"On Contact with Stephen F Cohen"
War with Russia?
by Chris Hedges, On Contact, RT.com (May 26, 2019)
Chris Hedges: "Welcome to On Contact. Today we discuss the New Cold War with Russia, with professor Stephen Cohen."
[0:22] Stephen F Cohen: "You have to think logically. Was this begun somewhere high up in America by people who didn't want a pro-detente president, and thought that Trump -- however inept he might be, and however small it seemed at the time that he could win -- really didn't like this talk of co-operation with Russia, and so set into motion those things that we call Russia-gate today>."
Chris Hedges: "Despite the Mueller report's determination that Donald Trump and his campaign did not collude with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, the New Cold War with Moscow shows little signt of abating. This New Cold War, enthusiastically embraced by the leaders of the two major political parties and championed by the press, have roots that precede the Trump campaign. It is used to justify the expansion of NATO to Russia's borders, a move that has made billions in profits for US arms manufacturers. It is used to demonize domestic critics and alternative media outlets at home as agents of a foreign power, and used to paper over the betrayal by the Democratic party of the American working class to further corporate power. It is also a trope employed to justify the curtailment of civil liberties, and interventions overseas, including countries such as Syria and Venezuela."
[1:41] "This New Cold War between the World's two largest nuclear powers is not only foolish, but very dangerous."
[some introductory remarks about Stephen F Cohen's academic and publishing background]
[2:19] Chris Hedges: "In your book you lay out demonization of Russia and Putin that go back a ways, long before Trump ever appeared on the political scene. Lay the groudwork for us . . ."
[2:33] Stephen F Cohen: "Well, if we talk about the demonization of Putin, you're right, and it's important to remember, this began long before Trump and Russia-gate. And you have to ask yourself, why was it that Washington had no problem doing productive diplomacy with Soviet communist leaders? I mean, remember Nixon and Brezhnev? It was a love fest. They went hunting together and all this. And yet, along comes a post-Soviet leader, Putin, who is not only not a communist, but an anti-communist, a professed anti-communist. And Washington has been hating on him ever since about 2003-2004. So it requires some explanation, why we like communist leaders of Russia better than we like Russia's anti-communist leader. It's a kind of riddle, isn't it? A puzzle."
[3:35] Chris Hedges: "Well, you go back to the Clinton administration and you say that the Clinton administration essentially viewed Putin and Moscow as weak, and of course, in 1996 they were pushing Yeltsin, overtly, as the candidate. And there's that story of $10 billion IMF loan, who knows? I've heard estimates of $1.5 billion going to the Yeltsin campaign. But in your book, you argue that there was a kind of belittle-ing, even humiliation of Russia because they thought, with the end of the Cold War, we are the big superpower and we can do anything we want."
[4:14] Stephen F Cohen: "I think you're right, if you're trying to explain how the Washinston establishment has dealt with Putin in a hateful, demonizing way, you have to go back to the 1990s before Putin. So the first post-Soviet leader is Boris Yeltsin. And Clinton is President. And they have this kind of fake, pseudo partnership and friendship, where, essentially, the Clinton administration took advantage of the fact that Russia was in collapse. It had almost lost its sovereignty."
[4:44] Chris Hedges: "Well, the statsistics in the book are quite, in terms of the economic devastation. It really was the evisceration of the middle class. It was economically catastrophic."
Stephen F Cohen: "Well, I lived there a good deal in the '90s and we saw it. I mean the middle class people lost their professions. Elderly people lost their pensions. I think it's correct to say that industrial production fell more in the 1990's than it did during our own Great Depression. It was the worst economic and social depression ever in peacetime. It was a catastrophe for Russia."
[5:23] Chris Hedges: "And Yeltsin mismanageed the economy. He was selling off to the oligarchs state enterprises."
Stephen F Cohen: "Yeah, but I mean: Yeltsin turned out to be a very bad ruler for Russia. And when he left, he was forced out. He was sick. He was quasi alcoholic. His popular ratings in Russia were two or three percent. Meanwhile Washington continued to say that he was a combination of Abraham Lincoln . . ."
