Home / General / Trump and Putin’s Man at <i>The Nation</i>

Trump and Putin’s Man at The Nation


Isaac Chotiner’s interview with Stephen Cohen is…amazing:

Why do you think Trump, who has essentially, as far as I can tell, no clue about what’s going on anywhere and can’t keep his mind on some issue for 10 minutes, has had in his head consistently time and again that we must make peace with Putin, we must come together with Putin, Putin’s a good guy? What do you make of that?

Well you have given me a kind of primitive version of what Trump said. First of all, I don’t share the view that Trump’s an idiot. Trump’s a clever, cunning, smart man, or he wouldn’t have become Donald Trump. Whether that’s applicable to the presidency is a different question, but to treat him as a buffoon and an idiot is just silly.

On the face of it, because it so deviated from American mainstream thinking about Putin, which was that he was a demon—that’s what was startling about Trump, you’re absolutely right. That he alone of all the candidates, even when we had multiple ones in the Democratic and Republican primaries, so far as I recall, he alone made this statement, I think I quote exactly, “Wouldn’t it be great if we cooperated with Russia?” My answer is not only great but imperative. He also said, he also said he didn’t know that Putin was actually a killer of personal enemies. That is correct. There is no evidence to support those allegations. He also said that Putin is a strong leader. That is also correct.

You say there’s no evidence Putin was a killer. Don’t you think if Russia had a more robust free press and was more of a liberal democracy, evidence might actually emerge?

There’s no evidence. I know there are allegations, but I have looked into the three or four most famous cases. I can’t look at them all because there’s about 30 now, some of them withdrawn.

It’s…all like this. You can just mentally add “I am not a crackpot” after every third sentence.

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  • D.N. Nation

    That article sent me down a fun rabbit hole of Cohen that led me to these two sentences, which were written as you see them, back to back:

    And what of Barack Obama’s decision to send only a low-level delegation, including retired gay athletes, to Sochi? In August, Putin virtually saved Obama’s presidency by persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to eliminate his chemical weapons.


  • Nathan Goldwag

    I get why Leftists would support a dovish foreign policy towards Russia. I do too, within reason. But I do not understand this desire to believe that Putin is a Good Left-Wing Leader. Russia isn’t the Soviet Union. It’s the New Czardom now, and it fights for Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationalism. The Right understands this. So many Leftists seem to be living in a world where not only did the Soviet Union never fall but where Khrushchev never made the Secret Speech either. Jesus.

    • Brien Jackson

      It’s less left-wig and more anti-neoliberal, I think. Cohen sees Putin as, if nothing else, a long-running repudiation of the shock doctrine/disaster capitalism robber baron policies of the Yelstin period, which was of course heavily supported by Western and corporate interests.

      • daves09

        People who could believe that must be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid-see oligarchy:Russian. Also Kleptocracy:Russian.

      • CP

        It’s generically anti-“establishment,” I’d say.

        • Origami Isopod

          I don’t even think it’s that. It’s reflexive anti-Americanism without taking into consideration that other countries have agency and have done horrendous things.

          • TopsyJane

            I don’t even think it’s that. It’s reflexive anti-Americanism without taking into consideration that other countries have agency and have done horrendous things.

            Absolutely, but as the only remaining superpower the U.S. has to expect and receive a higher level of scrutiny and rightly so. We hold ourselves to higher standards and preach to the world on those higher standards. We also impose ourselves on others, as empires tend to do. It is not “reflexive anti-Americanism” to point this out. Horrible things have been done, and continue to be done, in our name, and because we’re the only bigfoot left, the repercussions are greater.

            • Origami Isopod

              Absolutely, but as the only remaining superpower the U.S. has to expect and receive a higher level of scrutiny and rightly so.

              It is one thing to hold the U.S. to a higher standard, quite another to declare that nothing the U.S. does is ever good and that its enemies or anyone who criticizes it are perforce always in the right. Praising Putin falls under the latter cateogory.

              • tsam

                Along with that attitude you get the dismissal of everything terrible every other country (or non-state actor, for that matter) does because it’s all obviously the direct result of US imperialism.

            • BiloSagdiyev

              Horrible things have been done, and continue to be done, in our name, and because we’re the only bigfoot left…


          • Harkov311

            Well, as the quote provided by D.N. Nation shows in the first reply, Cohen seems to think that Assad also has no agency, and just does whatever Putin tells him.

          • Snuff curry

            It’s reflexive anti-Americanism without taking into consideration that other countries have agency and have done horrendous things.

            Yep. Retaining that characteristically hyperbolic, characteristically American belief in their own exceptionalism. Wholly good or wholly bad, we are always Number One.

      • Scrooge

        If that’s Cohen’s view, he’s more naive than I thought. Putin isn’t anti-neoliberal at all. Putin is more than happy to let corporations in on the Russian pie, as long as he (Putin) is in charge of the pie and gets to determine who gets how much. I hope Cohen isn’t so nearsighted as to think this mafia vision of government is a super-terrific answer to “neoliberalism.”

    • Davis X. Machina

      Tankies gotta tank.

    • SatanicPanic

      They think he’s standing up to the western imperialism. The anti-imperialist left sell out cheap- a few angry words at a US president and they’re ready to get on board. One of my friends is already lionizing Duterte, of all people because he called Barack Obama a few bad words.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Bear in mind that big swathes of the “anti-imperialist left” are comprised of very stupid people trying very hard to perform nonconformist identities.

        • Origami Isopod

          Who was it who said here a while ago that conservatives love their country the way a 3-year-old loves their mother, but the “anti-imperialist left”/pink anarchist bunnies/etc. hate their country the way a 13-year-old hates their mother?

          • CP

            I don’t know, but he or she is a goddamn genius and I’d like to digitally and metaphorically shake his or her hand.

          • Rob in CT

            I remember that, and also remember thinking it was brilliant.

          • NonyNony

            I don’t know who said it first, but I’m totally stealing it.

