Allegations that the president is a 'puppet of Putin' could prevent him from making decisions in America’s best interests
Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Now in their fourth year, previous installments are at TheNation.com.) Cohen worries that unrelenting allegations that President Trump is a willing or unwilling agent of Putin’s Kremlin—charges made thus far without any factual evidence—could limit or even cripple his ability to make wise decisions in regard to Russia, even in a dire crisis. In that connection, Cohen continues:
§ Implying or outright alleging that Trump is a “puppet,” “poodle,” or “fifth columnist” of the Kremlin is neither episodic nor marginal. Such charges have appeared consistently in mainstream media—includingThe New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, and other influential news outlets— since mid-2016, and they have continued since he became president. Considering the grave dangers inherent in the new Cold War, some kind of détente, or more cooperation with Russia, as Trump has promised, is imperative for US and international security. But détente requires reciprocal negotiations—concessions on both sides. “It takes two to tango,” as President Reagan remarked during his détente with Soviet leader Gorbachev. How will Trump gain the needed political support at home for any reciprocity with Russian President Putin while being suspected of, or charged with, betraying American interests? Or in a more dire crisis like the nuclear confrontation over Cuba in 1962, how would he manage President Kennedy’s wise negotiations with Soviet leader Khrushchev, which required face-saving concessions on both sides? To prove his loyalty to America, would Trump have to go closer to the brink of, or wage, nuclear war?
§ Cohen then itemizes and examines the purported “evidence” for Trump’s potential sedition: his “bromance” with Putin; the Clinton campaign’s linking Trump to Putin; Russian money in Trump enterprises; the CIA-FBI-NSA–published report on the hacking of the DNC, which “assessed” that it was done by Putin to put Trump in the White House; the “dossier” compiled (for profit) by shadowy former intelligence officers in London, Moscow, and possibly in Ukraine; Trump “associates” having commercial relations with Russians or appearing at Russian public events; etc. Examining the various reports, allegations, and major news stories based on them, Cohen concludes that none presents any factual incriminating evidence. Indeed, most such news stories bury deep in their text acknowledgments that official investigators or reporters found “no conclusive evidence of wrong-doing.” Some of the allegations are ludicrous and uninformed. Trump Corp. sold many coops and condos, particularly in New York City and South Florida, to cash-bearing Russians in the 1990s and 2000s, buyers pursued by most big American realtors. Trump associates may have had commercial dealings with Russian investors and the Russian state, but so do McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Wendy’s, and a range of US energy and mineral corporations. General Flynn, Trump’s national-security adviser, appeared on RT and at one of its public events, but so have many American and West European political figures who are hardly “pro-Kremlin.”
§ As for the separate charge that Flynn and possibly other Trump representatives had private discussions with Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration, this is far from unprecedented in American presidential history. Ask any historian of presidential elections. Each case must be judged on its merits, not on the uninformed adage that we have always had “only one president at a time” after an election, or even before.
§ Considering all of this, Cohen concludes that Trump’s team has shown itself to be remarkably inept in refuting allegations of his incriminating ties to the Kremlin; that the allegations are empowering the enemies of détente both in Washington and in Moscow; that instead of an investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 election there should be an investigation of the political role played by US intelligence agencies, particularly by the CIA, which has a long history of producing politicized “intelligence,” from the “missile gap” and Bay of Pigs to the Iraq War; and that until factual evidence of President Trump’s alleged subservience to Putin’s Kremlin is produced, if any actually exists, such allegations must stop now for the sake of American national security—and for the sake of decency—no matter one’s opinion of the new president in other regards.