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NYT: Obama's "Reset" With Russia a Flop

Vladimir Putin

This is the season when major pillars of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are coming apart so visibly that the mainstream media and even the administration itself are shifting from smug denial to grappling with painful truths. The reset with Russia is as much of a flop as the outreach to the Islamic world, the New York Times reports:

The story of the administration’s “reset” policy toward Russia is a case study in how the heady idealism of Mr. Obama’s first term has given way to the disillusionment of his second. Critics say he was naïve to think he could really make common cause with Moscow. Aides say it was better to try than not, and it did yield tangible successes in arms control, trade and military cooperation before souring.

“There’s this cycle of initial enthusiasm and hope that gives way to reality,” said Robert M. Gates, Mr. Obama’s first defense secretary….

“The Russians felt they had been played for suckers on Libya,” Mr. Gates said. “They felt there had been a bait and switch. I said at the time we would pay hell ever getting them to cooperate in the future.”

Wise words from Mr. Gates. There have been a number of missteps in the past five years of US policy on Russia, but taking advantage of a limited Russia-approved UN mandate to intervene in Libya was perhaps the most consequential one. The intervention in Libya, where US interests were questionable, sent ripples of violence through all of North Africa and led to the deaths of several Americans, including an Ambassador. It also made it much less likely that we would be able to get Moscow to cooperate on a range of other issues, such as Syria and Iran.

The consequences of sour relations with Russia are thankfully not as dangerous as they were during the Cold War. President Obama should take comfort from the fact that Russia’s foreign policy is that of a country in decline: the EU refuses to defer to Putin anymore, and Germany is showing no interest in a return to friendlier times; former Soviet satellites are putting up strong resistance against Russian bullying, making overtures to the EU, and showing little inclination to join Moscow’s alternative Eurasian Customs Union. Meanwhile, domestic dissent has been growing within Russia, and insurgencies still simmer dangerously in the Caucasus. China shows no interest in a strong geopolitical partnership, and Moscow has failed to turn its vast hydrocarbon wealth into an economy that can sustain itself in the long term.

Yet Moscow has still shown a remarkable ability to make life difficult for the US. In Syria and abroad, Russia will be kicking America’s shins as often as possible. The “reset” seems destined for history’s dustbin.

[Putin photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • AnnSaltzafrazz

    The only chance for good relations with Russia was missed a long time ago. When the USSR fell, I wish Bush Sr. had reminded Russia that the US and Russia had always been traditional *allies* before the communists took over. There was never much hope of that helping, but at least it could have reminded people that there was a world before Lenin and Stalin that Russia could return to.

  • J R Yankovic

    Excellent piece. Seriously.

    So let’s see now: Demographic decay, political putrefaction in Russia; economic stagnation/decline in India; plus (what I can only describe as) the needless long-term alienation and antagonism of 1997-2005 Iran. Why do I keep sensing these are trends and developments which, if unreversed, we’re all going to be paying very dearly for not too far down the road? (ALL of us – that is, unless our national capitals happen to be Berlin, Beijing, Islamabad or Riyadh.)

    “I don’t know – because you’re an idiot?”

    Exactly! Unlike, of course, those NATO geniuses who so brilliantly masterminded the destabilization of LIbya. And who are now clamoring to add Syria to that stunning track record of success. Carry on.

    • Andrew Allison

      You omitted Libya, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and the Arab States of the Persian Gulf!

  • bpuharic

    Whiplash…that’s what I got when I read this article.

    Our interests in Libya were ‘questionable’? And yet WRM is insistent that we intervene with boots on the ground in Syria. What interests do we have there warranting a regime change there?

    A ‘reset’ with a kleptocracy is virtually impossible.

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