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.) Tonight’s focus is on two possible diplomatic breakthroughs, regarding Syria and Ukraine, that might end or substantially reduce the US-Russian proxy wars in those countries and thus the new Cold War itself. Cohen makes the following points:
§ Representing their respectively bosses, US and Russian presidents Obama and Putin, Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have announced a plan that, if implemented in the next seven days, would led to joint US-Russian war against the terrorist organizations ISIS and Al-Nusra in Syria. If so, the result could be an American-Russian military alliance that might end both the war in Syria and the dangerous escalation of the Cold War elsewhere.
§ The nearly simultaneous announcements of a unilateral cease-fire by Donbass rebels and of a willingness to move on home-rule legislation for Donbass by Ukrainian President Poroshenko, which he had previously refused, strongly suggested that this possible diplomatic breakthrough, in effect implementing the Minsk peace accords, was timed to coincide with the one regarding Syria. Given the vital role of Syria and Ukraine in the new Cold War, this two-front détente diplomacy represents a fateful opportunity, to be seized or lost as were previous ones.
§ Opposition to the Obama-Putin Syrian diplomacy is fierce, especially in Washington, openly expressed by Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and faithfully echoed in leading media, particularly The Washington Post, The New York Times, and MSNBC. The primary tactic is to further vilify Putin as an unworthy American partner in any regard—an approach driven by years of anti-Putin politics and now by the awareness that such cooperation in Syria would mark Russia’s full return as a great power on the world stage. Much now depends on whether or not Obama will fight for his own anti–Cold War diplomacy, as President Reagan did in the 1980s but as Obama repeatedly has failed to do. His foreign-policy legacy is at stake, as is international relations.
§ Opposition to a possible diplomatic breakthrough in Ukraine is also fierce and potentially more dangerous for Poroshenko. Heavily armed ultra-right Ukrainian forces have threatened to overthrow the president if he yields to European pressure to grant more home rule to Donbass. Under pressure from France, Germany, and possibly the White House, Poroshenko may now think he has no choice, or he may be playing for time, as some observers think. Either way, the Ukrainian conflict is now at a turning point, for better or worse, as is the one in Syria.
§ Unavoidably, these developments are spilling over into the American presidential campaign. However ironically, Donald Trump has, in his own way, like Obama, called for US-Russian military cooperation in Syria. Certainly, his position in this regard is considerably closer to that of President Obama (no matter what the latter unwisely continues to say publicly about Putin) than is that of Mrs. Clinton, who thus far has maintained her considerably more hawkish positions both on Russia and Syria.
§ A full debate on these fateful issues is long overdue in American politics, especially in a presidential electoral year. The mainstream media has all but banned it with neo-McCarthyite allegations against Trump and other pro-détente advocates. Will the mainstream media now play their obligatory role or continue to fuel the new Cold War?