Bashing NATO: Stephen F. Cohen

Time to check in again with Stephen F. Cohen, the NYU prof (and hubby of limo-lefty Nation publisher Katrina van den Heuvel) who is America’s most prominent Kremlinologist – and Vladimir Putin’s most ardent and assiduous champion in the U.S.

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Stephen F. Cohen

Over the last few months, we’ve spent a good deal of time probing Cohen’s reprehensible views. One example: instead of denouncing Russia’s antigay laws, Cohen has condemned Western gays for complaining about them. Surely Cohen, a card-carrying member of the leftist establishment, is a fan of the Freedom Riders who went to the American South to march for black civil rights; surely he supported folks who traveled to South Africa to protest apartheid; and without a doubt, like the rest of the Nation gang, he cheers Westerners who go to Gaza to savage Israel. But Western gays calling for gay rights in Russia? “How is that our concern?” Cohen asked a Newsweek interviewer, his irritation palpable. “Why is it America’s job to go over there and sort out the gay problem when 85 percent of Russians think they should have no rights?”

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Gilbert Doctorow, co-founder of ACEWA

The last time we looked in on Cohen, back in November, he was busy co-founding a pro-Russia propaganda scam called the American Committee for East-West Accord. Think of it as a 21st-century version of all those Cold War-era international “peace organizations” and “peace congresses” that were actually Soviet fronts and you’ll get the idea. Cohen is, after all, a guy who, in Soviet days, wasn’t just a Kremlin expert but a Kremlin fan, the sort of leftist who blamed the downside of Soviet life on Stalin (not Communism itself, which he defended) and blamed the Cold War on America.

So what’s the latest with Cohen? In a February interview with his favorite TV channel, Putin’s own RT America (formerly Russia Today), Cohen went on a rant about NATO. Hardly the first time, to be sure. But this interview – conducted by Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC hack who’s now on Putin’s payroll – was particularly worth listening to, given that it provided a tidy summing-up of Cohen’s thinking on the topic. Sample: NATO – that means Washington and that means Obama administration – has decided to quadruple its military forces on Russia’s borders or near Russia’s borders.” This equation of NATO with the U.S. speaks volumes: for him, NATO isn’t a group of sovereign nations that have pulled together in the cause of common defense; it’s an instrument of American imperialism, period.

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Ed Schultz

“The last time there was this kind of Western hostile military force on Russia’s borders,” complained Cohen, “is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941.” Yes, there it was: a comparison of NATO to the Nazis. Cohen went on: “During the 40-year Cold War there was this vast buffer zone that ran from the Soviet borders all the way to Berlin. There were no NATO or American troops there. So this is a very radical departure on the part of the administration.” Some euphemism: “buffer zone”! Of course, Cohen’s referring to the countries of Eastern Europe that the Red Army overran at the end of World War II and turned into Communist satellites. Those countries were no “buffer zone”; they were captive nations, their people unfree, their governments Kremlin puppets. When Hungary tried to break away in 1956, it was invaded by Soviet tanks. Ditto Czechoslovakia in 1968.

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Cohen with his wife (and publisher) Katrina van den Heuvel

Today, those countries are free. All of them, at the first opportunity, rushed to join NATO – not, as Cohen implies, because they wanted to subject themselves to another imperial master, but because they wanted to protect their freedom in the face of what they recognized as the continued Kremlin threat. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been absorbed into the USSR during World War II and which gained their independence after it dissolved, joined NATO too. And Putin’s actions against Georgia in 2008, plus his later intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, made it clear that these nations’ concerns were well-founded.

Not in Cohen’s world, however. “Russia is not threatening any country on its border,” he told Schultz. Yes, he said, there is a threat – but it’s coming from the U.S., which had sparked “a new Cold War” beginning with “the proxy American-Russian war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008.” Yes, Cohen actually rewrote Russia’s bullying of Georgia into a “proxy…war” with the U.S. And he went on to call NATO activity “very dangerous and reckless” because under “Russian doctrine,” born of “their weakness after the end of the Soviet Union,” the Kremlin has committed itself to “use tactical nuclear weapons” in response to any threat by “overwhelming conventional force.” So we should view Putin’s apparent readiness to use nukes – yes, nukes – as a legitimate response to the “threat” represented by NATO defense preparations.