          • ThresherK

            I am also pilfering that metaphor.

        • Rob in CT

          Which is really depressing.

          We really could use a sane anti-imperialist (less interventionist, anyway) FP take, and I’d prefer it not be basically Dan Larison over at TAC yelling at clouds.

          • Origami Isopod

            Yes, we absolutely could.

          • Manny Kant

            Larison was saying during the campaign that Clinton’s no-fly zone in Syria idea was a call for war with Russia.

            Said there was literally no reason to think that Clinton was talking about a negotiated no-fly zone rather than unilaterally imposing one and shooting down Russian planes.

            • Q.E.Dumbass

              So is Larison’s FP writing objectively good, or just especially good for a conservative? (BTW, still not sure whether Scott was being sarcastic when he said non-interventionist paleocon > Bret Stephens for an NYT op-ed position).

            • Rob in CT

              Ugh. I didn’t see that, because I actually stopped reading Larison a while back. I generally thought he was fine, but I also am not that keen on giving clicks to AmCon, and some regulars here clued me in to his neoconfederate leanings.

              So is Larison’s FP writing objectively good, or just especially good for a conservative?

              My reaction when I used to read him was that he was pretty solid overall, but then my FP views are to a significant degree still paleocon (the one bit of my sort-of-conservative upbringing that remains).

      • CP

        Calling Putin and Duterte “anti-imperialist” because they clashed with Barack Obama is like calling apartheid South Africa and the contras “anti-imperialist” because they were both under U.S. embargo.

        • tsam

          Calling Putin anti-imperialist would require denying the existence of Crimea and Ukraine and Chechnya and Georgia (not THAT Georgia)…

          But yeah. Sure. Anti-imperialist. (Not that the US has a lot of room to talk on the issue, but letting Putin be painted as something other than a fucking monster is grounds for immediate dismissal)

          • SatanicPanic

            Well yeah, at this point I think we can conclude that the likely result of a Trump + Putin lead detente will be the USA and Russia carving up the globe into separate fiefdoms.

            • so-in-so

              China might have a word in there…

              • SatanicPanic

                Which means that the anti-imperialist left will have some new heroes.

          • LeeEsq

            The same dynamic existed during the Cold War. Anti-Imperialists would get angry at Western intervention but ignore Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, or Egyptian intervention because it is per se anti-Imperialist because of who was doing it.

        • SatanicPanic

          Anti-imperialist= America doesn’t like them.

          Like the anti-imperialist left there’s no need to show results, just saying the right words is all that matters.

      • Hob

        One of our very own “left” trolls here gave us the “liberals only think Duterte is bad because The Man has told you he’s anti-US” line a few days ago. He didn’t bother trying to come up with any reasons why Duterte is good, but was satisfied to have found a reason not to give a shit about something. Which is different from Cohen’s shtick, but, I think, not uncommon.

        • tsam

          It’s just martial law and state sanction rape and murder. Geez. Lighten up people. FAKE NEWS.

        • SatanicPanic

          That line says more about them than it does us, because I don’t need the news to tell me that a guy who brags about murdering people and encourages his soldiers to rape is a bad man.

          • John Revolta

            Obama is worse because DROONNNES

        • Origami Isopod

          The guy is killing people for doing drugs, ffs. But, yeah, he’s totally an avatar of progressivism. Which troll was that, do you recall?

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            The just-recently-rebanned NMAC/SWH.

            • Origami Isopod

              It figures.

    • CP

      This. It’s the world’s foremost white nationalist regime. Its economy runs on oligarchical capitalism, its social policies run on racism and religious conservatism, its foreign policy runs on militarism, expansionism, and FriendlyDictatorism, and it’s currently being driven by what’s easily the world’s most successful “Deep State.”

      Putin’s regime is what you’d get if J. Edgar Hoover, James Dobson, Ronald Reagan, the Dulles brothers, George Wallace, and every banker on Wall Street had a baby together and that baby decided “you guys are all weak-ass moderates and I’m going to double every one of the bad things you did.” There is not a single goddamn thing about it that the left-wing has any business making excuses for, and anyone who’s doing it is doing the left far more harm than good.

      (Note that I think the same was true of the USSR, old George Orwell was completely right about that, but at least that one claimed an extreme left-wing movement as its official ideology, so you could understand, if not excuse, how political tribalism could lead Western leftists to root for that particular monster. With Putin? They don’t even have that lame excuse).

      • LeeEsq

        One of the amusing anecdotes from Red Plenty was about how one of the latter Soviet leaders became obsessed with denim jackets and the Soviet industrial machine had to be used to create denim jackets for him to wear. The lives of the party elite, the gnomenklatura, in the Soviet Union are really interesting because of the sheer hypocrisy and how they were able to fool a lot of Western Leftists that should have known better.

        • CP

          Have not heard of Red Plenty, but I’m not at all surprised – that’s basically what I’d heard of the Soviet upper class, too. Same’s true today of the Saudi elites, their relationship with the decadent West, and their relationship with the highly conservative/puritan culture they promote. Heck, same’s true of our elites and the extent to which they plug themselves into the government while decrying “socialism.”

          • Bruce B.

            Red Plenty is an amazing book, offering a ton of fascinating info into the era when a bunch of Soviets worked very hard to build a system that could keep track of the whole Soviet economy, to enable true central planning. Their ambitions were impressive often admirable – many of them very sincerely wanted to abolish the countless kinds of flaws that leave people in avoidable need and misery – their ultimate failures heartbreaking. Well worth your time.

            On the “should have known better” front, I wish I could remember where I saw this response to an argument about how it was okay because verifiable info was in such short supply: the very fact that verifiable info was in such short supply should have been a clear sign that things were not well. Authorities don’t clamp down on info that way to hide the fact that their people are living healthy, secure, free lives.

