The results of Barack Obama’s “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia are now in. They are, like the rest of Obama’s foreign policy record, disappointing.
Obama said that in exchange for a reset, Russia would support a new nuclear arms reduction treaty. Russia did, but in name only: the actual reductions to U.S. and Russian missile stockpiles were marginal and insignificant. What really happened is that Obama signed a Potemkin treaty, supplying himself with fodder for his reelection campaign assuming he was willing to lie about the contents of the agreement. No problem there, it seems.
The other major promise Obama made was that Russia would support a new round of sanctions against Iran. Same result: Russia did so, in name only. Russia insisted on a shockingly watered-down agreement which is in no way different than the trio of similar agreements it supported during the Bush years. Russia is exempted from all provisions restricting sales of weapons and nuclear technology to Iran, and there is no threat of military action or any financial sanctions with serious bite. Before the ink was dry, Russia was blustering, threatening “payback” in the event any Russian interests were impaired by the sanctions.
The price that has been paid for these illusory “victories” has been truly extraordinary.
Obama has sold out the people of Georgia and the people of Eastern Europe, all of whom had hoped for something at least a little better from the land of the free and the home of the brave. Worse, Obama has sold out the people of Russia itself. By ignoring events ranging from the brutal arrest and beating of activists trying to hold peaceful public meetings, to the even more horrifying harvesting of vital organs from young draftees induced to commit suicide by barbaric hazing, to the pandemic official corruption that undermines the very foundations of the country, the Obama government has sent a clear message to Vladimir Putin that he may abuse Russia’s population just as he likes so long as he helps Obama win reelection.
It seems that Obama has learned much from his few brief meetings with the Kremlin’s rulers. They have taught him that it is not necessary to actually implement policy — what is key is to be seen to be implementing it. You don’t need to hold elections as long as you hold “elections,” Putin has proven year after year. You don’t need to have a president as long as you have a “president.” When recently confronted about the stark revanchism of the Soviet mindset by Yuri Shevchuk, Russia’s Bruce Springsteen, Putin found a tidy solution. He simply asked: “Who are you?”
Putin is now moving to reestablish the same totalitarian authority in the Russian secret police that they had in Soviet times. His new legislation will allow them to arrest opposition activists without charges and hold them without bail for up to two weeks, during which time they can go to work on them behind closed doors. He is also pressing shamelessly forward to obliterate local democracy, so that not only governors but also mayors will be appointed directly by Moscow.
Meanwhile, without imposing any cost on Putin, Obama is planning to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment that is one of the last symbolic gestures in opposition to Putin’s feverish work on a neo-Soviet state. Thereafter, Obama plans to allow Russia admission to the World Trade Organization, whereupon, with its seat on the G-8 and UN Security Council, Russia will have all the tools it needs to create a Potemkin democracy.
For a man who claimed he’d be radically different than George Bush, Obama is eerily identical. Bush “looked into Putin’s eyes” and found him trustworthy, and Obama has done the same with Putin’s puppet Dmitri Medvedev. Bush hosted infamous Chechnya war criminal Vladimir Shamanov in the White House, and Obama has gone him one better, inviting the likes of Shamanov to run amok throughout former Soviet space.
Barack Obama, in other words, is not just ignoring but actively encouraging the rise of a neo-Soviet state in Russia and the inevitable new Cold War that will follow.
Make no mistake, a reckoning is coming. The U.S. is plunging into the same sort of leaderless “malaise” that plagued the administration of Jimmy Carter, and whether it will be wide enough to terminate the malaise after one term remains an open question. Without an abject foreign policy calamity like the Iran hostage crisis, Obama’s calculating duplicity may well propel him into a second term, barring the emergence of a sufficiently compelling Republican challenger. With six more years of Obama, the situation in Russia will degenerate into an apocalypse from which the world will need decades to recover.