Transcript: Stephen Cohen: There Are Too Many 'What-If's' For Us To Go In To Cold War Mode! - 13 December '16

Thom Hartmann: And welcome back. Thom Hartmann here with you, and I'm super pleased and honored to have back on the program with us one of America's top scholars in the, about the country of Russia, a contributing editor to the Nation magazine and professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton, the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives, the website and you can tweet @TheNation. Stephen Cohen, Professor Stephen Cohen, Stephen, welcome back to the program.

Stephen Cohen: Thanks, Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Great to have you with us. I'm not sure where to begin on all this, you know, today we had Greg Palast on the program who has been investigating interstate cross-check and was in Detroit for the recount and they found that far more than the Trump margin of victory people were thrown off the voting rolls by this Republican vote, you know, disenfranchisement program that, you know, it really looks like that's what gave the election to Trump. And yet, the corporate media won't talk about that at all, but they're just full-blown hysterical about Russia revealing that the DNC was putting their thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton. What's your take on that?

Stephen Cohen: I should say that Reverend Jesse Jackson has out today an op-ed article making your point, I think, that if anybody threw the election to Trump, it wasn't the Russians, it was voter suppression in this country. Let me give you the themes that seem to me to be important, and you decide what we should talk about, OK?

Thom Hartmann: Why, if you're available for the hour, I am too, so we can cover a lot of territory.

Stephen Cohen: I'm not available for the hour. I have to go at 2:30.

Thom Hartmann: OK, so we have a half hour, great, thank you.

Stephen Cohen: Alright. So, we've talked about this before, but update: the new cold war with Russia is fraught with the possibility of hot war on at least three fronts:

  • in the Baltic region where there is a major NATO build up going on and the Russians are reacting and nuclear weapons are involved
  • in Ukraine which is where the confrontation with Russia began. That simmers. Ukraine, of course, is on Russia's borders, so that's dangerous
  • and then in the newspapers still, in Syria, where the Russians and the Syrians have taken Aleppo and the United States and its allies on the ground in Syria, whomever they may be, have mounted a counter-offensive at Palmyra, a city that the Syrians had taken and is now under siege again

So, that's the state of our relations with Russia - too close to hot war for my taste.

Now, we have this Russia hacked the DNC system or hacked somebody and on behalf of Trump and the New York Times is actually saying - both in its editorial, and Paul Krugman in his column yesterday - the Russians threw the election to Trump. And that, of course, is a very dangerous allegation, because it delegitimizes Trump, or tries to.

And then we have the discussion of this about the quality of the intelligence information we're getting, with one side, well actually the mainstream, saying there are facts to prove what Russia tried to do. But as I see it, there are no facts. They haven't presented any. They just say it's their "assessment". And an assessment is an allegation - it's not an official CIA national estimate, intelligence estimate. So, America is going crazy with this, these accusations and counter-accusations at a very dangerous time.

And overlaying this is a new neo-McCarthyism, where the opponents of Trump, the cold warriors, are accusing people in the United States of being agents or puppets of the Kremlin, of Putin. I mean, look what they're doing to Rex Tillerson. You could think what you might of ExxonMobil and of Tillerson who was, has been the CEO, a CEO for years, of his qualifications to be Secretary of State. I don't know if he's been named yet but they say he's going to be. But now the attack on him is that he's friend of Putin, he's a friend of Putin and Trump's a friend of Putin. And it turns out that everybody has a different point of view, is a friend or an apologist. And we went through this decades ago. I remember what it did to my teachers in academic life, the original McCarthyism. If we do it again it will be bad not only for our national security but for our democracy. So that's the kind of, I don't know how many points I've mentioned, three or four there, that's a really bad situation we find ourselves in today.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So, okay, let's start at the...

Stephen Cohen: That was just to cheer you up, in case you're dozing off in your studio.

Thom Hartmann: Thank you, professor. Let's start with the stuff that's hot and bubbling.

Stephen Cohen: I guess, I don't know if I've said this to you and your listeners/viewers before, but it always runs through my mind, the Russians have an adage - at least dissident Russians or Russian intellectuals - that a pessimist thinks things cannot get worse and an optimist knows that they can get worse. I'm in an optimistic mode. I think things are going to get worse.

Thom Hartmann: Between the United States and Russia.