Chris Hedges: "Well, you're quoting the press. It doesn't matter what he does, including surrounding the parliament with tanks. He's opening up the society. He's a reformer."
[5:57] Stephen F Cohen: "They called it a 'transition to democracy.' But here's the thing. If we want to know why they had -- not initially because you remember Putin came to this country and he went to Texas, he had a barbeque with Bush the 2nd, Bush said he looked into his eyes and saw a good soul -- this honeymoon, right? Why did they turn against Putin? And I think what it was, is because he turned out not to be Yeltsin.
"And we have a very interesting comment about this from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who wrote, I think in 2003, that his own disillusion with Putin was that he had not turned out to be -- listen to this -- a sober Yeltsin. In other words, what Washington was hoping for was a submissive supplicant post-Soviet Russian leader but one who was younger, healthier, and not a drinker. And they thought they had that in Putin because Yeltsin had put Putin in power, or at least the people around Yeltsin had. And when Putin turns out to start talking about Russia's sovereignty, Russia's independent course in world affairs, they're aghast. This is not what they expected."
[7:11] "And since then, my own thinking is, we were pretty lucky, after the 1990s to get Putin. Because there were worse contenders in the wings. I knew some of them. I don't want to name names, but some of these guys were really harsh people. Putin was kind of the right person for the right time, both for Russia and I think for Russian world affairs."
[7:32] "But now with Russia-gate we have this new kind of demonizing of Putin to the degree that they say Putin attacked the United States in 2016. I think: How dangerous it is to say that."
[7:43] Chris Hedges: "You talk about in the book, when you think about it, this is unprecedented. He [Kristof?] is accusing Trump of being a traitor. And he is essentially [...] and Brennan was the head of the CIA, and as you point out you don't know of another case where this has happened that Trump is somehow Putin's agent, which has now, despite the Mueller report, they have not let this narrative go. Reality and facts don't seem to matter."
[8:19] Stephen F Cohen: "Well, I think it's [where] we've had three years of this and we've kind of lost sight of what this allegation is. These people who created Russia-gate are literally saying, and have been for almost three years that the President of the United States is a Russian agent, or has been compromised by the Kremlin. Now, we kind of grin becasue it's so fantastic. But the Washington establishment, mainly their Democrats but not only have taken this seriously for nearly three years.
But I wake up every day and have to remind myself what the underlying accusation is: that President Trump is controlled by the Kremlin. I don't know that there's ever been anything like this in American history. And let me just say that that accusation does such damage to our own institutions: the the presidency, to our electoral system, to the Congress, to the American mainsteam media. Not to mention the damage it has done to American-Russian relations. And something that's overlooked: the damage it has done to the way Russians, both elite Russians and young Russians [who] look at America today, the whole Russia-gate has not only been fraudulent, it's been a catastrophe."
[9:40] Chris Hedges: "You quote Henry Kissinger, not my favorite person: 'The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.' And I think what comes through, throughout your book is the inability or unwillingness on the part of the ruling elites to engage in the hard work of detente. Which someone like you has, which requires a cultural, historical, linguistic literacy in the people you are speaking with. It's now become this Mike Pompeo binary cartoon vision of the world."
[10:17] Stephen F Cohen: "All right, so now we have to think, as you say, historiically. Detente -- and by the way the younger American generation may not be familiar with this word -- was common currency in my day and your day, and all it meant was a policy, both in Moscow and Washington to reduce the most dangerous aspects of Cold War, and replaced those conflicts with forms of cooperation."
[10:43] Chris Hedges: "It used to be pushed by the Democratic Party."
Stephen F Cohen: "Well, I would differ from you here. Let's think about this historically. There were three major episodes of detente in the 20th century. The First was after Stalin died, when the Cold War was very dangerous. That was carried out by Eisenhower, a Republican president. The second was Richard Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger. It was called the Nixon detente with Brezhnev, right?. And the third -- and we thought most successful -- was by Ronald Reagan with Gorbachev, where it was such a sucessful detente, they thought, that Reagan and Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, and Reagan's successor, the first Bush, said that the Cold War was over forever. So what had been an American tradition -- follow my argument here -- for your generation and mine ... this was considered to be a legitimate mainstream policy, they thought."
