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. (You can find previous installments, now in their fifth year, at TheNation.com.)
As has every American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943, President Trump held a summit meeting with the Kremlin’s leader—Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16. As with every president since Eisenhower, the underlying and overriding purpose was to reduce the chances of war between the two nuclear superpowers. With the new US-Russian Cold War fraught with possibilities of hot war on several fronts, from Ukraine and the Baltic and Black Sea regions to Syria, Trump had a vital national-security duty to meet in the most august way with Putin. As with previous summits, details will come later, but the two leaders reached several important agreements: to revive the necessary US-Russian diplomatic process tattered by recent events; to restore decades-long negotiations intended to reduce and regulate nuclear weapons and thus avert a new nuclear arms race; to jointly try to prevent Iran, Russia’s Middle East partner, from threatening “Israeli security,” as Putin formulated it, on that nation’s borders; to jointly relieve the “humanitarian” crisis in Syria, whose suffering was caused substantially by the aid rendered by Washington and its allies to anti-Assad “freedom fighters” and then, as collateral damage, by Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian war, in September 2015, in order to destroy the murderous Islamic State, which was threatening to take Damascus; and to promote American-Russian “business ties,” a nebulous aspiration, considering US and European economic sanctions on Russia. (This was possibly a signal by Trump that he would not object, as President Obama had, if the European Union diminished or terminated its sanctions, as several of its members wish to do and as would be wise.)
Historically, in what were once “normal” Cold War times, these summit achievements would have been widely supported, even applauded, across the American political spectrum, as they were, for example, even under President Nixon. But not Trump’s, which elicited an unprecedented torrent of denunciation by the US mainstream bipartisan (primarily Democratic but far from only) political-media establishment. Idioms varied, from The Washington Post to MSNBC and CNN, but the once-stately New York Times, as is now its nearly daily practice, set the tone. Its front-page headline on July 17 blared: “Trump, At Putin’s Side, Questions U.S. Intelligence on 2016 Election.” Another headline below explained, “Disdain for U.S. Institutions, and Praise for an Adversary.” The “reporting” itself was fulsomely prosecutorial, scarcely mentioning what Trump and Putin had agreed to. Times columnists competed to indict the American president. An early entry, on July 16, before anything was actually known about the summit results, came from Charles M. Blow, whose headline thundered: “Trump, Treasonous Traitor.” The title of the entry by Michelle Goldberg, on July 17, was less alliterative: “Trump Shows the World He’s Putin’s Lackey.” Much as I predicted in the weeks prior to the summit, the same toxic message bellowed through the realm of mainstream print and cable “news”: Trump had betrayed and shamed America before the entire world. As has been the case for years regarding “the Russia threat”—created mainly by US policy itself—no dissenting voices were included in the “discussions,” apart perhaps from unqualified Trump spokespeople.