Friday, November 17, 2017

Stephen Cohen on Trump and Putin

Discussions of Trump administration Russia policy have been so completely clouded over that it is nearly impossible to make any sense of what is going on. Those who hate Trump hate Trump. They see nothing but their hatred. Everyone else is so defensive that they feel a need to balance their judgments, so as not to appear to be pro-Trump.

As I have sometimes noted on this blog, the most sane and sensible voice on the Trump administration Russia policy has been Stephen Cohen, writing in The Nation. Cohen is an expert on Russian history and politics. He has on occasion presented his views on Tucker Carlson’s show. He is well informed, intelligent and reasonable.

We ought to pay him more attention. In a recent Nation column John Bachelor summarizes the central points that Cohen made in an extended conversation, not only on Russian policy but on Trump’s recent encounter with Vladimir Putin in Vietnam.

Bachelor reports:

Cohen argues that America is now in unprecedented danger due to two related crises. A new and more dangerous Cold War with Russia that is fraught with the real possibility of hot war between the two nuclear superpowers on several fronts, including Syria. And the worst crisis of the American presidency in modern times, which threatens to paralyze the president’s ability to deal diplomatically with Moscow. (To those who recall Watergate, Cohen points out that unlike Trump, President Nixon was never accused of “collusion with the Kremlin” or faced reckless, and preposterous, allegations that the Kremlin had abetted his election by an “attack on American democracy.”)

While in Vietnam Trump met with Putin. Cohen’s analysis deviates sharply from that of most other commentators:

Trump met several times, informally and briefly, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Presumably dissuaded or prevented by some of his own top advisers from having a formal, lengthy meeting, Trump was nonetheless prepared. He and Putin issued a joint statement for cooperation in Syria, where the prospects of a US-Russian war had been mounting. And, both leaders later said, they had serious talks about cooperating on the crises in North Korea and Ukraine.

Cohen believes that Trump’s statements were positive and constructive. He agrees that the former national security officials who denounced Trump are “political hacks”:

He reiterated his longstanding position that “having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing—not a good thing—it would be a great thing.” To this Cohen adds, it would be an essential thing for the sake of US national security on many vital issues and in many areas of the world, and should be the first foreign policy principle of both political parties. Trump then turned to “Russiagate,”saying that Putin had again denied any personal involvement and that in this Putin seemed sincere. Trump quickly added that three of President Obama’s top intelligence directors—the CIA’s John Brennan, Office of National Intelligence’s James Clapper, and the FBI’s James Comey—were “political hacks,” clearly implying that their declared role in “Russiagate” had been and remains less than sincere. He also suggested that Russia had been too “heavily sanctioned” to be the national security partner America needs, a point Cohen reminded listeners he himself had made many times.

And Cohen adds Sen. John McCain to the list. In his eyes they have misunderstood the geopolitical stakes and are willing to undermine the relationship between America and Russia if they can use Russiagate to destroy the Trump administration:

The immediate reaction of liberal and progressive “Russiagate” adherents was, Cohen continued, lamentably predictable, as was that of their Cold War allies Brennan, Clapper, and Senator John McCain, who never saw a prospect of war with Russia he didn’t want to fight. Racing to their eager media outlets, they denounced Trump’s necessary diplomacy with Putin as “unconscionable.” New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow accused the president of “a betrayal of American trust and interests that is almost treasonous.” He quickly deleted “almost,” declaring Trump’s presidency to be “a Russian project” and Trump himself “Putin’s dupe.” (In full retro Cold War mode, Blow also characterized the US president as Putin’s “new comrade,” apparently unaware that both leaders are known to be anti-Communists.) Blow may be among the least informed and most hyperbolic of national columnists on these matters, but from his regular perch at the Times and on CNN, he speaks to and for many influential Democrats, including self-professed progressives.

Cohen concludes that the promoters of the Russiagate narrative are compromising national security. It’s an extremely serious charge, made more surprising by the fact that it is coming from someone who is on the political left:

The promoters of “Russiagate” seem to have no concern for America’s actual national security interests and indeed, in this regard, are actively undermining those interests. To the extent that “Russiagate” and the crippling of Trump as a foreign policy president is becoming a major part of the Democratic Party’s national electoral platform, can the party really be trusted to lead the nation?... 

Putin’s Russia is not America’s enemy but a national security partner our nation vitally needs. The president made this clear again following the scurrilous attacks on his negotiations with Putin: “When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” ... 

We are, Cohen concludes, clearly at a fateful crossroads in US-Russian relations and in the history of the American presidency as an institution. The crux should be American national security in the fullest domestic and international respects, not whether we are Trump supporters or members of the “Resistance.” Reckless denunciations make the two crises worse. The only way out is non-partisan respect for verified facts, logic, and rational civil discourse, which “Russiagate” seems to have all but vaporized, even in once exalted places.

Here a progressive thinker declares that the proponents of the Russiagate narrative have ignored facts, logic, and rational discourse. Credit to Stephen Cohen for intellectual integrity.


trigger warning said...

Speaking for myself, I would be delighted to see a "reset" with Russia. Perhaps, this time, we can spell it correctly (I was astonished that the World's Smartest and Most Qualified Womyn, with the vast resources of the State Department's language staff at her beck and call, managed to mistranslate a common word at an internationally televised event).

Sam L. said...

Blow writes for the NYT, which despises Trump. I trust neither.