            • LeeEsq

              Even if facts and information should be in short supply, there was enough information available in the open to show the hypocrisy of Communist party elites like the wearing of military fancy dress with chests full of metals or chauffeured limousines rather than taking the Moscow Metro.

        • Gareth

          “It’s all very nice, Leonid, but what if the Communists take over?”

      • rm

        I remember one lame excuse for Soviet apologetics was that our capitalist system creates even more suffering, but it’s not directly attributable to government action, just the workings of the market letting people starve and be exploited.

        As if you can’t be against the evils of one hegemonic system without excusing the evils of its rival.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think it is a kind of knee-jerk antoi-neoliberal/anti-Americanism that has always existed on some parts of my left.

      “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a really powerful and very stupid pull for a lot of people. Someone I know from grad school started post pro-Assad propaganda after Trump’s stupid military attack. As far as I can tell, the fact that Trump did something was the pushing factor in turning the guy pro-Assad. The stuff was all about how the U.S. wants to bomb Syria because they are “GMO” free and other derpy stuff because Monsanto controls U.S. foreign policy.*

      So if someone’s politics is reflectively anti-neoliberal or anti-U.S. than pro-Putin comes in.

      *The worst part of this is the guy is a teacher to at-risk youth and I used to think he was a good guy for doing this and now I wonder if he should be allowed within 700 miles of any classroom.

    • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

      Something that struck me was this exchange:

      There is a small, embattled free press in Moscow. I and my wife are very, very close, very close to the primary one, that’s Novaya Gazeta. That’s the newspaper that employed Anna Politkovskaya and several other journalists that were assassinated . . . I don’t know who killed her. They’ve arrested the gunman, but they never get to the contract-giver. It almost certainly came out of Chechnya, almost certainly.

      It sounds like he personally knew Politkovskaya, a brave journalist, and people at Novaya. Yet he is defending a man ultimately responsible for her death? That kind of makes this slip past idiotic and into monstrous.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        And this:

        It almost certainly came out of Chechnya, almost certainly.

        Chechnya, of course, is ruled by Putin’s mini-me. So I’m not sure why Cohen thinks this is mitigating for Putin.

        • so-in-so

          Scary Mooslims? His “buddy” Putin is just trying to control those bad people, see.

  • humanoid.panda

    Beyond everything else, it’s crystal clear that Cohen Trumped his brain: he is clearly only consuming official Russian sources of information plus conspiracy blogs.

    • humanoid.panda

      I mean at this point he is no different than a ” do your own research” internet troll- and it seems increasingly likely that ” do your own research types ” are number one threat tot he civic order…

      • Murc

        I’m going to push back on this just a touch; in some of the circles I inhabit, “do your own research” was a necessary immune response to people who would do things like demand a first-cause, complete history of, and justification for, things like feminist, intersectionality, Keynesian economics, etc., complete with multiple citations and many reputable sources, every time any of those topics came up.

        If you’re someone who, every time you make a comment about the patriarchy, has some bad-faith douchebag elbow his way in and ask you to prove that it really does exist, you’re going to respond with “do your own research, fucko,” after awhile.

        This isn’t to defend Cohen in any wayy.

        • humanoid.panda

          I dunno. I might be spinning in different circles, but the only times I was people using the “do your own research line” is when they are peddling nonsense.

          • Origami Isopod

            Yeah, it’s wildly different circles. Murc is talking about women, PoC, etc. who can’t make a simple statement without sea lions coming in to demand proof they’d never think of asking from a white cishet guy. You’re talking about the sorts of people who think everything is a conspiracy theory and, e.g., instead of going to CDC.gov you should do your research at their pet website in which everything is posted in Comic Sans in various point sizes and font colors.

            • NonyNony

              I agree but would add that often the “do your own research” coming from women, PoC, etc. comes after a lengthy set of pointers to where you can go to find support for their arguments and is generally a sign of weariness/exasperation on the part of the person who has tried so damn hard to put people on the path to understanding what they’re talking about but the person they are arguing with is stubbornly refusing to even give credence to the idea that they have, in fact, got an informed opinion.

              The people in the second group never go through that first part. They just throw out “do your own research” the way that some people throw out “I read it in a book” or “my teacher told me” – as a reflexive defense without much thought behind it.

              • Origami Isopod

                Yes, absolutely.

                • humanoid.panda

                  Fair enough: I was totally oblivious to the other useage of do your own research.

              • Sea lioning and “do your own research” also both tend to be the behavior of people forcing themselves into other people’s conversations and spaces.

            • tsam

              Well, Akshully not all men do this and do you have an example because my statistics and science tell me that only 33.2% of men are bad

          • cpinva

            this. if you make an assertion, especially one that is, on its face, ridiculous, it is incumbent upon you to provide support for that assertion, not on someone else. “do your own research” is basically, “i just pulled this out of my ass” in a nice way.

    • Rob in CT

      He “read it on the internet” just like Trump.

      • humanoid.panda

        I dunno if this was discussed here, but there is a piece making the rounds about Trump’s obvious decline from a blowhard who reads the New York Post but also the Times, to a loon who gets all his info from Fox and Friends+ conspiracy theorists, hinting that he is seriously cognitively impaired. Cohen’s interview shows something similar: a self-induced brain-washing if you will.

  • Rob in CT

    heard you recently on Fox News. You said that the “assault” on President Trump “was the No. 1 threat to the United States today.” What did you mean by that?

    Threat. OK. Threat. That’s a good word. We’re in a moment when we need an American president and a Kremlin leader to act at the highest level of statesmanship. Whether they meet in summit or not is not of great importance, but we need intense negotiations to tamp down this new Cold War, particularly in Syria, but not only. Trump is being crippled by these charges, for which I can find no facts whatsoever.

    I was referring to that and many news accounts that Russia was behind the hacking, yes.

    The news accounts are of no value to us. I mean you and I both know …

    No value? None?

    No. No value. Not on face value. Just because the New York Times says that I don’t know, Carter Page or [Paul] Manafort or [Michael] Flynn did something wrong, I don’t accept that. I need to see the evidence.

