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From Stalingrad To The New Cold War.

Stephen Cohen

Extended Book Review

Until we met Cohen, his name was not in our consciousness. That soon changed when we heard him address various contemporary social issues. Reading and reviewing his book became our first order of business.

Cohen's account of the Soviet period is easily the best we have read. Moreover, it is consilient with the model for violence apparent in and among modern societies. For that reason alone, Cohen is most credible. Moreover, his encyclopedic knowledge of Russia, its language, and the Cold War give him the edge over contemporary historians who accept too many myths about Eastern Europe and the United States itself. British officials serving in both Moscow and Washington agree with his assessment that the Clinton and Bush administrations in particular pursued policies designed to alienate the Russians, by meddling in their internal affairs and encroaching on their legitimate sphere of influence.

For the proud and triumphalist American, this book will not be an easy read. In fact it will rarely be read by those who need to most--those in the various halls of government, in Congress, White House and State Department in particular. In terms of political correctness, Cohen is anathema to the powers that be who project their own hang-ups onto the Russians. Cohen is nothing if not insightful and pragmatic in his thinking. His very readable discourse is based on Soviet archives and numerous interviews of many Communist officials, citizens, and survivors and their descendents of the Gulag, as well as Americans in all levels of government. His personal encounters with the movers and shakers of history include George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Ligachev family as well as many who suffered under the boots of Stalin and Brezhnev.

"A nation fearing for its future will never wager
on a partner that threatens it."

Stephen Cohen

The "politically correct" myth has it that Russian leaders are demons for not accepting American dictates. Myth has it that Yeltsin was a democrat. In fact he was a dictator, but so weak he had to privately accept American edicts. The extent to which the Soviet Union democratized was Gorbachev's doing, not Yeltsin's. Putin, to lead his nation, realized he must lead and not be dictated to, so he strongly and quickly put an end to Bush's initiative in Georgia, which historically has had very close ties with Russia and indeed was part of the Soviet Union for many decades.

Cohen provides a vast amount of detail we will go into elsewhere. However, his recommendations as to how to proceed from here toward the end of creating a strategic partnership demand airing here. Our take is that a four-way partnership including Europe and China could be a foundation upon which to assemble a lasting family of nations, say by 2075.

National security and concerns must change with time in order to maintain continued effectiveness. To begin a peace process, it is time for America to return to its two most basic security priorities:
  • "A stable Russia relying less, not more, on its nuclear weapons." quoting Cohen
  • "An unprecedented strategic partnership between Moscow and Washington." Boston Globe - quoted by Cohen.

Anything short of that is to increase risk of a nuclear conflagration.

Cohen recommends "at least four fundamental changes in American thinking."

  • "Triumphalism must be replaced, in words and deeds, as the underlying principle of U.S. policy..."
  • "The 'Blame Russia First syndrome,' which is both unfair and auricle of antagonism, has to end."
  • "NATO expansion toward Russia, which has failed on all counts, has to stop."
  • "...A new policy is not possible until the White House and Congress tell the American people the truth about our relationship with post-Soviet Russia. It was never a strategic partnership, only the pretense of one in Washington and the cause of bitter disappointment in Moscow."

Cohen presents so much telling detail that the above is realized by any serious reader well before he codified it near the end. From the political and historical points of view, Cohen's book is beyond first rate; it is one of its kind. Any serious student of history or the human condition would do well to study Cohen's book and its copious references.

Since 2006, no less than ten American columnists have written to the effect that autocratic politics are embedded in Russia's DNA. They failed to mention it is also embedded in ours. In the personages of Stalin and Bush II in particular, the reader can see Sociopaths co-opting authoritarian aides and populaces by very different means into behavior patterns that repeat, again and yet again, the violent pulses of history. One might dismiss Cohen as just another apologist for Russia but then one would have to explain why his/her postulated model fits better than Cohen's on all counts, including our shared genetic impulses as well as the multitude of Cohen's critical references.

Is this not projection on the parts of these columnists?

In view of the actual history gleaned by Cohen on site from both Russian and American resources that report both autocratic and democratic behaviors in each, we think so.

Whether or not that is the case, Russians and American citizens share the same genome for better and for worse. Our take is that moves toward peace must recognize our genome for what it is--a product of our jungle and earlier evolutionary times, where genes and specific combinations fought for survival. Aggression, obedience, and conventionalism permeate Cohen's book. So do parenting and altruism--our hopes for peace. How to emphasize the latter across all societies is a most pressing issue of the moment.

Harry Rosenberg


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