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Just a reminder: these two are the Boris and Natasha of our time

In Cohen-land, in short, reality is turned upside down: it’s not Russia that’s rattling sabers at its neighbors and former vassals, thus compelling them to participate in a mutual-defense pact; it’s the U.S. that’s brandishing the dogs of war in the form of countries that, Cohen would have us believe, are not free and sovereign nations but American vassals – thus compelling Putin to risk playing the nuclear card. Got that? Of course you do. Believe it? Of course you don’t. Only among the type of people who read the Nation does such twisted nonsense pass muster as legitimate geopolitical analysis. 

Top ten stooges of 2015: part two

Yesterday we looked at the first five of our top ten useful stooges of 2015. Here are the rest. Again, these aren’t necessarily the very worst creeps we’ve written about here; they’re just a few of the people whose stoogery during the last year stood out in ways that we thought made them worth another quick look before we move on into 2016. 

vickKarl Vick  The dopey Time scribe gushed more than once in 2015 over Cuba’s “decaying glory” and “social equality” – by which he meant that every Cuban who’s not a member of the political elite is dirt-poor – and expressed concern that capitalism-friendly changes in that island prison might end this precious “equality” by actually raising the standard of living. This is the same guy who in 2010 won a “Dishonest Reporting Award” for a cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace,” in which he vilified Israel and whitewashed Hamas, professing that its official commitment to destroying the Jewish state was only “nominal.”

cohen4Stephen F. Cohen  How could we leave Stephen F. Cohen out of this? He’s Putin’s most high-profile apologist, who – usually in league with his wife, moneyed Nation doyenne Katrina vanden Heuvel – keeps coming up with new ways to sell his hero in Moscow. In 2015, he co-founded the American Committee for East-West Accord, which pretends to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations but, in the grand tradition of “committees” dedicated to U.S.-Soviet “peace,” “friendship,” and “understanding,” is patently nothing more or less than a pro-Kremlin propaganda operation. This is, after all, a dude who, in a June article, painted Ukraine’s leaders as savages and Putin as a gentle soul responding with restraint to their violent provocations. 

redfordRobert Redford  He’s directed movies crudely savaging capitalism (The Milagro Beanfield War) and lustily celebrating the despicable Maoists of the Weather Underground (The Company You Keep), and he produced The Motorcycle Diaries, a shameless hagiography of Che Guevara. In 2015 he played the lead role in Truth, one of the great cinematic falsehoods (and, fortunately, flops) in the entire history of Hollywood. Turning the facts of the 2004 Rathergate scandal upside down, the film transforms CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather – who lost his job for trying to sell the public on forged documents – into a hero who was fired for defending the truth. When this dreck was released in October, Redford, now 79, was out there promoting not only the picture but its profoundly mendacious message.  

seumas-milneSeumas Milne  The British Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications (i.e., spokesman), who was named to the post in October, is a famously poisonous critic of the U.S., capitalism, and Israel, and an ardent defender of Communism, Stalin, Castro, Che, Ahmadinejad, and Putin. Oh, and jihadists. A longtime reporter and commentator for The Guardian, Milne has praised the Soviet bloc for its “genuine idealism” and lamented West Germany’s annexation of East Germany because it meant “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.” Journalist Kate Godfrey, herself a Labourite, condemned Milne’s appointment as “morally and ethically wrong,” saying it “devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is.”

roger_waters1Roger Waters  For years, the former Pink Floyd front man has publicly compared Israel to Nazi Germany and severely chastized fellow celebrities for performing there. In 2013, his concerts featured “a pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” This October, in a particularly vicious open letter in Salon (where else?), he told Bon Jovi that by accepting an invitation to Israel they were allying themselves with child-killers. Ignoring his demand that they change their mind about the trip, Bon Jovi went ahead with their plans and went onstage before a Tel Aviv audience of 50,000 only minutes after two people were killed in a Jerusalem terrorist attack.