    So then how do you know what’s going on in, say, Ukraine? You’re not reading “news accounts” of it?

    I read on the internet mainly. I can’t read Ukrainian very well, but most of the sources coming out of Ukraine are in Russian anyway.

    So that media’s OK, but the New York Times isn’t?

    No. It absolutely is not OK. No, no, no, no, no, no.

    To use your Kennedy example, there was no evidence that Kennedy was an agent of either the Vatican or the Kremlin—

    No, but Isaac you’re not old enough to remember, but during the campaign, because he was the first Catholic, they all went on about he’s an agent of the Vatican.

    I know that. I’m old enough to have read “news accounts” of it. Anyway, there was a hacking of the DNC and—

    Wait actually no, Isaac stop. Stop. Now, I mean we don’t know that for a fact.

    That there was a hacking of the DNC?

    Yeah we do not know that for a fact.

    What do we think happened?

    Well …

    So you’re really going to argue with me that the DNC wasn’t hacked?

    I’m saying I don’t know that to be the case.


    I will refer you to an alternative report and you can decide yourself.

    You’re not kidding when you say it’s all like that.

    • It’s convenient that his near-nihilistic disbelief in “news accounts” vanishes when it comes to reports on anything positive regarding Putin.

    • muddy

      “Most of the sources coming out of Ukraine are in Russian”

      I bet.

  • Davis X. Machina

    “Wouldn’t it be great if we cooperated with Russia?” My answer is not only great but imperative.

    “Why are you all opposed to peace and friendship between our two great peoples?

    We need their cooperation on so many issues of importance to the progressive community — climate, the Iran deal, ME peace, keeping Hillary out of the White House….

    Did I mention keeping Hillary out of the White House?”

  • Brien Jackson

    At least Cohen is a long standing Russophile whose Putin fandom is at least somewhat consistent with his longstanding views on Russia. What the fuck is the excuse of people like Nina Turner for just straight up running interference for Trump/Putin?

    • FlipYrWhig


    • D.N. Nation

      Dems Bad®

    • TheSophist

      Ummm…..I read that as “Tina Turner”. Very confused.

      • El Guapo

        What’s любовь but a second-hand emotion?

      • Bruce B.

        What’s Trump got to do, got to do with it?
        What’s Trump but a figurehead executive?

    • Phil Perspective

      What the fuck is the excuse of people like Nina Turner for just straight up running interference for Trump/Putin?

      She’s not running interference you racist shitbag. She’s saying people are more concerned with putting food on their table and their kids future. The Democrats aren’t going to return to power solely by trying to claim Putin is hiding under everyone’s bed.

      • mkadel

        Phil, I can’t believe you’d run interference for Nina Turner, who claims that people in Flint care more about the quality of their drinking water than the latest turn in the Trump/Russia sage. Though borne out by polling, it’s a statement no responsible liberal would make.

      • D.N. Nation

        Hey Phil, good buddy, who should I vote for in 2018, 2020?

  • kped

    So we don’t have any forensic evidence that there was a hack. There might have been. If there was a hack, we have no evidence it was the Russians, and we have an alternative explanation that it was actually a leak, that somebody inside did a Snowden, just stuck a thumb drive in and walked out with this stuff. We don’t know. And when you don’t know, you don’t go to war.

    Let me try another tactic.

    It’s not me making this stuff up. It’s not my opinion. It’s just out there. I read it, and I think it’s credible.

    You know he is talking about the Rich conspiracy stuff here, right? This is just awful awful stuff.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Nathan Thurm meets Alexander Cockburn.

      • JB2

        I have not followed Cohen in the Nation, but when I clicked on the Slate piece, I expected a Cockburn-type contrarian take defending Putin/Trump while taking clever jabs at Hillary and the elite/neoliberal/establishment consensus; something at least semi-coherent.

        But that interview was just gibberish – sub-Trumpian.

    • Rob in CT


      • kped

        The way he shifts from saying news reports aren’t credible (when they say something he doesn’t like), to “this thing I read on the internet must be true” is quite something.

    • tsam

      So we don’t have any forensic evidence that there was a hack.

      Yes we do.

      There might have been.

      Might have been what? Evidence? No, there was and is.

      If there was a hack, we have no evidence it was the Russians,


      and we have an alternative explanation that it was actually a leak,

      These are Alternative Facts, Chuck.

      that somebody inside did a Snowden, just stuck a thumb drive in and walked out with this stuff.

      **sigh** K bro.

      It’s not me making this stuff up. It’s not my opinion. It’s just out there. I read it, and I think it’s credible.


      • Scott Lemieux

        And the thing is, even if you grant the (insane) Seth Rich conspiracy theory, that’s only one of the three hacks! You still have to account for the DCCC and Podesta hacks. I’m also pretty sure Seth Rich didn’t walk out of Macron HQ with a flash drive from beyond the grave.

        • humanoid.panda

          Admittedly, Zombie Seth Rich fighting the DEEP STATE in the name of the people and international peace is a great premises for a Breitbart film production.

        • tsam

          What kind of callous shit do you have to be to put Seth Rich’s family through this? I’d beat a motherfucker to death if I was a family member of his.

          • NonyNony

            There are conspiracy theorists who continue to harass the parents of the kids murdered at Sandy Hook because they believe the whole thing was a hoax.

            The depths that some people will go to to support their conspiracy theories is abominable. I feel for the Rich family, because these people won’t go away ever.

            • Rob in CT

              Seriously, the Sandy Hook truthers are the worst of the worst. Well, I guess I hope they’re the worst. Please do not disillusion me if this is not so.

              • kped

                I mean…murdered children, it’s hard to get worse than that. “Your daughter never existed” is the most awful thing to yell at a grieving parent (and by yell at, I of course mean that literally, as they called them on the phone, confronted them in person, etc).

