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.) The focus of this discussion is the growing threat of international terrorism, from the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere to American homeland security.
Cohen makes three large points, which he and Batchelor then discuss. First, the Obama administration and its generals have repeatedly stated that Russia under Vladimir Putin is the “number-one existential threat” in the world today. This is a virtually impeachable misconception of national security. Today’s several international terrorist organizations are a new phenomenon, not loners with a gun or a bomb, but a highly organized menace with state-like funding, armies, technology, and communications—and currently in search of radioactive materials to enrich their already highly destructive acts, which could make areas they strike uninhabitable for many years. Second, Russia—because of its decades fighting terrorism at home and abroad and its geopolitical location in Europe and in the Islamic world—has special experience, intelligence, and other assets that Washington and its current allies lack. (Cohen recalls, as an example, that Moscow informed Washington about the Boston bombers months before they struck, but the warning was disregarded.) Third, Washington has steadfastly excluded a willing Russia from its own ineffectual “war against terrorism,” refusing meaningful cooperation with Moscow. For their part, mainstream media “analyses” about what to do, after each new terrorist act, rarely if ever even mentions a role for Russia. The most compelling example is the considerable damage inflicted on the Islamic State in Syria by Putin’s air campaign allied with Syrian Army and Iranian “boots on the ground”—an achievement denigrated, when noted at all, by the US political-media establishment, partly because of its Cold War against Russia, reflected in NATO’s current and provocative build-up on Russia’s Western borders, and to its self-defeating obsession with overthrowing Syrian President Assad.
Cohen then reports what may be a positive development. According to sources close to Obama, though not in the administration, the president now wants a rapprochement with Russia before leaving office, as part of his presidential legacy, beginning in Syria. Related reports were published by The Washington Post, but only to express strong opposition, led, it seems, by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, to any kind of détente with Putin. American Cold Warriors, Cohen adds, understand that cooperation in Syria could spread to resolving the Ukrainian crisis and other US-Russian conflicts—that is, to ending or at least winding down the new Cold War. Meanwhile, Cohen also reports, Putin has recently made several public statements expressing his readiness for large-scale cooperation with Obama—“We do not hold grudges,” he remarked—and in particular for a “broad anti-terrorism front.”
On the other hand, says Cohen, his sources also report that in this regard Obama is virtually alone in high-level Washington circles, including among his own White House security advisers. Cohen ends by reflecting on a possible irony. Obama, who once vowed to “isolate” Putin—probably the world’s busiest international statesman in recent months—may now find himself isolated in his own Administration.