mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Kerry Waking Up
Learning to Take "No" as an Answer?

At last, it appears that Secretary of State John Kerry appears to be getting fed up with the Russians over their less-than-helpful behavior at the Geneva talks:

“Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they’re in fact enabling Assad to double down, which is creating an enormous problem,” Mr. Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference in Jakarta with his Indonesian counterpart. His comments came on the final stop of a five-day Asia tour. […]

Mr. Kerry said Moscow has repeatedly committed to the goal of creating a transition government and “yet we have not seen the kind of effort to create the dynamic by which that can be achieved.”

Mr. Kerry said the U.S. would continue to “look at options” during what he called a “recess for a moment” in the Geneva talks. He didn’t say what those options might include.

Russia is not the Evil Empire of yore. There is no reason that the United States can’t make practical deals with it when the interests of the two countries happen to coincide. But President Putin believes deep in the soul that George W. Bush so famously glimpsed that the reduction of American power and the frustration of American designs is a vital interest of the new Russia he is trying to build.

In Syria and Ukraine, Russian and U.S. interests and values are clashing today. The stakes in both contests are high. Indeed, U.S. and Russian interests are in conflict on virtually every issue that matters to the Obama Administration. When it comes to Iran, Russia’s goal is not to help the United States keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power or to stabilize the Middle East. That outcome would be excellent for the United States, and horrible for Russia; American power in Russia’s backyard would grow, and the price of oil would nosedive, reducing Russia’s biggest source of income. Ditto on nuclear disarmament, one of President Obama’s most important foreign policy goals. The chief source of Russia’s power and prestige is its nuclear arsenal. That arsenal is more important than ever to Russia now that U.S. conventional military power has benefitted from a generation of increasingly smart weapons and high tech devices. Russia is interested in any agreements that reduce America’s ability to counter its aging nuclear arsenal—but it has zero intention of taking any serious steps toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Something the President’s critics on the right sometimes miss and that the administration also doesn’t fully understand: President Obama’s foreign policy goals put him in fundamental opposition to Putin. Despite all the critics who claim he is a socialist or some other form of radical out to destroy the United States, the President is committed overall to the extension of democracy globally and to the development of a rule-based international system. While he doesn’t have a personal animus against Russia, it’s a fact that if the world goes Obama’s way, Putin’s Russia will be squeezed out of the ranks of great powers. Democracy in Ukraine, Assad overthrown in Syria, peace in the Middle East between Arabs and Israelis, Sunnis and Shias, nuclear weapons on the road to abolition, a global carbon treaty that begins to wean humanity away from fossil fuels: every one of these goals is a deadly threat to vital Russian interests as seen by the current ruler in the Kremlin.

Some of President Obama’s goals strike us as unrealistic, but that is not the point here. Though this administration numbers an improved relationship with Russia among its goals, the thrust of its foreign policy is to make such a relationship impossible to achieve. The administration has to choose: does it want Ukraine cemented to the West, or does it want a good relationship with Russia? Does it want Assad out in Syria, or does it want a good relationship with Russia?

Up until now, the administration seems to have been pursuing the goal of better relations with Russia even as it embraces a host of other policies that drive Russia mad. This is anything but realist.

Secretary Kerry’s comments on Russia’s role in Geneva suggest that the administration’s top policy makers are increasingly aware that Russia is trying to frustrate rather than assist some of Washington’s top foreign policy priorities. If so, we are happy. Realizing that Russia is a determined and resourceful opponent of the Obama agenda is one of the keys to making the last three years of the President’s time in office as useful and successful as possible.

Features Icon
show comments
  • rheddles

    Don’t forget the unicorns. And the oceans no longer rising. The planet healing, etc.

    • Kavanna

      … the only one who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man ….

  • Pete

    Kerry’s diplomacy is as artificial as his face.

    He’s a pretentious gasbag, and Putin and the rest have this gigolo’s number.

    • Kavanna

      To say it once more: John Kerry, patrician airhead.

  • Vadim Pashkov

    USA have no interest in Surya . We might have some in Ukraine but the burden is to big.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Mead seems to think Obama is waking up to reality, I disagree, I see no evidence that Obama recognizes that Russia sees the US as an enemy, or that Iran, China and many others see the US as their enemy as well. All I see is an unrealistic belief that Diplomacy can solve everything.

  • DiaKrieg

    “When it comes to Iran, Russia’s goal is not to help the United States
    keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power or to stabilize the Middle East.
    That outcome would be excellent for the United States, and horrible for

    I don’t see how this can be true. Firstly, let’s remember that Iran is a close neighbor to Russia — it’s just 1,500 miles from Tehran to Moscow. Iran’s acquiring the ability to deliver nuclear warheads is a far graver danger to Russia than to the U.S.

    Secondly, Russia has a serious Islamist problem within its borders (Chechnya) and in its “sphere of influence.” Iran is the premier state sponsor of Islamist terrorism. In this sense, stabilizing the Middle East wouldn’t be all bad for Russia.

  • TommyTwo

    “‘Russia needs to be a part of the solution,’ Mr. Kerry told reporters.”

    “Or else…?” Mr. Putin smirked.

  • TommyTwo

    The identity of the “winner” is hardly surprising. Believing that astrology is a science is no more of a cognitive stretch than describing oneself as a “Conservative Democrat.”


© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service