                I mean, the only thing lower would be going to a holocaust survivor that their family didn’t die that way? That’s about all I can think of, and it’s really similar to the Sandy Hook one, just on a bigger event.

            • FMguru

              Same for the proprietor and employees of that beltway pizzeria that some reddit trolls managed to gin up into the center of a child sex trafficking ring serving high-ranking Democratic politicians. I can’t imaging how much that bullshit has cost the restaurant in money, let alone strife and anger and fear.

  • daves09

    He spent his life being so open minded his brain fell out-Fareed Zakariah take note.
    Russia is still Upper Volta with missiles. It maintains what international standing it has by reducing most of its citizens to 2nd and 3rd world living conditions. But that has been Russia’s history.
    Certainly we need to keep an eye on Russia but being terrified of that big bad boogeyman is absurd.
    Strange that the Comey/Russia fake intelligence story has faded-could it be because it doesn’t jibe with the media narrative about the honorable, totally integrified, ethically anguished Mr. Director James Comey.
    Because, you know, it was really all Hillary’s fault.

    • humanoid.panda

      Russia is still Upper Volta with missiles. It maintains what international standing it has by reducing most of its citizens to 2nd and 3rd world living conditions. But that has been Russia’s history.

      This is a myth, mostly. Russia’s median household income doubled under Putin, and while things in rural Russia are grim, the Russian urbanite has about same standards of living as the average Eastern European. Important to keep in mind that Putin is powerful not just because propaganda and killing people, but because under him, Russians enjoyed stuff they could only dream about before 2000.

      • Q.E.Dumbass

        IIRC, wasn’t Putin’s hard-right turn after the Orange Revolution?

        • humanoid.panda

          It’s more of a process. Putin, like the rest of the Russian elite, was always convinced that politics should be about spheres of influence, strongly opposed to liberal interventionism, and favorable to idea that big states should dominate the international system. So, he was very open to an American alliance. But then, the Iraq war demonstrated to him that Americans are hypocrites, and the Orange Revolution that they are seeking to interfer in Russia’s sphere of interests, and then came clashes with the Baltics, etc., etc. But for my money, the break came with Lybia, where he with some justification felt the Western powers lied to him, and the 2012 protests ,which he, with no justification whatsoever, believes were organized by the State Department.

          • Hob

            “which he, with no justification whatsoever, believes were organized by the State Department”

            Do you think Putin believes this, or just that he’s figured out that “blame the Western meddlers” is a good nationalist rallying cry in general?

            • humanoid.panda

              As always, hard to say, but his course of action in 2016 does indicate he believes HRC was an existential danger to the regime.

          • rm

            No expert here, but I think Russia has always felt very threatened by anyone getting up in their sphere. NATO expanding to the Baltic states, US missiles in Poland, and all the recent history in Ukraine — with one side favoring joining the EU, I think — has put them on high alert. We don’t see all this as part of a pattern, except the pattern of liberal democracy spreading and self-determination. They find it nefarious.

      • daves09

        When you start very low doubling is not that impressive.
        Comparisons-while odious-can be revealing.
        With half as many people Russian GDP is one twelfth that of the US.
        You make the mistake, I believe, of assuming that the increase in wealth actually reached the general population. People who travel through non-Moscow, Petersburg Russia paint unbelievably grim pictures of actual life.
        And of course the statitics come from. . . . .Putin-why would he lie?

        • humanoid.panda

          1. Trust me, I travelled in the non-Moscow bits of Russia more than you did. They are not super-nice- but neither is, say, West Virginia. The entirety of the western world is struggling with the problem of rural/ deindustrialized areas.
          2. The increase in wealth did reach the general education: the median Russian, who is an urban dweller, is about 2-3 times richer than she was in 2000.
          3. Unlike the old USSR, the Russian Federation relies on global credit flows. Therefore its stastistics are universally considered as to be reasonably reliable.

          • Your #2 also applies to China and is something that leftists need to be thoughtful about in challenging capitalism. Even though China and Russia have become very oligarchic capitalist nations where most of the benefit has gone to the political class and their cronies, rapid development has also improved the material status of the average person. We’re talking about populations where a substantial number of the older population remember famine, starvation, bread lines, etc. as children and now see their own children and grandchildren having plenty of food, modern electronics, etc.

            As much as we might like to despair at the idea of people favoring stability and (possibly short-term) prosperity over freedom and equality, the decision is not easy when you don’t have any of those things to start with. It’s a lot easier to say you’re willing to sacrifice safety for freedom when you already have a lot of both.

            • humanoid.panda

              This. I travelled in Southwestern China somewhere around 2005, and while that area was, by any objective standard, poor and underdeveloped, I couldn’t help thinking how older locals must think about food being available at vast quantities and affordable prices.

    • Colin Day

      Russia is still Upper Volta Burkina Faso with missiles.


  • Cheerfull

    I was interested to hear that there is a “Baltic problem” that Russia and the U.S. should cooperate on solving. There are of course various possible solutions and the Sudetenland provides a valuable historical comparison.

  • Warren Terra

    My only complaint is that calling Cohen “Putin’s man at the Nation” denies Katrina Van Den Heuvel agency – she is, just as much as he is, and more so given her more responsible position. She decided to be a Russianstooge, it wasn’t an automatic consequence of their marriage.

    And they’ve installed more stooges, of course. I remember an episode early in the Russian-backed Ukranian civil war when some underling at the Nation wrote a piece (since deleted or re-written) denouncing as warmongering escalation the detention by Ukranian forces of Russian soldiers captured, unharmed, on Ukranian territory.

    Given that loyalty to Putin is clearly the highest priority for Cohen and Van Den Heuvel – much more important than their credibility, or the reputation of the magazine she runs – who knows what bizarre loyalty tests or screening mechanisms she might have followed in staffing the magazine she’s run for many years?

    • Davis X. Machina
      • Lost Left Coaster

        Yes, and it’s a credit to the Nation that they ran her piece, which was excellent. I saw the Nation’s own Twitter feed tweet it out many times.