Stephen Cohen: Well look, Thom, I mean, I know your values. I know what you've fought for all over the years. You as much as any person, will push back against any whiff of neo-McCarthyism in this country because it shuts down the space we have for democratic discourse if nothing else. And it victimizes innocent people along the way. So I worry a lot about that, and I worry about it when people closely associated with the progressive movement in this country play that Kremlin-baiting card for their own political purposes. In fact, this neo-McCarthyism came most powerfully from the Clinton campaign beginning in about August when they decided not to run against Trump and Pence but, as they wrote, Trump/Putin. And every day they sent out emails saying that Trump was a lackey of the Kremlin and therefore no one should vote for him.

By the way, yesterday's, I was astonished, well I wasn't astonished but I was aggrieved that the New York Times editorial made a reference to the Russian or Putin lackeys around Trump. Who do they mean? Who's the lackey of the Kremlin around Trump? It was just a kind of McCarthyite vague allegation. They didn't name any names. We know who they have in mind.

But this is something that's got to stop. Otherwise we can't have a discussion of the dangerous situation we're in with Russia. We can't ask this question: do we the United States and our policy bear any responsibility for the most dangerous relationship with Russia that we've had since the Cuban Missile Crisis? You can't ask that question in the mainstream media, or you can ask it, but then you will be called an apologist for Putin. And that shuts down the conversation.

Thom Hartmann: So...

Stephen Cohen: I know people who just don't want to be labeled and won't speak out.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, and I think it's kind of ironic that the original McCarthyism was driven by largely Republicans and now the this new version is being driven largely by Democrats. So this kind of stuff gets partisan, weaponized by partisan politics as well. But what if Russia actually, you know, either (a) some players in Russia who might have been hired by somebody on the Trump team or might have just been, you know, independent actors or (b) independent players or even State players in Russia at the behest of the Russian government actually did hack John Podesta and hack the DNC and reveal the fact that that, you know, they were putting their thumb on the scales against Bernie, which caused a lot of, arguably a lot of progressives to say, 'well, you know, I've lost my enthusiasm, I'm not going to turn out to vote'.

I mean, you know, I think you could make an argument that might have, if it wasn't THE thing that costs Hillary the election, it certainly was a factor. What if that is true? I mean, what do we do?

Stephen Cohen: Alright. It's a good question. It's an appropriate question. But let's begin at the beginning. To the extent that what the CIA is alleging the Russians did, and bear in mind it's not the FBI, which is dissenting in a way, because the FBI is interested only in evidence that's court-worthy, that is, it has in mind prosecuting a case in court. It's not interested in social media allegations or rumors.

Thom Hartmann: Right. They're a police agency not a spy agency.

Stephen Cohen: Alright, fine. So let's look at what the CIA is reported by the New York Times and The Washington Post, and to a certain extent by Senator McCain and those people, to have found. It admits that it has been unable to link the hacking to the Kremlin. It's only willing to say that it came from somewhere in Russia. Russia, for various historical reasons, bred a generation of genius young computer people. That's why Silicon Valley tries to hire young Russians.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Stephen Cohen: They are exceedingly clever. There are a score or more of Russians all across Russia from the west coast in Europe to the east coast in Siberia who run operations from their apartments. They've admitted it. They've been reported.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Stephen Cohen: So let's say that one of these people hacked the DNC.

Thom Hartmann: And whether I was hired by Paul Manafort or whether it was hired by by Vladimir Putin.

Stephen Cohen: Let's just say they hacked....

Thom Hartmann: OK.

Stephen Cohen: ...And made their information available. There is no evidence at the moment that the CIA will offer us that the Kremlin ordered that hacking, purchased that hacking, used that hacking. And then you have to make the next assumption, that then the Kremlin gave it to WikiLeaks.

Thom Hartmann: Which WikiLeaks denies.

Stephen Cohen: Which it denies. There's another used expression 'what if'. There are there are too many 'what-ifs' for us to go into full cold war mode here or to try to stop Trump from becoming president, which is of course the first motivation of the people who are banging this drum here, the second being to make him an illegitimate president when he takes office.

Oh, what would be the Kremlin's motivations? Now, it's said that the motivation is, if the Kremlin was involved, and again there are not facts, at least not facts that are given to Thom Hartmann or Stephen Cohen. They may have them, let them produce them. But they haven't given them to us. Why would Putin or the Kremlin do this? Well, it's said that they very much wanted Trump to be president. In my reading of the discussion of the American election during the campaign, in and around the Kremlin some serious people in that arena had serious misgivings about Trump. They thought he was a whack case.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Stephen Cohen: And Russians are very conservative about their national security. So there was a debate in the Kremlin. Who would be better for Russian national security - the known anti-Russian Hawk Mrs. Clinton who we've known for decades, we understand her, we know what she's about - or this guy Trump who is terrifically flamboyant and says he wants to work with us, but who and what is he and what would he do? So there was no consensus in the Kremlin.