[11:46] "Trump comes out of nowhere in 2016 and says: 'I think we should cooperate with Russia.' This is a statement of detente. It's what drew my attention to him. And it's then that this talk of Trump being an agent of the Kremlin begins. One has to wonder, I can't prove it, but you have to think logically. Was this begun somewhere high up in America by people who didn't want a pro-detente president, and thought that Trump -- however inept he might be, and however small it seemed at the time that he could win -- really didn't like this talk of co-operation with Russia, and so set into motion those things that we call Russia-gate today?"
[12:31] Chris Hedges: "When we come back, I'm gonna ask you about Brennan. Because in the book you seem to feel that we should at least be exploring the possibility that a lot of this was driven by the CIA. But before we do, you also point out in the book that traditionally among liberal elites, detente was not a dirty word. And it has become the self-identified liberal class, along with a Democratic Party who has proven most vociferous about pushing this whole Russia-gate."
[13:09] Stephen F Cohen: "Right, I've made the historical case to you that the forefathers of detente we're Republican presidents, right? I've emade this point, just historically, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan. How the Democrats behaved during those periods of detente was mixed. Do you remember what used to by called the Henry Jackson wing? This was a very hard-line, ideological wing of the Democratic Party. They didn't believe in detente. Some Democrats did. What's interesting, by the way, is I lived many years in Moscow, in Soviet and post-Soviet times. Generally speaking, if you talk to Russian Soviet policy makers. They preferred Republican candidates for the presidency. And if you asked why? Maybe it's not correct, but if you want the perception from Moscow, it's that Democrats, when it comes to Russia, tend to be ideological. And Republicans tend to be businessmen who want to do business in Russia. And it is true, by the way, that the most important pro-detente lobby group created in the 1970s called The American Committee for East-West Accord was created by American CEOs who wanted to do business in Soviet Russia. They had PepsiCo, Control Data, IBM ... Armand Hammer, Occidental Petroleum. ... And that says something about [paraphrasing Lenin] that they'll hang themselves with the rope [they sell you]."
"But this is very serous, Chris, because I mean for me, the single most important relationship the United States has is with Russia. And not only because of the nuclear weapons. But this remains the largest territorial country in the world. It abuts every region that we're concerned about. Therefore, I have believed from early on in my long adult life that detente with Russia -- not friendship, not alliance, not partnership -- but reducing conflicts is essential. And yet, something happened in 2016. . . ."
[15:36] Chris Hedges: "Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about the New Cold War with Professor Stepen F Cohen.
"I want to go back to this because you do ask questions in the book about the propagation of this Russia-gate demonization of Russia, and you raised the possibility of ties to the CIA, to Brennan, to Clapper. Explain.
[16:04] Stephen F Cohen: "Well, I've had an intellectual framework most of my life, that a good question is a lot better than a bad answer. And unfortunately, we live with orthodoxies that the media gives us which tend to be bad answers or at least they don't ask the right questions. Russia-gate having been now for three years such a catastrophic phenomenon, and unprecedented, as I said, in American life, as I was working on the book and by the way the book is [structured as] a kind of chronicle of the years since 2013 with flashbacks to an earlier period. So it was written in real time, so to speak. As this news was breaking, I began to wonder how these Russia-gate allegations began. And, you know, we had the Steele Dossier. This was spookily floating around American media ..."
[16:51] Chris Hedges: "Most of which was discredited."
Stephen F Cohen: "Yeah. You know, what isn't false, you could have gotten from newspapers. I don't think he had a single source in Russia. It's very important. Let me tell you why. So, Steele, to remind our viewers, comes forward and says in this dossier, 'I've got this information from high-level..."