        Still, I canceled my subscription to the Nation over their Putin apologia. I refuse to pay for propaganda, even if much of their other reporting is valuable.

      • so-in-so

        This Sasha Abramsky piece also seems pretty good from the anti-Trump side.

    • Q.E.Dumbass

      They hired the stupid man’s Alexander Cockburn (I refer, of course, to Patrick Lawrence Smith, late of Salon) some time after the primaries.

      • Warren Terra

        I’m pretty sure Alexander Cockburn was the stupid reader’s Alexander Cockburn. He sure wasn’t the smart reader’s Alexander Cockburn.

        • Q.E.Dumbass

          Yes, although he did hav genuine writing skill — an imperfect comparison would be a much more ideologically nasty late-period Taibbi.

          On the subject of Cockburn, I find this defense of him by Scialabba highly unconvincing.

        • manual

          You can hate him all you want. But he made a lot of wonderful contributions (see his work on Cocaine and the CIA) and was a great writer on a wide array of policy and literature.

          Patrick Lawrence is not that.

  • Rob in CT

    Let us all give it up for Slate commenter Rob Pollard:

    I’ve seen Lincoln commercials staring Matthew McConaughey that made more sense then this guy.

    I expected part of the transcription to read,
    “Well…[bong rip]…are we really *here*, man? How do I know you really exist and are not just a figment of my imagination? Or if this isn’t just some experiment enacted by outside forces? I mean, what’s to say we’re not just living on some speck on a giant’s finger, and that giant is part of a zoo exhibit, which is run by even bigger giants?”

    [coughing fit]…you know what I mean? Something to think about.

  • Asteroid_Strike_Brexit

    I have actually read one of Cohen’s books, and planned to read others. I thought he had an interesting alternative perspective on Russia, so it’s sad and disconcerting to see he’s nuts.

  • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

    In recent years, Cohen has emerged as a more ideologically dexterous figure…

    I see what he did there!

  • sibusisodan

    Thank you for talking to me.

    How unhappy will I be when this appears?

    Happy because your grammar was mildly edited?

    I literally fell of my chair laughing about the content. I dare him to be more self-contradictory.

  • Adam Roberts

    The ‘clever, cunning, smart’ thing interests me. Because ‘clever’ really is a substantively different thing to ‘cunning’. I’d be happy to concede that Trump is cunning, or more precisely that he has spent much of his career as a cunning man, although it seems clearer and clearer that his present mental impairment is degrading his ability to maintain that level of cunning. Never a clever man, though.

    • Rob in CT

      Apparently he must be clever, otherwise he wouldn’t have “become Donald Trump.”

      No mention of him being born the son of Fred Trump. Strong left-wing analysis there.

    • lahtiji

      Yes. Of the three, “cunning” is the most apt.

      A clever, smart man probably would not have gone bankrupt in the casino business. Or at least not more than once.

    • sigaba

      This idea that anybody who’s rich and famous is axiomatically a genius, notwithstanding all countervailing evidence, is extremely remarkable

      But I can’t tell how many people actually believe it versus how many people are just going along with it because it saves them from having to justify a moron leading the free world.

  • lahtiji

    Trump’s a clever, cunning, smart man, or he wouldn’t have become Donald Trump

    Since I know there are some MST3k fans here, “He wouldn’t be Jerry if he did.”

    • sigaba

      Shut up Iris. I said shut up.

  • twbb

    I can’t read Cohen’s responses without picturing them being said by Martin Short is one of his Nathan Thurm skits.


  • randy khan

    TL;DR version: Even though my views are fully contradicted by available facts, I don’t believe anything I read except the things that support what I already believe.

  • McAllen

    First of all, I don’t share the view that Trump’s an idiot. Trump’s a clever, cunning, smart man, or he wouldn’t have become Donald Trump.

    If you think the only way a rich capitalist could have achieved success is through personal merit, you are a bad leftist.

    (Also if all your energy is directed towards carrying water for Trump and Putin, you’re a bad leftist).

    • CP

      If you think the only way a rich capitalist could have achieved success is through personal merit, you are a bad leftist.


      Trump was born rich, inherited a fortune, and as near as we can tell has mostly degraded it horribly: his ability to stay kind of afloat, near as we can tell, has come from throwing lawyer after lawyer after everyone who sues him (“pay smarter people to make my problems go away” is not exactly rocket science for a person born to his level of wealth) and his willingness to take loans from anyone (if the rumors are true, that means the bratvas) after his inability to run his business meant no bank in the West would touch him anymore.

      Trump is a testament to the fact that people who are born rich can stay that way with very little talent no matter how many times they fuck up. Which we already knew, and requires very little cleverness or cunning. The born-rich idiot is by far the easiest role to play in every society in human history.

      • humanoid.panda

        I’d qualify that: Trump has a real talent for self-promotion and capturing the tastes of certain type of upwardly-ambitious men. Otherwise, there’d be no Trump brand, and he would not be heard again after his business collapsed in the 1990s. But this doesn’t mean he is “smart” -at most, cunning and instinctual.

      • sigaba

        In my line of work I deal with a lot of trust-funders trying to do more-or-less honest work.

        I’ve tried to emphasize to people, when talking about Trump, that people in his position are sometimes smart, sometimes dumb, sometimes evil and manipulative, sometimes basically good. Sometimes they are wildly successful at what they’re doing, sometimes they’re not.

        The through-line though with these people, in general, is they simply don’t understand the consequences for their actions, they are not personally responsible in any sense normal people would understand, and they are not wise. And sometimes maybe all of these things pay off, risk taking is rewarded! Being foolish is sometimes exactly what the world needs! Sometimes!

        I’m sure these people sometimes meet personal ruin, but I’ve only read about such things in 19th-century novels. Every flesh and blood example I’ve run into is perfectly insulated from adversity. They are backstopped by tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, to their own name, or available indefinitely from family, failing that they will always have some job, sinecure or arrangement somewhere from friends or connections. And in the US, people like this simply don’t go to jail. For anything. Ever.

