Thursday, May 11, 2017

 Again, Is the Possibility of a Trump-Putin Détente Really Dead?

 “Kremlingate” is said to have killed any prospect for Trump administration cooperation with Putin’s Kremlin, but the May 2 phone talk between the two leaders showed it is still alive.

By Stephen F. Cohen


 Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and radio-show host John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, can be found here.)

 The phone conservation, which the Trump administration characterized as “very good” and “very constructive,” was wide-ranging but focused on two pressing issues: the war in Syria and international terrorism, which Trump had always emphasized as the priorities of a new détente; and on the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Putin as early as July. There were earlier signs that détente remained a Trump commitment, including ongoing discussions between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov; and formal reining in of United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who had continued the loud vilifying of Russia practiced by her Obama administration predecessor. No less significant, even following Syrian President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons and the further downturn in US-Russian relations that followed, Trump and Putin refrained from vilifying each other personally, a sign both continue to hope for a diplomatic partnership.

 Cohen here returns to another of his familiar themes: Much is to be learned from the history of détente policies in the 20th century, of which three are relevant, all conducted by Republican presidents with Kremlin leaders—Eisenhower with Khrushchev, Nixon with Brezhnev, and Reagan with Gorbachev. Of special significance today, each was the target of fierce opposition in Washington (and sometimes in Moscow), even outright sabotage by shadowy but powerful forces. “Kremlingate,” for which no actual evidence has yet been publicly produced, has been animated and perpetuated by two powerful political forces. One is the Clinton (and still majority) establishment wing of the Democratic Party, for its own particular political reasons. The other is an even larger bipartisan pro­–Cold War alliance in the American political-media establishment. That President Trump has again openly defied this looming “Kremlingate” threat to his presidency suggests—again, whatever else one may think about him—considerable commitment to a principle: in this case, détente, and the requisite political courage. As Trump must have known would be the case, within hours of his talk with Putin, leading Democrats and their media allies were denouncing him again as “Putin’s puppet” and now, for “appeasement.” (The Democrats, including liberals and progressives, Cohen adds, are now, officially, and with few dissenters, the party of cold war and possible actual war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. They will certainly continue to use “Kremlingate” investigations in Congress for that purpose.)

 Finally, Cohen concludes, détente has always been essentially a leader policy, not a legislative one. Pro-détente American presidents (again, all of them Republicans in the 20th century) always encountered some degree of opposition inside their own party. But none has been as isolated as President Trump in this regard. His détente initiatives are widely, indeed vociferously, opposed in both parties and in the mainstream media, where there prevails, to borrow a formulation by the former Canadian diplomat Patrick Armstrong, a Putin-Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump has some support from Republican conservatives who dream of recapturing Reagan’s claim to have ended the Cold War forever. Ultimately, though, Trump will need much broader support for any further moves in the direction of détente with Russia. It must come both from within the two political parties, including the Democrats, and from the general public. Even more, ultimately, Americans at both levels must decide whether to put the demonizing of Trump and Putin—which is often irrational—above the risk of a nuclear war that as President Clinton’s secretary of defense, William Perry, warns is now greater than ever before.


Bob said...

What we want and what we get are often two different things. Witness the recent US presidential election.

There is money to be made with a new Cold War, which makes it an imperative for those poised to profit from it. No detente, but at least we get to live out our lives. Another factor is this belief that a nuclear war against Russia can be won. In that case, there will be detente once we're all dead.

Kaivey said...

Mankind is crazy. We can probably blow the planet up 100 x over, but wow man, it's a chance to make some serious money. Just think if it was spent on Green energy instead, and cleaning up the environment, how much richer we would be. Happiness can found through spirituality rather becoming fabulously rich.

Tom Hickey said...

Happiness can found through spirituality rather becoming fabulously rich.

Happiness can only be found through "spirituality" in the broad sense in that the higher levels of happiness pertain to the spirit rather than the body. There is a difference between happiness-suffering, which is mental, and pleasure-pain, which is physical. Happiness and pleasure of different grades of satisfaction. Genuine spiritual satisfaction is bliss, the opposite of which is its absence. Bliss is associated with inner peace and abiding satisfaction. Ordinary life involves the alternation of happiness and suffering, and pleasure and pain. This is the message of perennial wisdom.

Noah Way said...

Exactly. Nearly all of the people I know with real money are less than happy, and the more they have the unhappier they are.

Bob said...

Nothing makes them happy! They are dedicated to being unhappy and to spreading that unhappiness wherever they go! They are the ambassadors of unhappy!

- Bashir, on the Federation delegation