A very interesting conversation took place on CNN this past week when host Michael Smerconish welcomed Russian policy expert Stephen Cohen on to his program. While Smerconish was likely expecting yet another opportunity to attack, deride, and mock Donald Trump and his foreign policy plans, the expert on Russia had other ideas. Instead of denigrating the GOP candidate for President, Cohen praised Trump’s efforts and blamed the Clinton-biased media for refusing to debate the issue.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH: When looking to blame someone for the cyberattack [against Hillary Clinton an the DNC], Russia was more than convenient. Is this a new cold war or political pot-stirring? Does this accusation have any basis in fact, and if not, could it cause real harm? Here to discuss is Stephen F. Cohen, American scholar of Russian studies at both Princeton and New York Universities. Professor Cohen, does Vladimir Putin indeed have a dog in our U.S. [election]?
STEPHEN COHEN: Vladimir Putin wants to end the ‘New Cold War — and so do I.
Let me say, I have no ties to the Trump campaign or the Clinton campaign. But if I were to write your headline for you today, I tried on the way down here, I couldn’t fit it on the front page, but it would go like this:
“We’re in a new and more dangerous Cold War with Russia.”
We’re approaching a Cuban Missile Crisis nuclear confrontation with Russia, both along Russia’s borders and possibly over Syria. There is absolutely no discussion, no debate, about this in the American media — including, forgive me, on CNN.
Then along comes (unexpectedly) Donald Trump, who says something that suggests he wants to end the new Cold War, cooperate with Russia in various places. What we used to call detente, and now –astonishingly– the media is full of what only can be called neo-McCarthyite charges that he is a Russian agent, that he is a Manchurian candidate, and that he is Putin’s client.
So the real danger is what’s being done to our own poltical process.
This is a moment when there should be, in a presidential year, a debate.
Because Mrs. Clinton’s position on Russia seems to be very different [than Mr. Trump’s], has been a long time.
Trump speaks eliptically. You’ve got to piece together what he says. But he seems to want a new American policy toward Russia. And considering the danger, I think we as American citizens, deserve that debate, and not what we are given in the media today, including on the front page of the “New York Times.”
I end by saying, that this reckless branding of Trump as a Russian agent, most of it is coming from the Clinton campaign and they really need to stop.
Michael Smerconish: Okay. I don’t know where to begin in unpacking all that you just offered to us. But I guess I’ll start as follows. As one who can’t match your credentials, here’s what I see from the outside looking in. I see Donald Trump having said to the “New York Times,” just within the last ten days, that he’s not so sure he would stand with NATO allies, and I’m paraphrasing, he would want to know whether they would be pulling their own weight. The end part of his comments seems to suggest he could provide Putin with unfettered, undeterred access to the Baltic states –whose independence he resents. So it all seems to fit, therefore, that Putin would have a dog in this fight, would want to see Donald Trump win this election so that he, Putin, could do as he pleases, in that part of the world. CNN is covering that. I have to defend the network in that regard. But why does that not all fit, and why does it not all fit in the headline in today’s “New York Times,” which says Russian spies said to have hacked Clinton’s bid.
Stephen Cohen: “Said to have.” Said to have. That’s not news, that’s an allegation. James Clapper. I don’t know who hacked. Everybody hacks everybody. I mean, we hacked into Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone. We learned that from Snowden. The Israelis hack America. Everybody hacks. The point is, and I know you said it, not to defend it, but as a provocation, that let’s take the position you just set out. That Putin wants to end the independence in Baltic states. There is no evidence for that. None whatsoever.
The point is, is that on the networks — and I’m not blaming CNN, and there’s none on any network. There is none in the “New York Times.”
I am old enough to remember that during the last Cold War, all these issues were debated in that you had a proponent to each point of view. But you have now got accusations, both against Putin, both against Trump, which needed to be debated.
The most — let’s go back to what you said — Trump said about NATO. Trump said early on, he wanted to know, 60 years after its foundation, what was NATO’s mission today.
100 policy wonks in Washington since the end of the Soviet Union, 25 years ago, have asked the same question. Is NATO an organization in search of a mission? For example, it’s a mission for the last 20 years was to expand ever closer to Russia. So people have now asked why isn’t it fighting international terrorism? That’s a legitimate question –but we don’t debate it. We don’t ask it.
We just say, oh, Trump wants to abandon NATO.
I don’t defend Trump. Trump raises questions. And instead of giving answer to the substance of the question, we denounce him as some kind of Kremlin agent. That’s bad for our politics, but still worse, given the danger we’re not addressing it.Tags: Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Michale Smerconish Stephen Cohen