One of the reasons that countries fail is that collective memory is continually destroyed as older generations pass away and are replaced by new ones who are disconnected from what came before.
Initially, the disconnect was handled by history and by discussions around family tables. For example, when I was a kid there were still grandparents whose fathers had fought for the Confederacy. They had no slaves and owned no plantations. They fought because their land was invaded by Lincoln’s armies. Today if Southern families still know the facts, they would protect their children by not telling them. Can you imagine what would happen to a child in a public school that took this position?
Frustrated by the inability of the Union Army to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia led by West Point graduate Robert E. Lee, Lincoln resorted to war criminals. Generals Sherman and Sherridan, operating under the drunken General Grant, were the first modern war criminals who conducted war against civilian women and children, their homes and food supply. Lincoln was so out of step with common morality that he had to arrest and detain 300 Northern newspaper editors and exile a US Congressman in order to conduct his War for Empire.
Today this history is largely erased. The court historians buried the truth with the fable that Lincoln went to war to free the slaves. This ignorant nonsense is today the official history of the “civil war,” which most certainly was not a civil war.
A civil war is when two sides fight for control of the government. The Confederacy was a new country consisting of those states that seceded. Most certainly, the Confederate soldiers were no more fighting for control over the government in Washington than they were fighting to protect the investment of plantation owners.
Memory is lost when historical facts are cast down the memory hole
So, what does this have to do with the lesson for today? More than history can be erased by the passage of time. Culture can be erased. Morality can be erased. Common sense can disappear with the diplomacy that depends on it.
The younger generation which experiences threats shouted all around it at Confederate war memorials and street names – Atlanta has just struck historic Confederate Avenue out of existence and replaced it with United Avenue – at white males who, if they are heterosexual, have been redefined by Identity Politics as rapists, racists, and misogynists, at distinguished scientists who state, factually, that there are innate differences between the male and the female, and so on, might think that it is natural for high officials in the US government to issue a never-ending stream of war threats to Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela.
A person of my generation knows that such threats are unprecedented, not only for the US Government but also in world history. President Trump’s crazed NATO Ambassador, Kay Bailey Hutchison, threatened to “take out Russian missiles.” President Trump’s crazed UN Ambassador Nikki Hailey issues endless threats as fast as she can run her mouth against America’s allies as well as against the powerful countries that she designates as enemies. Trump’s crazed National Security Advisor John Bolten rivals the insane Haley with his wide-ranging threats. Trump’s Secretary of State Pompeo spews out threats with the best of them. So do the inane New York Times and Washington Post. Even a lowly Secretary of the Interior assumes the prerogative of telling Russia that the US will interdict Russian navy ships.
What do you think would be the consequences if the Russians, the Chinese, and the Iranians took these threats seriously? World Wars have started on far less. Yet there is no protest against these deranged US government officials who are doing everything in their power to convince Russia and China that they are without any question America’s worst enemies. If you were Russia or China, how would you respond to this?
Professor Stephen Cohen, who, like myself, remembers when the United States government had a diplomatic tradition, is as disturbed as I am that Washington’s decision to chuck diplomacy down the memory hole and replace it with war threats is going to get us all killed.
Overshadowed by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, US-Russian relations grow ever more perilous.
October 3, 2018
Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton University, and John Batchelor continue their discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fifth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Emphasizing growing Cold War extremism in Washington and war-like crises in US-Russian relations elsewhere, Cohen comments on the following examples:
Russiagate, even though none of its core allegations have been proven, is now a central part of the new Cold War, severely limiting President Trump’s ability to conduct crisis-negotiations with Moscow and further vilifying Russian President Putin for having ordered “an attack on America” during the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times and The Washington Post have been leading promoters of the Russiagate narrative, even though several of its foundational elements have been seriously challenged, even discredited.
Nonetheless, both papers recently devoted thousands of words to retelling the same narrative—on September 20 and 23, respectively—along with its obvious fallacies. For example, Paul Manafort, during the crucial time he was advising then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was not “pro-Russian” but pro–European Union. And contrary to insinuations, General Michael Flynn did nothing wrong or unprecedented in having conversations with a representative of the Kremlin on behalf of President-elect Trump. Many other presidents-elect had instructed top aides to do the same. The epic retellings of the Russiagate narrative by both papers, at extraordinary length, were riddled with similar mistakes and unproven allegations. (Nonetheless, a prominent historian, albeit one seemingly little informed both about Russiagate documents and about Kremlin leadership, characterized the widely discredited anti-Trump Steele dossier—the source of many such allegations—as “increasingly plausible.”)
