Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen points out that he has been warning against a new Cold War since the early 2000s, as reflected in the subtitle of his 2009 book Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and in his earlier publications. He and Batchelor have been discussing the new Cold War almost weekly since 2014. For years, leading US policy-makers, media commentators, and scholars have denied its existence, even its possibility, citing Russia’s purported weakness; the absence of “ideological conflict”; the non-global nature of conflicts that had unfolded since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991; the benign nature of US policy toward Russia; etc. In truth, these Cold War deniers were either uninformed, myopic, or unwilling to acknowledge their own complicity in the squandered opportunity for a post-Soviet peace, even an American-Russian strategic partnership. Now the deniers’ most prestigious and influential foreign policy organization, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), has issued an official report fully acknowledging, even eagerly declaring, that “The United States is currently in a second Cold War with Russia.”
The importance of the CFR, Cohen emphasizes, is not easily exaggerated. As its activities, history, self-proclamations, and Wikipedia entry make clear, it is not an ordinary “think tank.” Founded nearly a century ago, headquartered lavishly in New York City with a branch in Washington, with almost 5,000 current carefully selected members and considerable annual revenue, its aura, exceedingly influential journal Foreign Affairs, and elite members have long made the CFR America’s single most important non-governmental foreign-policy organization—certainly for politicians, business executives, media leaders, academics, and others involved in the shaping of US foreign policy. Almost all of them aspire to CFR membership or its imprimatur in one way or another. (Joseph Biden, for example, already bidding for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, recently published an article in Foreign Affairs, as do many presidential candidates.) For decades, the CFR’s primary functional role has been, through its journal, website, featured events, and multiple weekly membership sessions, to define the accepted, legitimate, orthodox parameters of discussion about US foreign policy and related issues. Regarding Russia, even the Soviet Union, the CFR, as a professed bipartisan, independent, centrist organization, generally adhered to this role for many years, though not badly. (Cohen himself became a member in the 1970s.) It featured varying, even conflicting, expertise and opinions about the 40-year Cold War and thereby fostered genuine intellectual and policy debate. This more ecumenical, pluralist orientation largely ended, however, more than a decade ago, when opinions incompatible with Washington’s growing “group think” about Russia were increasingly excluded, with very few exceptions. The CFR—much like Congress and the mainstream media—became a bastion of the new Cold War, though without acknowledging it.