Taking Aim At US Follies and Media Malpractices 2016: Stephen Cohen Takes on the Hawks

This is the second article I am writing on Stephen Cohen’s profoundly lucid commentary on the catastrophic movement of the US and NATO allies towards war with Russia. Scarcely enough citizens in the West are aware of the historical causes and context of the current Russian military operation in Ukraine. For them – just another diabolical act of the Evil One, Putin.

War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate (2022) provides lots of critical insights, pearls brought up from the deep diving of Cohen. Our focus in the first article was on the demonization of Vladimir Putin; this one puts the spotlight on US follies and media malpractices in 2016. Reminding us in the  January 20th commentary that Barach Obama had vowed to “isolate” Putin in international relations, Cohen observes that in early January there was a flurry of nervous diplomatic activity in Washington, Paris, Germany, Moscow, and Kiev to discuss two “essential elements” of the Minsk Accords.

The rebel regions in eastern Ukraine were to receive constitutionally legislated home rule. But Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko feared a “violent backlash by armed ultranationalist forces” (p. 33). Russia had its own problems and issues – ranging from Europe and Syria to economic woes. But the US media-political narrative misunderstood what Putin wanted in Ukraine: “not a permanently destabilized country, as is incessantly reported, but a peaceful neighbour that does not threaten Russia’s vital economic or security interests – or permanently divide millions of inter-married Russian-Ukrainian families (p. 34). Most of us don’t have a clue about the ethnic-historical composition of Ukraine (about 30% of Ukrainians are of Russian origin). Cohen considered this “secret diplomacy” a hopeful “fork in the road.” However, as we now know more completely, Washington and NATO were opposed to Russia’s security demands.

On February 3, the Pentagon announced that it “will quickly quadruple the positioning of US-NATO heavy weapons and troops near Russia’s western borders. The result will be to further militarize the new Cold War, making it more confrontational and more likely to lead to actual war” (p. 34). We’re now on alert: Stephen claims that the “move is unprecedented in modern times. Except for Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, Western military power has never been positioned so close to Russia, making the new Cold War even more dangerous than was the preceding one” (ibid.). Alarmed, Cohen states that Russia will respond by probably moving more of its heavy weapons, along with tactical nuclear weapons. This should remind us that a new and more dangerous US-Russian nuclear arms race has also been under way for several years. The Obama administration’s decision can only intensify it” (ibid.). Cohen draws grim conclusions from the Pentagon’s aggressive acts. The “ongoing negotiations by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for cooperation on the Ukrainian and Syrian crises and further dividing  Europe, which is far from united on Washington’s increasingly hawkish approach to Moscow” (p. 35) will be undermined.

Diplomatic dialogue is almost always a front for nefarious actions that undermine building cooperative relations. Cohen despairs (I do, too) that the US media barely reports on these ongoing developments – and political debate has vanished (in Canada as well where our politicians dare not utter a word about NATO or Liberal government support for Ukrainian neo-Nazis [see Yves Engler, “Canada and Ukraine,” Counterpunch, February 25, 2022]). “Never before has such a dire international situation been so ignored in a US presidential election” (ibid.). Wondering why, Stephen thinks that the reason for  this silence lies with blaming Russia for the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine – “a highly questionable assertion but an orthodox media narrative” (ibid.). Cohen hits the nail on the head: since 2016, an orthodox media and scholarly narrative has congealed around don’t think twice, blame Russia, they’re always blameworthy. Now, as only a few vocal pundits cry out, any alternative narrative is quickly silenced.

On February 24 Cohen identified another turning point in the New Cold War, Syria. I am glad that he draws our often-scattered attention to the Syrian crisis (though the epicentre of the crisis remained Ukraine). The Syrian ceasefire agreement—brokered by Kerry and Lavrov and endorsed by President Putin—offered hope on several levels: alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people, creating a US-Russian coalition against the Islamic State and its terrorist accomplices, and reducing the possibility of the new Cold War. But Cohen thought that the “actual chances of a successful  ceasefire [were] slim” (ibid.).

Why? Well, American opposition was “already clear from statements by leading politicians, from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s clear dissatisfaction with Kerry’s negotiations with Moscow and from anti-ceasefire reports and editorials in the establishment media” (p. 36). Putin also faced opposition from some of his own military-security advisers. They wanted to pursue “Moscow’s military success in Syria achieved since it intervened in September 2015” (ibid.). I can see why they might. Left vulnerable because of his announcement of a cease-fire on Russian TV, Putin now faced Obama, who had previously violated agreements with the Kremlin, “most recently and consequentially by disregarding his pledge not to pursue regime change in Libya” (ibid.). Slippery maneuvering!

Focusing attention on President Poroshenko, Stephen cuts to the chase: he “continues to be less a national leader than a compliant representative of domestic and foreign political forces. Having again promised Germany and France that he would implement the Minsk Accords for  ending Ukraine’s civil war, which they designed, he promptly  reneged, bowing to Ukrainian ultra-right movements that threaten to remove him. And having called for the ouster of his exceedingly unpopular Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk—‘our guy,’ as the US State Department termed him in 2014 and still views him—Poroshenko then instructed members of his own party to vote against the parliamentary motion, leaving Yatsenyuk in office, at least for now” (ibid.). Do we all see a pattern?

