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.
§ Facts and thus context were also missing from US media accounts of Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, which was initiated by her offer of “Kremlin dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But at that very time, June 2016, the Clinton campaign was already paying a former British intelligence officer to collect “Kremlin dirt” on Trump—the enterprise that became known as the dubious “dossier” and a foundational document in “Russiagate.” In addition, by then, a staffer at the Clinton campaign or the DNC was already collecting “black” information on Trump from officials of the US-backed Ukrainian government. Both acts of “opposition search,” however commonplace in American politics, may have been deplorable, but only Clinton’s was actually operationalized and productive. Nothing of the sort seems to have come of Trump Jr.’s meeting. None of this figured in mainstream accounts of the meeting, only “Russiagate” allegations.
§ Then there are the recent economic sanctions against Russia adopted by the US Senate. Totally uninformed, as are most of Congress’s contributions to the new Cold War, they would penalize European energy corporations, and perhaps American ones as well, involved in any vital (or profitable) undertakings that include Russian energy companies. Heavily dependent on Russian energy, European governments are furious over the Senate sanctions, which still require House and the president’s approval. This looming rift in the Trans-Atlantic Alliance has barely been reported in the US mainstream media, though it is a major story in Europe.
§ Ignorance or “Russiagate” spite has also obscured or undermined another potentially vital development. At Hamburg, Trump and Putin agreed that the two sides should work toward regulating cyber technology, including hacking, in international affairs. Certain that Putin had “hacked American democracy” in 2016, though still without any evidence whatsoever, the political-media establishment protested so vehemently that Trump seemed to withdraw from this agreement. But such an agreement is desperately needed, if only because cyber-hacking, with its capacity to penetrate strategic infrastructures, greatly increases the chance of nuclear war by mishap or intent. Here too orthodox media coverage of “Russiagate” has become a direct threat to American and international security of the most existential kind.
§ Finally, Cohen points out, the US media have ignored the possible significance of the decision of the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, to hold state visits both with Putin and then Trump. American commentary has focused on trivial explanations without considering that Macron may be adopting the aloof tradition of the founder of the Fifth Republic, then–President Charles de Gaulle—aloof from both Moscow and Washington, and even NATO, during the preceding Cold War in ways that diminished East-West confrontations. If so, Macron may hope to replace German Chancellor Merkel as Europe’s leader in the new Cold War. Cohen admits this remains speculation, but he argue that, if true, it is a positive development, considering Merkel’s failure as a conciliator and the long history of warm French-Russian relations. Europe is in political flux and, Cohen adds, a new emerging role for France may be part of the changes that lie ahead. This too would not fit the US media’s orthodox narrative.