        • BigHank53

          John du Pont’s uneasy ghost would like a word.

          Though the fact that he’s the only counterexample I can think of makes it more likely that he’s the exception that proves the rule.

          • sigaba

            Jared Kushner’s father is another counterexample.

            I would still hold that, even though they might just go to jail, they always make decisions as if it simply isn’t a possibility.

        • CP

          I don’t deal with a lot of trust-funders, but from the couple of rich kids I got to know well, in college, I’d agree – the defining thing about them was obliviousness. Which, as you say, doesn’t mean bad or mean. The one I actually like is frequently oblivious, but is at least aware that he was born with more than 90% of the population, listens to other people’s experiences, adjusts his opinions accordingly… and generally tries not to be a dick. Oblivious, because how could he not be, but willing to course correct. The other one… obediently imbibes and regurgitates all the mantras that allow her to feel comfortable about her privilege, and when confronted about anything, retreats to a more welcoming environment and complains about liberal meanies.

          • bender

            I was born with white skin into a basically functional middle class family. Until I went to college (not the first one in my family to go to college), I never had more than superficial contact with anybody my age who wasn’t also white, middle class, from an intact basically functional family. That, to me, was the norm. I have had to continually work on my areas of obliviousness too. I did from my upbringing get the message that this is worth an effort.

        • Ronan

          Ive often wondered about how much people generally get with a trust fund. Is it help towards a deposit for a new house money(ie 10,25k), or more never have have to work again money?

          • sigaba

            I’m generalizing I guess. What I mean is, children of families with >10 million net worth.

            • Ronan

              got you.

          • BigHank53

            Well, it depends on the size of the trust fund, doesn’t it?

            To be serious, it also depends on the reasons the fund was established. A co-worker is setting one up even though his estate is going to be not very large: a couple-three hundred thousand dollars. (He owns his own house and inherited his parents’ house.) But his son has addiction issues and cannot be trusted to handle any sum of money over a couple hundred bucks. He’s going to get a monthly check, and the grandkids get the bulk of the money when they’re 25 or so.

            • Ronan

              I honestly didn’t know, I was just curious. We dont have trust funds as financial instruments(or whatever) in Ireland (afaik) so was just wondering whether it’s something utilised by very high incomes or is it open to/and used by people of more modest wealth. (thanks for the answer though, that clarifies it)

    • Ronan

      You don’t even need to go this far. Cohen’s starting from the premise that he’s not an idiot, and arguing that an idiot can not become the person Trump is, ie a non idiot. So it’s circular reasoning. But if you start from the premise that Trump is an idiot, then becoming an idiot by being an idiot is a logical chain of events.
      The only way this argument can be decided is if we agree upon some objective measures of idiocy and apply them to Trump.

  • daves09

    Straining to remember the days of my youth, I believe Cohen went through a period of being absolutely terrified by the possibility of nuclear war and that just about anything was preferable to that-which seems to have lead to we must do anything the Russians want, because, you know, reasons.

  • moops

    Russia anti-imperialist ? please spare me that laugh.

    • Warren Terra

      Oh, sure, there’s a bunch of empires they’re opposed to. They are almost perfectly anti-imperialist, with only one exception, one empire they’re in favor of. Indeed, they would prefer to see all those other empires brought low, utterly destroyed! This makes them much more fervent anti-imperialists than the milquetoast liberals who claim in theory to be opposed to all imperialism but who unlike the Russians do little to undermine the stability and credibility of multiple imperialist powers.

  • TheSophist

    I had Cohen as my Soviet (sic) Politics prof back in the day. My (semi) defense of him is that he was (justifiably) very upset be what happened in Russia (the rise of the oligarchs and the immiseration of much of the population) after the fall of communism. He originally saw Putin as a chance to reverse both of those trends. Unfortunately, his response to Keynes’ famous “when the facts change I change my mind. What, sir, do you do?” has been “double down.”

    • Hondo

      He sounds nuts in this interview. Having him for a prof is like taking a course in constitutional law from John Yoo.

      • humanoid.panda

        The problem for Cohen that even in his lucid days, he was able to say what many people were hesitant to say (Yeltsin’s regime was no democracy), but was absolutely unable to reason WHY it was this way (for him, it was Western advise; the real answer is the dynamics of the Russian state..)

      • TheSophist

        He was very good on the early post-revolution days (his book on Bukharin was, and I believe still is, regarded as top-notch.) Reading him in The Nation over the years I’ve gradually moved from “this is good stuff” to “wtf”. Does it make sense to say that one could understand the Soviet Union without really understanding Russia? If it does, I’d suggest it applies to Cohen.

        • Hondo

          Seems possible to me that Kennan’s long State Dept. cable from 1946 is still largely valid.

        • FMguru

          There’s always a risk when someone you greatly admire for their work as a historian or intellectual or scientist or philosopher (or athlete or entertainer, for that matter) starts to publicly opine about current politics.

    • CP

      I can understand seeing Putin as a reversal back around 2000, but nowadays after two decades of rule…? Seems pretty clear to me that all he’s done is make the capitalism more orderly and, not incidentally, consolidated around him (oligarchs who support him get all the goodies, oligarchs who oppose him are enemies of the state).

      Which, you know – I can see the argument that that’s still preferable to the 1990s anarchy, in the same sense that American organized crime in the Mafia Commission era was better than it was in the gang wars of the Prohibition era. But as near as I can tell the oligarchs are still ruling and the population is still immiserated.

  • Hondo

    First, I think this guy is a crackpot.
    Second, this is the best part:
    “No, but Isaac you’re not old enough to remember, but during the campaign, because he was the first Catholic, they all went on about he’s an agent of the Vatican.”
    “I know that. I’m old enough to have read “news accounts” of it. Anyway, there was a hacking of the DNC and—”

    I’ve always hated the “You’re not old enough to remember…” shit. Chotiner gave the perfect response, no I’m not as old as you, but I am literate.

