Saturday, April 18, 2009

It takes two to reset

'Pushing the 'Reset Button' on Russian Relations
But the question remains: "reset" to what?

Barack Obama's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the G-20 summit in London has been hailed by many as a first step toward repairing the damage in the relationship between the United States and Russia, after several years of escalation toward a "new Cold War." '

It really shocked me when super lightweight Hillary Clinton gave Sergei Lavrov the reset button. Its the kind of thing a 3rd grade teacher would think was a great idea 'to get things off on the right foot'. To the men at the top in Russia, hardened by the hand-to-hand combat of Russian power politics, it must have seemed beyond surreal.

What has driven Russia's anti-US and anti-NATO hostility over the last four or five years? President Bush insisted on treating Russia as it actually is- a large country with virtually no real power. Rather than do what Britain did to France in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and helpfully maintain the glorious illusion that it was still a great power by handing it bits and pieces of territory to govern; President Bush treated Russia as it is- a paper tiger, full of rusting old factories and huge armies of drunks. And boy, the truth hurts. As soon as Putin could afford a few thousand rubles for some aviation fuel, he started the 'probing' cold war-era overflights of British airspace with ancient prop planes, just to show 'em! How sad and how indicative.

I presume the new Obama doctrine is to salve the wounded pride of the Russians by pretending they are not a regional nuisance but a real world power. Given all the reasons given in this piece about why it is convenient for the mafiocracy in charge of Russia to stoke anti-Americanism, the new policy should get the US exactly nothing. I can only assume that Obama and Clinton don't actually care what Russia does or thinks, and that the reset gimmick was purely for internal US consumption. See what we're doing, folks? We're showing the Russians its OK to come out and play now that the dastardly Bush has been stabbed through the heart with that stick.

Trouble is, that gimmick will soon be forgotten as the litany of unfriendly and provocative acts from Moscow continues. So why bother? Russia is not getting more powerful, and the men running it aren't getting more legitimate. A far more principled policy would be to hold Russia to the same standards over Chechnya as Clinton, Reid and Pelosi have held Bush over Iraq. But that would take bottle and a genuine commitment to human rights. Clinton knows the flinty faced apparatchiks of the Kremlin would probably have thrown her out into the parking lot if she'd come with that message. Still, it would have made good TV...

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