intelligence agents. Putin has yet to retaliate tit for tat, as has long been traditional in such matters, by seizing American facilities in Moscow and expelling an equal number of US diplomats. Here too Putin is under daily Russian public and elite pressure—lest he look “soft”—to retaliate. “Russiagate,” however, may make it politically impossible for Trump to reverse Obama’s sanctions in this regard, even though it would avoid yet another crisis-moment in US-Russian relations and would abet the détente he seems to want.