Chris Hedges interjects: "and he's hired by the Clinton campaign, right? Originally to get dirt on Trump."
Stephen F Cohen: "Yeah. The Clinton campaign is funding this operation. But Steele's very important, because he's a former UK -- if he're really 'former' -- intelligence officer who had served in Russia, had run Russian cases, and all the rest, says that he got this information in the 'Dossier' about Trump frolicking with prostitutes, Trump having been corrupted decades ago, all this stuff. He [says he] got it from high-level criminals. This is preposterous, even logically, right? It's illogical. Let me give you one example:"
[17:52] Stephen F Cohen: "The theory is Putin desperately wanted to make Trump president. Right? Correct? That's the theory. And yet guys in the Kremlin around Putin were feeding Trump-dirt to a guy called Steele, even though The Boss wants ... It doesn't make any sense. [Does it make any] to you?"
[18:07] Chris Hedges: "From the book, you say he wasn't even in Russia. He left Russia in the '90s, right? And you said he didn't go back. He wasn't even back there."
[18:17] Stephen F Cohen: ""He claims he had all these contacts. But Steele's not important. I mean, he was an instrument of other forces. And the Dossier itslelf is bunk. You and I could sit down one night and just based on open sources like 'The Russian oil company is going to put up 15% of its shares for public auction.' It was in the newspapers. How is this a secret? Anyeay, the important thing of it is that it is not plausible that Steele got this so-called "information" from Russian sources."
"Now, why is this important? Because right-wing American media outlets today, in particular Fox News are blaming Russia for this whole Russia-gate thing. Are you following me? They're saying that Russia provided this false information to Steele who pumped it into our system which led to Russia-gate. This is untrue. Which leads to the question you're suggesting. Who was behind all this? Including the Steele operation. And in the book, again, I prefer a good question to an orthodox answer. So, I'm not dogmatic. I don't have the evidence. But all the surface information suggests that this originated with Brennan and the CIA, and long long before it hit America, maybe as early as late 2015."
[19:43] Stephen F Cohen: "So, one of the problems we have today is everybody is hitting on the FBI. You know, we know that about the lovers who sent emails and all this. But the FBI is a squishy organization. Nobody's afraid of the FBI. I mean, it's not what it used to be under J. Edgar Hoover. I mean, look at Comey, for god's sake. He's a patsy Brennan and Clapper played Comey and dumped this stuff on him. And Comey couldn't even handle Mrs Clintons emails. He made a mess of everything. No. Who were the cunning guys? They were Brennan and Clapper. The head of the CIA, and Clapper, the head of the office of Director of National Intelligence who is supposed to oversee these agencies."
"So, in the book: War With Russia? there are short commentaries, chapters, I asked the question "Intel-gate" or "Russia-gate"? In other words, Is there any reality to these Russia-gate allegations against Trump and Putin or was this dreampt up by our intelligence services?"
[20:49 "Today, as we talk, investigations are being promised, including by the Attorney General of the United States and Representative Nunes, Republican. But they all want to investigate the FBI, but they need to investigate what Brennan and the CIA did because this is the worst scandal in American history. It's the worst, Chris, at least since the Civil War. And we need to know how this began because -- I don't need to tell you, you've covered this most of your life -- if our intelligence services are off the reservation, way off the reservation, to the point that they can try to destroy, first, a presidential candidate and then a president -- and I don't care that it's Trump. It may be Harry Smith next time or a woman -- If they do this, if they can do this, we need to know it, and not tomorrow but yesterday."
[21:39] Chris Hedges: "Well, Feinstein tried to tangle with him over the torture reports and walked out and gave a press conference where she was just ashen. And it was clear that whatever went on behind the scenes, it was vicious."
[21:47] Stephen F Cohen: "Well, if you want to talk about senators, in my history there aren't many profiles in courage, as John Kennedy called them, in the United States Senate. There are a handful, and still fewer in the Democratic party. And if we begin to ask which senators are asking the right questions or who care about the impact of all this on Russia, I mean you come down to somebody like Rand Paul, who is really neither a Republian or a Democrat, but some kind of libertarian, then fine. We need leadership because the relationship with Russia remains existential. And it's in the tank. It's a matter of life and death."
