A Voice Of Reason Speaks Regarding “The New Cold War”
Last week was interesting for me. I spent about half my time getting up to speed with the latest happenings in the crypto-coin world, and got really excited about a lot of what I saw. In fact, this was the first time I became totally consumed by the space in several years, going back to when I first investigated and started becoming involved with Bitcoin.
What really caught my attention is the booming ICO market, and while it’ll invariably produce its fair share of total scams, I find it nonetheless captivating. I’m attracted to its dynamic wild west spirit, as well as its capacity to function as an alternative funding mechanism for startup projects utilizing a wider participatory structure consisting of anyone with a bit of crypto currency and a high-risk tolerance. It’s an entirely new experimental ecosystem funded by crypto currencies (mostly ethereum, but also bitcoin). It’s pretty mesmerizing (for more see: A New Financial System is Being Born).
Spending so much time on this esoteric world kept me away from following U.S. politics as closely as I typically do, which was a great thing.
The level of discourse from nearly all sides of the political spectrum has turned so toxic, divisive, hysterical and counterproductive, leaving that environment for several days made me feel great, as if I had taken a vacation from idiot island. As such, today I once again decided to spend some time reading up on the crypto-coin space and getting further up to speed on ICOs and how they work. That said, I realize I still need to pay attention to the crazy happenings in the wider world around me, so I thought I’d share an interview with a rarity in today’s political discourse, a voice of reason.
What follows are excerpts from a Slate interview with Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton:
Stephen F. Cohen has long been one of the leading scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union. He wrote a biography of the Bolshevik revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin and is a contributing editor at the Nation, which his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, edits and publishes. In recent years, Cohen has emerged as a more ideologically dexterous figure, ripping those he thinks are pursuing a “new Cold War” with Russia and calling for President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to form “an alliance against international terrorism.” Cohen has gone so far as to describe the investigations into the Trump campaign and Russia “the No. 1 threat to the United States today.”
Cohen has been criticized by many people, myself included, for his defenses of Putin. (He once said the Ukraine crisis had been “imposed on [Putin] and he had no choice but to react.”) He scolded President Barack Obama for sending retired gay athletes to Sochi and recently went on Fox News to speak up for Trump’s war against leakers.
I spoke by phone with Cohen, who is also a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton and the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why Cohen won’t concede that the Democratic National Committee was hacked, whether it’s fair to call Putin a murderer, and why we may be entering an era much more dangerous than the Cold War.
I heard you recently on Fox News. You said that the “assault” on President Trump “was the No. 1 threat to the United States today.” What did you mean by that?
Threat. OK. Threat. That’s a good word. We’re in a moment when we need an American president and a Kremlin leader to act at the highest level of statesmanship. Whether they meet in summit or not is not of great importance, but we need intense negotiations to tamp down this new Cold War, particularly in Syria, but not only. Trump is being crippled by these charges, for which I can find no facts whatsoever.
Wait, which charges are we talking about?
That he is somehow in the thrall or complicity or control, under the influence of the Kremlin.
I think it would help if he would admit what his own intelligence agencies are telling him, that Russia played some role in …
No, I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that at all, not for one minute.
People in the Trump administration admit this too.
Well they’re not the brightest lights.
And the president is?
No. You didn’t ask me that. You asked me, you said, some of the president’s people. You’re referring to that intel report of January, correct? The one that was produced that said Putin directed the attack on the DNC?
I was referring to that and many news accounts that Russia was behind the hacking, yes.
The news accounts are of no value to us. I mean you and I both know …
No value? None?
No. No value. Not on face value. Just because the New York Times says that I don’t know, Carter Page or [Paul] Manafort or [Michael] Flynn did something wrong, I don’t accept that. I need to see the evidence.
OK, let’s just go back to what you were saying about Trump being hamstrung.
You need Trump because he’s in the White House. I didn’t put him there. I didn’t vote for him. Putin’s in the Kremlin. I didn’t put him in the Kremlin either, but we have what we have, and these guys must have a serious dialog about tamping down these cold wars, which means cooperating on various fronts. The obvious one—and they already are secretly, but it’s getting torpedoed—is Syria.
So we come now with this so-called Russiagate. You know what that means. It’s our shorthand, right? And Trump, even if he was the most wonderfully qualified president, he is utterly crippled in his ability to do diplomacy with the Kremlin. So let me give you the counterfactual example.
Imagine that Kennedy had been accused of somehow being, they used to accuse him of being an agent of the Vatican, but let’s say he had been accused widely of being an agent of the Kremlin. The only way he could have ended the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been to prove his loyalty by going to nuclear war with Russia. That’s the situation we’re in today. I mean Trump is not free to take wise advice and use whatever smarts he has to negotiate down this new and dangerous Cold War, so this assault on Trump, for which as yet there are zero facts, has become a grave threat to American national security. That’s what I meant. That’s what I believe.
To use your Kennedy example, there was no evidence that Kennedy was an agent of either the Vatican or the Kremlin—
No, but Isaac you’re not old enough to remember, but during the campaign, because he was the first Catholic, they all went on about he’s an agent of the Vatican.
I know that. I’m old enough to have read “news accounts” of it. Anyway, there was a hacking of the DNC and—
Wait actually no, Isaac stop. Stop. Now, I mean we don’t know that for a fact.
That there was a hacking of the DNC?
Yeah we do not know that for a fact.
What do we think happened?
So you’re really going to argue with me that the DNC wasn’t hacked?
I’m saying I don’t know that to be the case.
I will refer you to an alternative report and you can decide yourself.
Can we agree on this much at least: that Trump said there was a hack, refused to say who he thought did it, encouraged the hackers to keep doing it, at the same time that he was getting intelligence reports that it was the Russians, and that he continued to talk very positively about Putin after he was told this?
You’ve given me too many facts to process, but if Trump said he knew it was a hack, he was not fully informed. We just don’t know it for a fact, Isaac.
So we don’t have any forensic evidence that there was a hack. There might have been. If there was a hack, we have no evidence it was the Russians, and we have an alternative explanation that it was actually a leak, that somebody inside did a Snowden, just stuck a thumb drive in and walked out with this stuff. We don’t know. And when you don’t know, you don’t go to war.
Let’s turn to Putin and America. Why do you think we have entered a new Cold War?
My view is that this Cold War is even more dangerous. As we talk today, and this was not the case in the preceding Cold War, there are three new fronts that are fraught with hot war. You know them as well as I do. The NATO military build-up is going on in the Baltic regions, particularly in the three small Baltic countries, Poland, and if we include missile defense, Romania. That’s right on Russia’s border, and in Ukraine. You know that story. That’s a proxy civil war right on Russia’s border, and then of course in Syria, where American and Russian aircraft and Syrian aircraft are flying over the same airspace.
And there is the utter demonization of Putin in this country. It is just beyond anything that the American political elite ever said about Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and the rest. If you demonize the other side, it makes negotiating harder.
In 2017, being a voice of reason has become a revolutionary act.