The second motive attributed - and this is very important, Thom - to Putin is that he wants to destabilize Western democracy. This is a misinformed opinion about what kind of leadership Putin is pursuing in Russia. He came to power to rebuild a Russian state that had collapsed, literally collapsed, twice in the twentieth century in 1917, 1991.

His pledge to the nation is, 'I will rebuild Russia so that we will be prosperous and I will rebuild it in a way that will never collapse again and for this we need partners in the West'. This was his big thing - we need the West to help us in several regards. We need Western financing, we need Western technology and we need Western national nuclear security. He had in mind primarily Europe but the United States in terms of national security. So why would Putin set out to destabilize or create chaos in the countries on which he's counting to be his partners in rebuilding Russia?

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, it makes it makes absolutely no sense. We're talking with Professor Stephen Cohen, contributing editor to The Nation, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton, the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives. you can read about it at Stick around.


Thom Hartmann: And welcome back. Professor Cohen, so you were you saying...

Stephen Cohen: Well, we have neither facts - they haven't been produced for us in this country - nor logic, based on what I'm pretty sure I know about Putin's leadership inside Russia, to support this frenzy of Kremlin baiting that's going on in this country, which is very bad. Now, let me just add one point and then you go where you want us to go. Everyone is calling for an investigation of the alleged Russian hacking during our election, from left to right, and I add my voice to that. We should have an investigation. But I seriously doubt that we can have an objective investigation for several reasons. First of all, the people in charge of the investigation would be strongly influenced by, if not headed by, Senator John McCain.

McCain said the other day really a disgraceful statement, that Putin is a bully, a thug and a murderer. He went on to say that he knew Putin had murdered, had murdered the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Those statements by McCain are actually false statements. But McCain added, and McCain's a powerful man, that anybody who disagrees with him is a liar. Therefore I'm a liar. I'm discredited from the beginning. So that's the quality of the discourse that's going to influence any investigation that's centered in the Congress.

Secondly, the CIA is going to come forward and say, well, we can't tell you what we really know, all we really know, but, because it would divulge the way we spy on Russia. You know, if they've tapped into Russian cell phones or into the Kremlin website or into whatever they've done. We know this. Take our word for it. And that's what they've done. They've said, by the way use their formulation, that the intelligence agencies - and they're divided themselves - we are highly confident that the Russians did all this based on our understanding of Russian motivations.

Well, my analysis of your intentions, Thom, your motivations is speculation. I'm speculating what's in your mind. Without facts I can't prove you did anything or intend to. So instead of fact, they're saying they know Russian motivations. I think that would be the premise of any investigation.

And thirdly, they will call so-called witnesses. You know how Congress calls witnesses to testify. For the last, I mean, maybe a decade, but certainly since the last, about a decade, these hearings, whether in the Senate or the House are not what they used to be. In my day they would call people with opposing views, so-called experts, and one would argue this, one would argue that. And then the Senators or the members of Congress would get two points of view. They haven't done that in a decade. They just round up the usual suspects.

Thom Hartmann: They largely haven't done that since Iraq.

Stephen Cohen: All right, let's date it since Iraq, if they did it then too. But that's what they're going to do. You're going to bring out the usual suspects, all the ones who dominate the op-ed pages, all the people who are on MSNBC which is among the worst, and parade them before Congress. I don't see the possibility of a good investigation.

Thom Hartmann: Right. We're talking with Professor Stephen Cohen. We'll be right back. Stick around.


Thom Hartmann: Welcome back. Professor Steven Cohen is with us and professor, due the vagaries of hard clocks, we have about 50 seconds. You want to summarize your point?

Stephen Cohen: Well, the point is, we're hearing essentially one voice, the voice of war with Russia, the voice of trying to delegitimize Donald Trump. I wasn't a Trump supporter, but I think this is very bad for our democracy. And the promise that we're going to have an investigation to clarify things, which I doubt. So I would simply suggest that if whoever is running this operation is serious about hearing alternative voices, there are plenty of them out there.

At the top of the list I would put Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept. He's written absolutely brilliant, courageous articles exposing this nonsense. But there are others. There's Sy Hersh the investigative reporter. There is Robert Perry at Consortiumnews who checks the press every day for falsehoods. There are a lot of people who know a lot and who could give it a different point of view. But this will be a very selective selector and probably to no good end.

Thom Hartmann: Fascinating stuff. Professor Cohen, thank you so much for being with us today.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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