    • Joseph Slater

      It’s also a rather bizarre line for an historian to use.

      • I’m always amazed at how historians will completely put away any historical training when discussing contemporary politics and say crazy things and make crazy arguments they would reject while doing historical research. But hey, I’m sure we won’t see any of that at our upcoming conference or anything……

  • random

    I saw this interview this morning during my coffee time. I got as far as the first sentence of the answer to the fourth question and said, aloud and with no one else present in the room, “Nope” and closed the tab.

  • Tracy Lightcap

    Cohen is a great scholar and his take on the SU was a breath of fresh and correct air at the time. Too bad he has this fixation on Putin, but he is getting old, you know.

    He’s also right about two things:

    • Donald Trump isn’t stupid. This is, I think, a basic mistake. Trump is making the kind of mistakes you would expect in an old guy in a position where he has no experience to guide him. He is also basically incurious, a trait that hasn’t caused him harm in the past and that he is now – again – too old to change. The two together make him seem dumb. But remember his campaign. He managed that essentially alone for most of the time and beat a collection of experienced politicians at their own game. Unprincipled, reactive, cunning, ignorant, an authoritarian leader … yep, all of those. But not stupid. We underestimate him at our peril.

    • Getting a modus vivendi with Russia is, as Cohen says, of overarching importance. This doesn’t require thinking Putin is a good guy. What it does require is that we both know where the trip wires are and that Putin knows we’ll react to him hitting them. Problem = Trump thinks he can handle this like a real estate deal. Even Bigger Problem = Putin knows that. The prospects for US foreign policy becoming unmoored in multiple areas to the detriment of both countries are becoming obvious. Appeasing Putin – and that’s what Trump thinks will work – is a very dangerous gambit that we need to stop. How is the question.

    • Hob

      It’s never very hard to quibble with any description of any person as “stupid” by finding a preferred definition of “stupid” that doesn’t fit them in every single way, but I don’t see the point of that. If Trump is clever enough at 1. publicizing himself, 2. bailing himself out financially, and 3. running for President, but incurious and error-prone and ignorant about basically everything else, then for all intents and purposes he is stupid, because “everything else” is what he’s supposed to be dealing with now. I mean, you basically said as much in your second bullet point: “Trump thinks he can handle this like a real estate deal,” and that is a very stupid thing to think, and that’s a problem.

      Also, every time I see tsk-tsking about how we shouldn’t “underestimate” Trump, I’d kind of like to hear more on what that actually means. What’s an example of someone in the current conversation disparaging Trump in a way that “underestimates” him “at our peril”? I presume it isn’t, for instance, your very own statements just now about the really dumb and dangerous shit Trump is doing. If someone has been commenting recently to the effect of “Trump is so dumb that we don’t have to worry about him at all because he’ll just harmlessly fail and destroy himself,” I must have missed it.

    • TopsyJane

      I suggest that the notion that any septuagenarian inexperienced in government would conduct himself or herself similarly to Trump is an insult to “old guys (and gals)” everywhere.

      His incuriosity about how to run a casino properly, to name only one instance, cost him and others dearly.

    • But not stupid. We underestimate him at our peril.

      Can you give an example of what underestimating him would look like, and what peril would follow? I’m serious about this.

      My assessment of Donald Trump is that he has essentially no inner life and lacks either the interest or capacity to empathize with other human beings. That isn’t to say he’s incapable of observing or manipulating other people’s emotions, but he doesn’t seem to connect those emotions with any he himself experiences. He seems to have a complete lack of intellectual curiosity and doesn’t even seem capable of pretending to understand things that don’t fit into his immediate interests. All evidence suggests that he is easily manipulated by his advisers and by anyone who is rich, powerful, and willing to flatter him. He lacks impulse control and is used to being able to buy and talk his way out of the consequences of his actions.

      This all adds up to “stupid” for me. Whether that’s due to a reduced g value, a personality disorder, the corrosive effects of decades of wealth and fame, dementia, or some combination is pretty irrelevant to me. It also doesn’t really matter from the perspective of trying to oppose him, I don’t think. Politics is not an intellectual competition.

      • Hob

        We think alike, but you said it better.

      • Tracy Lightcap

        This for both Hob and you.

        Your examples are based on Trump’s performance as president. This overlooks his performance as a candidate. The underestimation of Trump’s intelligence is an underestimation of his political skills, not his capability at governance. I think most people thought Clinton would be the president today if it wasn’t Jeb Bush. But they underestimated Trump’s grasp of politics and here we are. And, let’s be clear here, it took both guts and smarts to see the political opportunities in 2016 and turn them his way. Those “gifts” are still on display and, unless the Democrats get control of Congress in 2018 (no better then a maybe), will still be there in 2020. You can be really bad at governing the country and still get a pass from the electorate if conditions are right (see Dubya). And that is what we have to look out for. Treating Trump as a regular politician instead of dismissing him as a buffoon would be the first step

        Side issue: lack of an “inner life”, lack of curiosity, and lack of impulse control ≠ lack of intelligence. You can have all these traits and be as smart as a whip.

  • Terok Nor

    No, no, Stephen, it’s supposed to be “U.S. sucks, U.S. sucks, U.S. sucks…oh yeah, Putin’s bad too…U.S. sucks, U.S. sucks… You’re supposed to acknowledge it for half a sentence before ignoring it.

  • Terok Nor

    Remember that Cockburn was a global warming denier? He alone had figured out that it was a plot to promote nuclear power. What an iconoclast.

  • Mike in DC

    Greenwald, Taibbi, Cohen, KVH, various lefties in the Bernie orbit, The Young Turks…thank God we ignored their advice to stop talking about Russia. Any lefty still watching RT or Sputnik unironically…well, we kinda know now where your loyalties lie.

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