Renowned Russia scholar Stephen Cohen, a known skeptic of the ‘Russia attacked America in 2016’ narrative favored by some political circles, lectured neocon pundit Max Boot after he called him a “Russia apologist” on CNN.
The two men with opposing views on whether Russia should be considered a threat to the US clashed during a panel hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who asked if the American people should be concerned about US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had a two-hour meeting behind closed doors during a summit in Helsinki, with only their two interpreters to witness the conversation.
Boot, an outspoken ‘Never Trump’ neoconservative who openly joined the #Resistance and got a Washington Post column recently, said there was something “scary” about the situation. The established wisdom among the #Resistance pundits is that Putin is somehow controlling Trump and that the secret meeting in the Finnish capital was all about the US president selling his country’s interest to the Kremlin.
Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton, said there was nothing unusual about two heads of state meeting behind closed doors. He added people could get an idea or two about what was said at the meeting from public statements made by Putin. As both Boot and Cooper pointed out that it would require trusting Putin’s word on it, Cohen said: “I don’t want to shock you, but I believe Vladimir Putin on several things.”
The professor offered a parallel to what happened after similar one-on-one talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, in 1986, which eventually led to partial nuclear disarmament. Even some conservatives who today worship Reagan as a hero branded him a “useful idiot” then, for signing the INF treaty with the USSR.
Boot brought up Trump’s willingness to negotiate with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which he said would fit Trump’s pattern of behavior, threatening leaders before talking to them.
“The striking thing to me is though he is willing to threaten North Korea, he is willing to threaten Iran, he never threatens Russia. And that’s why a lot of intelligence officials think that there is something highly suspect in the relationship between Putin and Trump,” Boot said, apparently failing to recall how Trump literally threatened Putin with American missiles over Syria.
“I have no idea what Mr. Boot is talking about,” Cohen replied. “He wants Trump to threaten Russia? Why would we threaten Russia?”
“Because they are attacking us!” the agitated Boot cut the scholar off. “Russia is attacking us, Mr Cohen! Russia is attacking us right now, according to Trump’s own director of national intelligence!”
“I’ve been studying Russia for 45 years,” Cohen said, only to be interrupted by Boot, who claimed Cohen has been “consistently an apologist for Russia those 45 years.” The scholar apparently couldn’t believe the debate sank to personal attacks, because he asked Boot to repeat what he just said.
“I don’t do defamation of people, I do serious analysis of serious national security problems,” the professor said. “When people like you call people like me, and not only me, but people more eminent than me, apologists for Russia because we don’t agree with your analysis, you are criminalizing diplomacy and detente and you are the threat to American national security, end of story.”
“Why do you have to defame somebody you don’t agree with?” Cohen continued. “They used to do that in the old Soviet Union. We don’t do that here. Well, we used to, but we need to stop it.”
Boot laughed as Cooper tried to regain control of the discussion, asking Cohen if he believed Russia attacked the US in 2016. As he tried to explain why he didn’t, Boot cut him off again.
“You just denied being an apologist for Russia. You are apologizing for Russia as we speak,” he said.
“Will you let me finish? You don’t know what I am going to say,” Cohen said after a pause. Then he argued that the US and Russia have been meddling in each other’s affairs since after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The US actually sent troops to get involved in the Russian civil war, he reminded. The alleged Russian meddling “is not an attack, it is not 9/11, it is not Pearl Harbor. It is not Russian paratroopers descending on Washington,” he said.
“I think that Mr Boot would have been happy if Trump had waterboarded Putin at the summit and made him confess,” Cohen said. “Trump carried out an act of diplomacy fully consistent with the history of American presidency. Let us see what comes out of it, then judge.”
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