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. This installment is posted a few days later than usual because of the Thanksgiving holiday.)
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration embraced post-Soviet Russia as America’s “strategic partner and friend.” Twenty years later, the US policy establishment, from liberals to conservatives, insists that Russia under Vladimir Putin is the number-one threat to American national security. The primary explanation for this transformed perception, which began under President George W. Bush, became more insistent during the Obama administration, and is now a virtual bipartisan axiom, lies in Washington, not in Moscow. But whatever the full explanation, it is gravely endangering US national security by diminishing real threats and preventing the partnership with Russia needed to cope with them.
Pointing out that threats can be real, uninformed misperceptions, or manufactured by vested interests, Cohen argues that Russia is not even among the top five threats to the United States today. He lists the five he sees and explains why.
1. Russiagate. Since the late 1940s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union acquired atomic and then nuclear weapons, the first existential duty of an American president has been to avoid the possibility of war with Russia, a conflagration that could result in the end of modern civilization. Every American president has been politically empowered to discharge that duty, even during the most perilous crises, until now. The still unverified but ever-more-persistent allegations that President Trump has somehow been compromised by the Kremlin and may even be its agent are the number-one threat to America because they hinder, if not cripple, his ability to carry out that existential duty. Most recently, for example, his necessary negotiations with Putin to reduce US-Russian conflicts in Syria, and instead to cooperate in that country, were treated as “treasonous”—not by a successor publication of the John Birch Society but in the pages of The New York Times and elsewhere in the mainstream media. Thus, in a way somewhat less crude but no less uninformed or detrimental to US security interests, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin accused Trump of “playing into Russia’s hands on Syria.” Still more, the foundational allegation of Russiagate is that “we were attacked by Russia” during the 2016 presidential election, an act likened to a “political Pearl Harbor.” What could be more reckless than to insist that we are already at war with the other nuclear superpower? Lest there is any doubt about the gravity of the real national-security threat represented by Russiagate, imagine President John F. Kennedy so burdened by such allegations during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. It is unlikely he could have negotiated its peaceful resolution as he did. And understand also that the new Cold War is fraught with such potential crises from the Baltic region and Ukraine to Syria.