President Obama announced today that his planned summit with Vladimir Putin in Moscow was canceled. The proximate cause appeared to be Russia granting NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum last week:
Although U.S. frustration with Moscow has been growing over other key issues such as missile defense and human rights, it was Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum in defiance of Obama’s repeated requests that dealt the latest blow to uneasy U.S. relations with a former Cold War foe.
Our friend David Kramer has written eloquently elsewhere on this site some of the reasons that President Obama might take a pass on this summit with Putin, arguing among other things that Snowden is the least pressing of reasons to do so. We agree with the substance of David’s argument, though we would focus more on geopolitics than on just human rights issues. Overall, we’re glad to see that the administration is looking for ways to convey a tougher posture to the Russians, who have been running circles around the administration on so many fronts. (See, for example, the reports today that Saudi Arabia was offering a sweet military deal to the Russians, if only they would ease back on their support for Assad in Syria.) But what we need is a more resolute and focused policy, not temper tantrums in response to a series of humiliations.There are many valid reasons for President Obama to avoid a face-to-face meeting with Putin given the lack of any substantive progress with Russia on a whole series of subjects. The explicit linkage between the summit cancellation and Snowden makes us look whiny and ineffectual and should be kept off the table.