[22:31] Chris Hedges: "As you have pointed out many times, there was a commitment made to Gorbachev that as long as Germany was allowed -- after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 -- to unify, NATO would not be expanded."
Stephen F Cohen: "It was not only... here is the discussion in 1990, right? The Wall had come down. Germany was reunifying. The question was: where would a united Germany be? The West wanted Germany in NATO. For Gorbachev, this was an impossible sell back home in the Soviet Union. twenty-seven point five million Soviet citizens had died in the war against Germany in the Second World War. On the Eastern Front. Contrary to the bunk we're told, the United States did not land on Normandy to save private Ryan, according to these guys, and then defeat Nazi Germany. The defeat of Nazi Germany was primarily done by the Soviet Army, but it cost twenty-seven-point-five citizens. So how could Gorbachev go home in 1990s and say, 'Guys, Germany is reunited and it's going to be in NATO.' It was impossible.
"So they told Gorbachev: 'We promise, and if you agree to a reunited Germany in NATO would not move -- and this was Secretary of State Jim Baker's formulation -- one inch to the East. NATO would not move eastward toward Russia. And it did. As we speak today, NATO is all along Russia's borders, from the Baltics to Ukraine, to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. What happened? Later they said Gorbachev lied, or he misunderstood. That promise was never made. But there's an archive call the National Security Archive in Washington. It has now produced all the documents of the discussion of 1990. And it was not only Bush. It was the French leader Mitterand. It was Margaret Thatcher of England. Every Western leader promised Gorbachev NATO would not move eastward.
[24:32] So What do you end up with today? What the Rusians call Betrayal in any discussion about American-Russian relations today, an informed Russian is going to say, We worry you will betray us again."
Chris Hedges: "You quote Putin in here talking about 'How we had illusions,' you know."
Stephen F Cohen: "He had illusions. And how oftern have you ever heard a national leader say publicly, 'I had illusions' about anything? Leaders don't have illusions. They're immaculate, right? But Putin said he had illusions about the West when he came to power." He lost them.
[25:08] Chris Hedges: "I want to talk about -- you make the case that if we don't revover the institutions of diplomacy, the mechanisms of detente, this could to from a cold war to a hot war."
Stephen F Cohen: "Look. What I am arguing and trying to explain in this book is in no way pro-Russian or pro-Putin. It's not pro-American, either. It's pro- Avoid a Catastrophe. That's what this is about. That's why I say 'War With Russia?' question mark. I never have written a book or published commentaries, and I have three volumes of commentaries with such concern and alarm that war with Russia was actually possible. So it could happen accidentally. It could be by contention. But let me mention one thing, because for some reason the media doesn't even cover it. Beginning in 2002, the second Bush left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, right? The ABM treay. That was a very important treaty because it prevented the deployment of missle defense. Missile Defense. If anybody got Missile Defense that worked, they might think they had a First Strike. That Russia or the United States could strike the other without retaliation. Once Bush left the treaty and we began to deploy missile defense, very dangerous, around Russia.
[26:36] "The Russians began a new missile program which we learned about last year. These hypersonic missiles that Russia now has. So here's where we are today. Russia now has -- and putin announced this -- and the smart guys (Capital "S") said 'He's BS-ing. They don't exist. But they do exist. They've been tested, and they've been shown. And they'll be deployed very soon. Russia now has nuclear missiles that can evade and elude any missile defense system. So we are now in a new and more perilous point in the 50-year nuclear arms race. So, Putin says: 'Guys, we've developed these because of what you did. We're now back to where we can destroy each other. Now is the time for a serious new arms control agreement. A new one. What do we get? Russia-gate, instead.
[27:30] "Russia-gate, I have a piece in the book, What are the gravest threats to American national security? I have five listed. Russia and China aren't on there. Russia-gate is number one."