April 23, 2015
“Architects of American policy towards Russia and Ukraine are destroying American national security”: Stephen F. Cohen on the truths U.S. media and politicians hide
Myths of American nationalism busted as our interview with noted scholar concludes
By Patrick L. Smith
Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century.” He was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter, @thefloutist.
If there is a lesson in Stephen F. Cohen’s professional fortunes over the past year, it is the peril of advancing a dispassionate reading of our great country’s doings abroad. Cohen’s many pieces in The Nation on the Ukraine crisis and the consequent collapse of U.S.-Russia relations now leave him in something close to a state of siege. “My problem with this begins with the fact that… I don’t have a vested interest in one of the ‘isms,’ or ideologies,” Cohen says in this, the second part of a long interview conducted last month.
The problem lies with the ideologues infesting the waters wherein Cohen swims. Terminally poisoned by Cold War consciousness, they cannot abide disinterested thought. Cohen has been mostly scholar, partly journalist, since the 1970s. His “Sovieticus” column, launched in The Nation in the 1980s, put a magazine traditionally tilted toward domestic issues among the few American publications providing consistent analysis of Russian affairs. At this point, Cohen’s Nation essays are the bedrock scholarly work to which those (few) writing against the orthodoxy turn.
The first half of our exchange, last week on Salon [http://www.salon.com/2015/04/
Salon: Putin inherited a shambles, then-as he would say, “a catastrophe.”
Stephen F. Cohen: As Russia’s leader, Putin has changed over the years, especially in foreign policy but also at home. His first impulse was toward more free-market reforms, anti-progressive taxes. He enacted a 13 percent flat tax-Steve Forbes would’ve been ecstatic, right? He offers [George W.] Bush what Clinton never really offered Yeltsin: a full partnership. And what does he do? On September 11, 2001, he called George and said, Whatever you want, we’re with you. Bush says, Well, I think we’re going to have to go to war in Afghanistan. And Putin said, I can help you. We’ve got major resources and assets in Afghanistan. I even have an army over there called the Northern Alliance. I’ll give it to you! You want overflight? It’s all yours!
How many American lives did Putin save during our land war in Afghanistan? And do you know what a political price he paid in Russia for that? Because his security people were completely against it.
Q: They were? Please explain.
Oh, yeah. You think they minded seeing America being brought to its knees? They’d been invaded so often; let America get a taste of it! But Putin assumes he’s achieved what Yeltsin couldn’t and that this benefits the Russian state. He has a real strategic partnership with America. Now, remember, he’s already worried about his radical Islamic problem because Russia has nearly 20 million Muslim citizens of its own. Russia sits in the East and in the West; it’s on the front lines.
What does Bush give him in return? He expands NATO again and he unilaterally withdraws the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the bedrock of Russia’s nuclear security- it’s a complete betrayal. Is that how you repay somebody who’s helped you save the lives of your citizens? This is where the word “betrayal” begins to enter into the discourse.