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.) Cohen reports that a statement by Vice President Joe Biden on NBC’s Meet the Press on October 16, released on October 14, stunned Moscow (though it was scarcely noted in the American media). In response to a question about alleged Russian hacking of Democratic Party offices, in order to disrupt the presidential election and even throw it to Donald Trump, Biden said the Obama administration was preparing to send Putin a “message,” presumably in the form of some kind of cyber-attack. The Kremlin spokesman and several leading Russian commentators characterized Biden’s announcement as a virtual “American declaration of war on Russia” and as the first ever in history. Cohen observed that at this fraught stage in the new US-Russian Cold War, Biden’s statement, which clearly had been planned by the White House, could scarcely have been more dangerous or reckless—especially considering that there is no actual evidence or logic for the two allegations against Russia that seem to have prompted it.
Biden was reacting to official US charges of Kremlin hacking for political purposes. Cohen points out that in fact no actual evidence for this allegation has been produced, only suppositions or, as Glenn Greenwald has argued, “unproven assertions.” While the US political-media establishment has uncritically stated the allegation as fact, a MIT expert, professor Theodore Postol, has written that there is “no technical way that the US intelligence community could know who did the hacking if it was done by sophisticated nation-state actors.” Instead, Cohen suggests, the charges, leveled daily by the Clinton campaign as part of its McCarthyite Kremlin-baiting of Donald Trump, are mostly political, and he laments the way US intelligence officials have permitted themselves to be used for this unprofessional purpose. Moreover, it is far from clear that the Kremlin actually favors Trump, despite Clinton’s campaign claims.
But the context also includes, Cohen points out, the stunning reversal of the US political-media establishment’s narrative of the ongoing battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo. Only a few weeks ago, President Obama had agreed with Putin on a joint US-Russian military campaign against “terrorists” in Aleppo. That agreement collapsed primarily because of an attack by US warplanes on Syrian forces. Russia and its Syrian allies continued their air assault on east Aleppo now, according to Washington and the mainstream media, against anti-Assad “rebels.” Where, asks Cohen, have the jihad terrorists gone? They had been deleted from the US narrative, which now accused Russia of “war crimes” in Aleppo for the same military campaign in which Washington was to have been a full partner. Equally obscured here, Cohen adds, is that west Aleppo, largely controlled by Assad’s forces, is also being assaulted—by “rebels,” and children are dying there as well. And why is there no US government or media concern about the children who will almost certainly die in the US-backed campaign to recapture Mosul, in Iraq? Cohen thinks the stenographic American media has gone from the fog of cold war to falsification.
Cohen and Batchelor end by reflecting on how these developments will affect this week’s negotiations in Europe, not only regarding the Syrian crisis but the Ukrainian civil war as well. If nothing else, Cohen points out, they have already deepened divisions among European governments over future relations with Russia and thus with the United States.