Bashing dissidents: Gilbert Doctorow

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Gilbert Doctorow

During the last couple of days we’ve been learning a few things about one Gilbert Doctorow, who, together with fellow Putin apologist Stephen F. Cohen, and with the backing of Cohen’s wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and her deep-pockets family, has founded something called the American Committee for East-West Accord (ACEWA). Perusing a few of Doctorow’s recent commentaries, we’ve recognized the truth of Cathy Young’s statement, in an illuminating Daily Beast piece about the ACEWA, that Doctorow is even “more pro-Kremlin” than Cohen.

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Maria Gaidar

Here’s one last tidbit from Doctorow’s oleaginous oeuvre. This summer, writing in Russia Insider, he trashed Putin’s liberal opposition; as in much of his work, sneering was his principal rhetorical device. He ridiculed Maria Gaidar, whose father was a pro-free market prime minister under Yeltsin, for relocating to Ukraine to work for Putin opponent Mikhel Saakashvili, and for exchanging her Russian passport for a Ukrainian one. Likewise, he jeered at Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of a popular, pro-liberty St. Petersburg mayor, for taking a job with an anti-Putin TV channel. Throwing around words like “neo-fascist,” Doctorow charged that when these and other high-profile Russians accept employment from critics of Putin – or, quite simply, just move abroad, presumably to escape his thuggery – their motive isn’t a love of freedom but “just money.” 

27 Dec 2007; Russia, Moscow. Russia's ex-minister of foreign affairs Andrey Kozyrev during press-conference on his appointment as Chairman of AKB "Investtorgbank". (Photo by Andrei' Maxonin/Kommersant)
Andrei Kozyrev

Doctorow concluded his piece by slamming opposition leader and former foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, who in recent op-eds for the New York Times and Washington Post had dared to criticize Putin’s human-rights violations and to broach the subject of regime change at the Kremlin. Accusing Kozyrev of “courting sedition” and “giving comfort to the enemy,” Doctorow warned in the strongest terms against regime change (“Most of the obvious candidates to succeed to the presidency are far less experienced, far less prudent than the incumbent”) and, without addressing Kozyrev’s actual charges about human rights, suggested he was obviously not “someone genuinely wishes his native country well.”

Doctorow’s columns on Russia, then, are easily summed up, and Young has already done the job: as she puts it, he “serves up a steady diet of frank Kremlin apologism and vitriolic attacks on Putin foes,” all the while suggesting that any Russian who has anything negative whatsoever to say about the president is an out-and-out traitor. “Opposition treachery,” Young writes, “is a Doctorow leitmotif.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen

Interviewing Cohen, Young asked him about what she called Doctorow’s “crude dissident-bashing.” Cohen seemed to try to distance himself from it, averring that he and his fellow ACEWA board members “probably disagree as much as we agree about specific issues.” But if Cohen really has significant disagreements with Doctorow, why put him on the board? Why list him as a co-founder? He’s no ex-Senator or ex-Ambassador; nor does he seem to be a moneybags like William vanden Heuvel. What, other than his noxious views, does Doctorow bring to the table?

No: plainly Cohen and his wife want to have an extremist like Doctorow on board. It makes sense: he can mount even more fervently pro-Putin arguments than they themselves dare to put their names to, all the while doing Cohen the service of making him look like a reasonable moderate by comparison.

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Just a reminder that Cohen and vanden Heuvel are, to all intents and purposes, the Boris and Natasha of the American left

It’s a neat deal: Doctorow’s arguments get out there – perhaps even in the pages of the Nation – and they attain a certain legitimacy thanks to his association with ACEWA, even though, at the same time, Cohen and vanden Heuvel are fully free to claim (if strongly or unpleasantly challenged by, say, his colleagues at NYU, or her friends on Capitol Hill and on Manhattan’s limousine left) that Doctorow’s opinions aren’t necessarily their own.

