Russia Scholar Slaps Down CNN Host Smerconish With Unwanted Answers

July 31st, 2016 9:27 PM

No, no, no! Those aren't the answers I wanted! 

If you are a Russia scholar on CNN, you are supposed to validate the "fact" that Russia was probably behind the DNC email hack and that Donald Trump is a foreign policy simpleton. When you don't stick to this script it can cause great consternation, as happened to Michael Smerconish yesterday when his guest, NYU professor  Stephen Cohen, did not give him the expected answers.

Cohen's answers should have been expected. For decades, Cohen has defended Russia and/or the Soviet Union. Professor Cohen sourly predicted to Pat Buchanan when Boris Yeltsin cashiered the communist coup plotters in 1991: "You will see a bloodbath in Russia like you have never seen before." Stalin's records were not broken. What's weird is that Trump is now on the Russian-sympathizer side, and the liberal media are weirdly doing the "Tool of Russia" talking points.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH: When looking to blame someone for the cyber attack, Russia was more than convenient. But is this a new Cold War or a political pot stirring? Does this accusation have any basis in fact and if not, could it harm -- could it cause real harm? Here to discuss is Stephen Cohen, an American scholar of Russian Studies at both Princeton and New York Universities. Professor Cohen, does Vladimir Putin indeed have a dog in our U.S. fight?

STEPHEN COHEN: Vladimir Putin wants to end the new Cold War and so do I. Let me say, I have no ties to the Trump campaign or the Clinton campaign. But if I were to write your headline for you today, I tried on the way down here, I couldn't fit it on the front page. But it would go like this, we're in a new and more dangerous Cold War with Russia. We're approaching a Cuban missile crisis nuclear confrontation with Russia, both along Russia's borders and possibly over Syria. There is absolutely no discussion, no debate about this in the American media, including, forgive me, on CNN.

Then along comes unexpectedly Donald Trump, who says something that suggests he wants to end the new Cold War, cooperate with Russia in various places, what we used to call detente . And now, astonishingly, the media is full of what only could be called neo McCarthyite  charges that he's a Russian agent, that he's a Manchurian candidate, that he's Putin's client.

So the real danger is what's being done to our own political process. This is a moment when there should be, in a presidential year, a debate. Because Mrs. Clinton's position on Russia seems to be very different, has been a long time. Trump speaks elliptically, you got to piece together what he says, but he seems to want a new American policy toward Russia. And considering the danger, I think we, as American citizens, deserve that debate and not what will be given in the media today, including on the front page of The New York Times.

I end by saying that these reckless branding of Trump as a Russian agent, most of it is coming from the Clinton campaign and they really need to stop.

Yeeesh! This interview is going horribly wrong for Smerconish. His mental facilities seem to be overloaded to the extent that he even suggests that Trump would encourage Russia to reconquer the Baltic states.

SMERCONISH: I don't know where to begin in unpacking all that you just offered to us. But I guess I'll start as follows. As one who can't match your credentials, here's what I see from the outside looking in. I see Donald Trump having said to The New York Times just within the last 10 days that he's not so sure he would stand with NATO allies. And I'm paraphrasing, he'd want to know whether they have been pulling their own weight. The impart of his comments seems to suggest that he could provide Putin with unfettered, undeterred access to the Baltic States, whose independence he resents. And so, it all seems to fit therefore that Putin would have a dog in this fight, would want to see Donald Trump win this election so that he, Putin, could do as he pleases in that part of the world.

CNN is covering that. I mean, I have to defend the network in that regard but why does that not all fit? And why does it not all fit with the headline today's New York Times, which says, "Russian spies, said to hack Clinton's bid"?

COHEN: Said to have, said to have, that's not news. That's an allegation. James Clapper, I don't know who hacked. Everybody hacks everybody. I mean, we hacked into Chancellor Merkel's cellphone. We learned that from Snowden. The Israelis hack. The Americans hack. The Chinese hack. Everybody hacks.

The point is, is that -- and I know you said it, not to defend it but as a provocation, but let's take the position you just set out, that Putin wants to end the independence of Baltic States. There's no evidence for that, none whatsoever. The point is, is that on the networks, and I'm not blaming CNN and there's no -- none on any network, there's none in The New York Times. I'm old enough to remember that during the last Cold War, all these issues were debated and that you had a proponent of two -- each point of view. But you've now got accusations both against Putin, both against Trump, which needed to be debated.

The most -- let's go back to what you said that Trump said about NATO. Trump said early on, he wanted to know 60 years after its foundation, what was NATO's mission today? A hundred policy walks in Washington. Since the end of the Soviet Union, 25 years ago, have asked the same question. Is NATO an organization in search of a mission? For example, its mission for the last 20 years is to expand ever closer to Russia. So people have now asked, why isn't it fighting international terrorism? That's a legitimate question. But we don't debate it. We don't ask it. We just say, "Oh, Trump wants to abandon NATO." I don't defend Trump. Trump raises questions. And instead of giving an answer to the substance of a question, we denounce him as some kind of criminal agent. That's bad for our politics, but still works. Given the danger, we're not addressing it.

As you could guess, this was way too much unwanted answers for Smerconish to handle so he quickly bailed out the interview he probably wished had never happened.

SMERCONISH: I love this conversation and I could go on for hours with you on this subject. I wish time afforded that. I've not regarded him in that respect. And I think that we just had this conversation, the conversation that you say is so desperately lacking. Thank you for being here, I appreciate your time.

Exit question: When will be the next time Stephen Cohen appears on Smerconish?