Astonishingly, neither the Times nor the Post give any credence to the emphatic statement made at least one week before by Bob Woodward—normally considered the most authoritative chronicler of Washington’s political secrets—that after two years of research he had found “no evidence of collusion” between Trump and Russia.
For the Times and Post and other mainstream media outlets, Russiagate has become, it seems, a kind of cult journalism that no counter-evidence or analysis can dint, and thus itself is a major contributing factor to the new and more dangerous Cold War. Still worse, what began nearly two years ago as complaints about Russian “meddling” in the US presidential campaign has become for The New Yorker and other publications an accusation that the Kremlin actually put Trump in the White House. For this reckless charge, with its inherent contempt for the good sense of American voters, there is no convincing evidence—nor any precedent in American history.
Meanwhile, current and former US officials are making unprecedented threats against Moscow. NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson threatened to “take out” any Russian missiles she thought violated a 1987 arms treaty, a step that would risk nuclear war. The secretary of the interior threatened a “naval blockade” of Russia. In an unprecedented, undiplomatic Russophobic outburst, UN ambassador Nikki Haley declared that “lying, cheating and rogue behavior” are a “norm of Russian culture.”
These may be outlandish statements by untutored appointed political figures, though they inescapably raise the question: Who is making Russia policy in Washington—President Trump with his avowed policy of “cooperating with Russia,” or someone else?
But how to explain, other than as unbridled extremism, statements by a former US ambassador to Moscow and longtime professor of Russian politics, who appears to be the mainstream media’s leading authority on Russia? According to him, Russia today is “a rogue state,” its policies “criminal actions,” and the “world’s worst threat.” It must be countered by “preemptive sanctions that would go into effect automatically”—indeed, “every day,” if deemed necessary. [These are the words of Michael McFaul, who has appointments at Stanford University which has become a friendly home for warmongers.]
Considering the “crippling” sanctions now being prepared by a bipartisan group of US senators—their actual reason and purpose apparently unknown even to them—this would be nothing less than a declaration of war against Russia; economic war, but war nonetheless.
Several other new Cold War fronts are also fraught with hot war, but today none more than Syria.
Another reminder occurred on September 17, when Syria accidentally shot down an allied Russian surveillance plane, killing all 15 crew members. The cause, as is known, was subterfuge by Israeli F-15s supplied by Washington that used the larger radar image of the Russian airplane to cloak their illegal attack on Syria. The reaction in Moscow was highly indicative—potentially ominous.
At first, Putin, who had developed good relations with Israel’s political leadership, said the incident was an accident, an example of the fog of war. His own Ministry of Defense, however, loudly protested, blaming Israel. Putin quickly retreated, adopting a much more hard-line position, and in the end vowed to send to Syria Russia’s highly effective S-300 surface-to-air defense system, a prize both Syria and Iran have requested in vain for years. [Actually, Russia has now supplied both Iran and Syria the S-300.]
Second, if the S-300s are installed in Syria (they will be operated by Russians, not Syrians), Putin can in effect impose a “no-fly zone” over that country, which has been torn by war due, in no small part, to the presence of several major foreign powers. (Russia and Iran are there legally; the United States and Israel are not.) If so, it will be a new “red line” that Washington and Tel Aviv must decide whether or not to cross. Considering the mania in Washington, it’s hard to be confident that wisdom will prevail. [Actually, it is likely that Putin will shift the responsibility of using the air defense system to Syria.]
All of this unfolded on approximately the third anniversary of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, in September 2015. At that time, Washington pundits denounced Putin’s “adventure” and were sure it would “fail.” Three years later, “Putin’s Kremlin” has destroyed the vicious Islamic State’s grip on large parts of Syria, all but restored President Assad’s control over most of the country, and has become the ultimate arbiter of Syria’s future. President Trump would do best by joining Moscow’s peace process, though it is unlikely Washington’s mostly Democratic Russiagate party will permit him to do so. (For perspective, recall that, in 2016, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to impose a US no-fly zone over Syria to defy Russia.)
There is also this. As the US-led “liberal world order” disintegrates, not only in Syria, a new alliance is emerging between Russia, China, Iran, and possibly NATO member Turkey. It will be a real “threat” only if Washington makes it one, as it has Russia in recent years.
Finally, the US-Russian proxy war in Ukraine has recently acquired a new dimension. In addition to the civil war in Donbass, Moscow and Kiev have begun to challenge each other’s ships in the Sea of Azov, near the vital Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Trump is being pressured to supply Kiev with naval and other weapons to wage this evolving war, yet another potential tripwire. Here too President Trump would do best by putting his administration’s weight behind the long-stalled Minsk peace accords. Here, too, this seemed to be his original intention, but it has proven to be yet another approach, it now seems, thwarted by Russiagate.