The Washington Post has taken its Cold War campaign against China, Russia, and Iran to a new level. In the Sunday edition of its Outlook section, the Post gave front-page coverage to long articles by former ambassador Michael McFaul and former New York Times’ writer Tim Weiner to trumpet Russia’s “constant aggression” and its “brutal Cold War rules.” There was no hint whatsoever of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to improve Russian-American relations over the past two decades, and no suggestion that the actions of the United States over the past 25 years have significantly contributed to the poor state of relations between Moscow and Washington.
The companion pieces have supportive titles, which suggests an editorial decision to express an authoritative point of view. McFaul’s article is titled “Trump always finds a way to let Putin win….”, and Weiner’s screed follows with “….even when Russia plays by brutal Cold War rules.” Their joint thesis is a simple one: Donald Trump’s complacency has enabled President Putin’s “litany of belligerent acts.” Neither writer notes U.S. actions over the past quarter-century that have worsened the international environment and helped to create a revival of the Cold War. Indeed, they absolve the last four American presidents of any responsibility for the current state of affairs, ignoring their actions that have been consistent with Cold War policymaking. Is anyone going to address the importance of restoring a Russian-American dialogue revolving around arms control and disarmament as well as Third World conflict resolution?
McFaul’s article is particularly interesting in view of his role as the architect of President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy toward Russia, his standing as one of the leading scholars on post-communist Russia, and his appointment as the first non-career diplomat to be U.S. ambassador to the Kremlin. His two-year tour was hardly a success as McFaul, only several days after his arrival in Moscow, chose to invite a number of organizers and prominent participants in the anti-Putin protest movement to the U.S. embassy. McFaul immediately became an Internet celebrity in the tight-knit world of Russian opposition, which demonstrated a lack of awareness of Russian political sensitivities, particularly if the Obama administration was genuinely trying to “reset” relations.
McFaul’s article is totally one-sided. He argues that “Trump has received nothing” from Moscow despite his concessions to the Russian president, citing “no new arms-control treaty, no help in deal with worsening relations with Iran.” But it was Trump who backed away from arms control and disarmament with Russia, abrogating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and walking away from the Outer Space Treaty. Conversely, it is Putin who is trying to get back to arms control negotiations, particularly to extend the New START Treaty, which expires in January 2021. Moreover, it is Putin who supports the Iran nuclear accord, and nowhere does McFaul explain what Russian leaders could possibly do to reverse the damage that the Trump administration has done to relations with Iran as well as to political stability in the Persian Gulf.
Weiner is welcome to his opinion that the CIA’s covert action in Afghanistan was the “last great battle of the Cold War,” but the Russians have dealt with genuine facts for the past 25 years that point to U.S. responsibility for the current disarray in Russian-American relations. In the 1990s, it was the United States and President Bill Clinton who decided to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, bringing former Soviet republics into NATO, a betrayal of commitments that President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker gave to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze not to “leap frog” over Germany in order to go into East Europe.
President George W. Bush went one terrible step further by bringing former Soviet republics into NATO; it took German Chancellor Angela Merkel to get him to stop flirting with membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Merkel convinced Bush that introducing Ukraine and Georgia to NATO would violate Putin’s red line regarding NATO membership. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland used her cell phone to discuss specific individuals who would be in the government or out. When the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told Nuland that the European Union would have problems with her intervention, she replied “Fuck the EU.” The Kremlin intercepted the call and had a field day spreading the news. The Russian actions toward Ukraine and Georgia that McFaul and Weiner cite were, in fact, a response to U.S. manipulation of the politics and policies of both nations, which followed Putin’s red-line warnings to the United States.
One of the most severe moves reminiscent of the Cold War was President George W. Bush’s abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. It was noteworthy that John Bolton served in influential administration positions in 2002 and 2019, when the ABM Treaty and the INF Treaty, respectively, were abrogated. Bush followed up the abrogation with another offensive maneuver, the deployment of a regional missile defense in Poland and Romania, claiming the defense was designed to counter a possible attack from Iran. This made no sense at the time, and even less sense during the Obama administration when the Iran nuclear accord was completed. Not only has Donald Trump demonstrated no interest in the importuning from Putin regarding the need to return to disarmament negotiations, he has created a Cold War-like Space Force and suggested that U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Germany might end up in Poland. McFaul needs to reconcile the fact that additional U.S. forces will be sent to Poland with his notion that “Trump always finds a way to let Putin win.”
It is customary for the political rhetoric to get heated during a presidential campaign, which will find Donald Trump and Joe Biden vying for honors in the field of national security and militancy, but there should be some balance and context from the mainstream media. The increasingly hard line of the Washington Post on the competition with China, Russia, and Iran suggests that the political contenders will be goaded—and not ameliorated—by the nation’s key newspapers.