Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
For more than a decade, Cohen has been arguing that US policy was leading to a new Cold War with Russia and that if it ensued, it would be more dangerous than was the preceding 40-year US-Soviet Cold War. By any criteria, a new (or renewed) Cold War is now upon us, and events last week illustrated its exceptional dangers. As part of a sanctions process, the current stage begun unwisely by President Obama in December 2016, the Trump administration seized several Russian diplomatic properties in the United States. What happened at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco seems to have been without precedent. Violating international and bilateral treaties, and general norms of diplomatic immunity, US security agents entered and searched the building. Russian President Putin is under strong pressure at home to respond “appropriately.” If he does so, the unthinkable will become possible: a full rupture of diplomatic relations between the world’s two superpowers. (Cohen recalls that Washington refused to formally recognize Soviet Russia for 15 years, until President Franklin Roosevelt did so in 1933.)
At the center of this near abolition of US diplomacy toward Russia today is the allegation—set out in a so-called Intelligence Community Assessment in January 2017—that during the American presidential campaign of 2016 Putin ordered a hacking of the Democratic National Committee in order to make public e-mails that would undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and benefit that of Donald Trump. Though still orthodoxy in the US political-media establishment, that “assessment” has been seriously discredited, partly due to the lack of any credible forensic evidence. Indeed, some technical experts think the theft of the DNC e-mails was not a remote cyber hack but an inside leak. (Here Cohen refers to valuable airing of rival technical opinions posted at TheNation.com on September 1, which the mainstream media has all but ignored.)
But a second allegation against Putin grew out of the January 2017 Intel “assessment”: that this “attack on American democracy,” said to be “a political Pearl Harbor,” was only part of his international campaign to “destabilize democracy” everywhere, including in Europe’s NATO countries. Despite German and French official reports that the Kremlin played no such malign role in their elections, American journalists and politicians, including liberals and progressive, continue to insist that Putin is waging “war” against established Western democracies, seeking to “destabilize” them. They do so either to abet “The Resistance Against Trump” or out of some ideological Russophobia or a need to demonize Putin.