Cohen thinks that “Poroshenko increasingly resembles a pro-consul of a faraway great power. At the same time, on the second anniversary of the violent Maidan protests that brought to power the current US-backed government, the State Department hailed the ‘glories’ of what is now becoming a failed Ukraine state and ruined country” (ibid.). Current President Zelensky has puppet strings dangling from his arms, attached to American puppet-masters. He does their bidding. Recent reports reveal that this man has engaged in nasty repression of anyone who opposes the dominant narrative (see the chilling report from Max Blumenthal and Esha Krishnaswamy, “Zelensky’s hardline internal purge,” Consortium News, April 20, 2022).  One cannot lay the blame for this ruination on Vladimir Putin. Don’t let Zelensky’s folksy tee-shirt fool you. Look closely for any Azov Battalion insignia. They could be there.

On March 2, Cohen wrote that the US-Russian-brokered ceasefire in Syria opened the way to  “deal a major blow to the Islamic State, greatly diminish the Syrian civil war, and generate cooperation between Washington and Moscow elsewhere, including in Ukraine” (p. 37). Any time the US and Russia edge towards each other to work on common problems, lurking in the shadows are those committed to subverting the process. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, supposed Russian allies, wanted to launch their own war in Syria. In Washington, Secretary of Defense Carter scoffed at Kerry’s agreement with Russia as a “ruse.” Putin is the “No. 1 existential threat” – don’t forget this; and the mainstream press echoed this disparagement. Putin is horrible! Putin is horrible! Tears flowed down their sad visages.

The US likes to smash up countries deemed enemies. Carter’s “Plan B” proposed just that – US military intervention in Syria to “create an anti-Russian, anti-Assad ‘safe zone’ that would in effect partition the country. Viewed more broadly, this would continue the partitioning of political territories that began with the end of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in te 1990s and now looms over Syria, Ukraine, and possibly even the European Union” (ibid.). A two-part New York Times investigation revealed that then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton played the “leading role in the White House’s decision to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.” That folly led to a terrorist-ridden failed state and growing bastion of the Islamic State. Clinton’s campaign statements suggest that she does not support Kerry’s initiatives but instead a replication of the Libyan operation in order to remove Syrian President Assad-a version, it seems, of Carter’s ‘Plan B’ (ibid.). Remember Clinton’s gleefully gruesome cackle – “We came, we saw, he died” Hard not to forget this wretchedness.

On March 16, Cohen notes that US experts are “repeatedly surprised by what Vladimir Putin does an does not do. Clearly, they do not read or listen to him” (p. 38). The Teacher of All Humanity does not learn from anyone. No need to listen to Putin’s speeches or read his writings. None. Thus – “When Putin began the air campaign in Syria in the fall of 2015, he announced that it had two purposes. To bolster the crumbling Syrian Army so it could fight terrorist groups on the ground and prevent the Islamic State from taking Damascus. And thereby to bring about peace negotiations among anti-terrorist forces. Putin said he hoped to achieve this in a few months” (ibid.).

Putin proclaimed that this mission was now “generally accomplished.” But Stephen points out that you would never know this from American media reports. “US policy-makers and pundits seem to believe their own anti-Putin propaganda, which for years has so demonized him that they cannot imagine he seeks anything other than military conquest and empire building. Nor can they concede that Russia has legitimate national security interests in Syria” (ibid.). As I have watched my own Canadian government leap enthusiastically on to the bandwagon to arm Ukraine to fight Russia, I have wondered if my leaders give two damns about Russia’s security interests. They don’t. No, they do not. Or Canadian’s own security – given the serious dangers of the present conflict in Ukraine flaming out of control (well, already Canadians are suffering – our cost of living has soared and everyone is scrambling around trying to reduce monthly budgets).

US policy-makers and pundits have no clue “what Putin hopes to achieve: a de-militarization of the new Cold War. In particular, if the end of Russia’s Syrian bombing campaign abets peace negotiations under way in Geneva or anywhere else, the diplomatic process could appeal to Ukraine, another militarized conflict between Washington and Moscow” (ibid.). This statement reminds us that Putin’s February 24, 2022 military operation was justified by his commitment to de-militarize and de-nazify Ukraine: these goals are not mere propaganda. However, Cohen states that Putin’s  decision to withdraw militarily from Syria has met criticism from hard-liners regarding why he did not take Aleppo. They also accused Putin of caving in to Obama—who repeatedly “betrayed” him, most recently in Libya in 2011 and by its anti-Russian coup in Kiev in 2014?” (ibid.). And might Putin’s withdrawal from Syria signal weakness on his part, pressing the US to escalate the “aggression” in Ukraine? Cohen states forthrightly: “But the gravest threat to his clear preference for diplomacy over war is less domestic critics than the Obama administration, which seems to have decided which it prefers” (ibid.).

Michael Welton retired from Athabasca University.  His recent books include Unearthing Canada’s Hidden Past: a Short History of Adult Education and Adult Education a Precarious Age: The Hamburg Declaration revisited.