Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and radio-show host John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US–Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, can be found here.)
Cohen recalls that in 2014, when the Ukrainian crisis erupted, he warned that the new Cold War might be more dangerous than was its 40-year predecessor for several reasons. The political epicenter of this Cold War was on Russia’s borders, first in Ukraine, then in the Baltic region, whereas previously it had been in far-away Berlin. Rules of mutual conduct, which had developed after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, were now missing. And the virulent demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin was a toxic element unlike any personal anathematizing of Soviet leaders, certainly after Stalin.
Cohen did not then foresee, however, the development of an exceedingly dangerous factor largely absent during the preceding Cold War: orthodox US narratives, promoted uncritically by the mainstream media, whose “facts” remain questionable but which are directly influencing Washington policy-making in ways that risk war with Russia. Cohen and Batchelor discuss four of these, which are mostly allegations, not actual evidence:
—That Putin intervened in the 2016 American presidential election in ways that helped put President Trump in the White House, and that Trump’s “associates,” perhaps the president himself, “colluded” with the Kremlin in this “hijacking of American democracy.” Cohen points out there is as yet no forensic evidence that the Kremlin stole and disseminated Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, no reason to assume that American voters were zombie-like citizens animated by Russian “propaganda,” and no grounds to conclude that Trump associates who had business dealings with Russians—as did thousands of Americans—colluded with them in any subversive ways. Nonetheless, this narrative, which declares “Putin’s intervention” to have been an “act of war,” has generated a McCarthyite warfare atmosphere in Washington that makes any conflict-resolution diplomacy exceedingly difficult, not to mention the US-Russian détente promised by Trump during the presidential campaign.
—Still worse, the narrative of Putin having hijacked the American election is now being extended to upcoming elections in allied European countries, for which there is also no compelling evidence. (German intelligence undertook a special investigation of such allegations in that country and found nothing out of the ordinary.) A long and superficially detailed front-page New York Times story [April 18], for example, claimed that Russia, attempting to repeat its subversive success in the United States, is busy promoting its favored candidate in the French presidential election and undermining her opponents. Only buried at the end of story, however, can readers find a statement by a French specialist that this narrative is based on “wild conjecture.” Nonetheless, US media accounts of “Putin’s threat to Europe” seem even more alarming than was the Soviet threat during the preceding Cold War.