In short, a sneaky stratagem, eminently worthy of this wily pack of pro-Putin propagandists.

Professor Cohen’s latest pro-Putin project

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Stephen F. Cohen

There’s no keeping up with the multitudinous mischievous machinations of veteran Kremlinologist Stephen F. Cohen. Russia’s thug-in-chief, Vladimir Putin, has no more high-profile apologist anywhere in the Western world than the 76-year-old NYU and Princeton prof. Every time we turn around, Cohen – almost invariably in league with his moneybags wife, Nation publisher/editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – has come up with some new stunt, some new angle, some new scam designed to pump up ol’ Vlad’s image in the West.

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Cathy Young

In mid October, Cathy Young reported at the Daily Beast on one of Cohen’s latest capers. It appears that back in the Cold War days, Cohen helped found something called the American Committee on East-West Accord (ACEWA), one of those groups that, in the name of peace, “consistently urged U.S. trade, foreign policy and arms control concessions to the USSR.” Established in 1974, the ACEWA was shuttered in 1992, in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now Cohen, along with some allies, appears to be reviving the ACEWA – kind of. The name of the new organization, the American Committee for East-West Accord, is almost exactly identical to that of the old one – the only difference is that “on” has been replaced by “for.” (The change, Cohen explains, reflects his desire to be “more proactive.”) The group, whose stated objective is to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations and ensure “a conclusive end to cold war and its attendant dangers,” had its formal launch in Washington, D.C., on November 4.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) Former US Senator and NBA player Bill Bradley speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios March 25, 2007 in Washington, DC. A former Democratic presidential hopeful, Bradley spoke about his new book, "The New American Story." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
Bill Bradley

As Young notes, the whole thing “couldn’t sound more benign.” The seven-member board includes some soothing, solid establishment names: Bill Bradley, the former U.S. Senator from New Jersey; Jack Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union; and John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.

But Cohen is one of two official co-founders, and this is plainly his baby. The other co-founder is something of a wild card: he’s Gilbert Doctorow, whom Young describes as a “Brussels-based U.S. expatriate and self-styled ‘professional Russia-watcher.’” Vanden Heuvel, though not officially affiliated with the ACEWA, is a major player, promoting the venture in The Nation and “mentioning the group’s activities to her contacts in Congress.” Also heavily involved is vanden Heuvel’s dad, former UN ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel: he’s on the group’s board, was identified as the group’s president in its incorporating papers, and has allowed the address of his philanthropy, the Melinda and William J. vanden Heuvel Foundation, to be listed as the ACEWA’s Manhattan address.

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William and Melinda vanden Heuvel

To our surprise, Cohen, in a conversation with Young, actually tried to walk back some of his own more outrageously Putin-friendly statements – though not very effectively. He admitted that when discussing Putin’s invasion of Crimea on TV, he’d been “insufficiently critical of Russia’s contribution to the crisis,” but maintained that he’d taken a strong pro-Putin line as a “conscious strategy” intended to counter what he saw as the mainstream media’s excessively anti-Putin spin. “Russia’s side of the story was not being told, and I knew I was going to get grief for trying to tell it as I understood it,” Cohen insisted. He added that if he’d been insufficiently nuanced, it was, well, because his TV time is always so brief. In response to his claim, Young pointed out that Cohen has been just as uncritical of Putin in his articles for the Nation, where his wife gives him enough space to be as nuanced as nuanced can be.

Cohen’s efforts at backpedaling are, it must be said, rather entertaining. But the major accomplishment of Young’s article is to draw our attention to Doctorow, Cohen’s co-founder. Unlike Cohen, Doctorow has virtually no profile in the U.S. He maintains his own blog, writes for an obscure Russian news and opinion website, and last year contributed an article on Putin to the Nation. There’s pretty much only one reason he’s worth paying attention to – and that reason is that, as Young puts it, he’s even “more pro-Kremlin” than Cohen.

How pro-Kremlin? We’ll get into that tomorrow.