American healthcare aside (“If you like your plan…”), there are some promises that President Obama has kept. Notably, his promise last year to Russia’s Vladimir Putin — accidentally overheard by the entire world, via an open microphone — that once he’d won the 2012 presidential election, he’d have more “flexibility.” He was true to his word. With this September’s Russia-brokered deal over Syria’s chemical weapons, the Obama administration showed flexibility enough to compete with Cirque du Soleil.
Now, just when it seemed that U.S. policy toward Russia could hardly become more flexible without requiring all Americans to dine daily on borscht (or does the Affordable Care Act already include a provision for that?), here comes a story in the New York Times, headlined “A Russian GPS Using U.S. Soil Stirs Spy Fears.” The gist is that the State Department is gung-ho to allow the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos (which coordinates with Russian military launches), to install on U.S. turf some half a dozen electronic monitor stations for a Russian Global Positioning System. The Times reports that not everyone in the administration thinks this is a great idea. The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency see this plan as a threat to U.S. security: “They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry.”
But does that worry the State Department? Not according to the Times, which goes on to provide the following account of the State Department’s rationale:
For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Come again? I have read that paragraph over, at least half a dozen times, and it still doesn’t make sense. If the Obama administration’s ties to Putin’s regime are at a low, the reason is not that the U.S. has snubbed or damaged Russia, but that Russia’s Putin has mocked and undermined the U.S. First came Russia’s dalliance with American fugitive Edward Snowden. Then came the aborted showdown over Syria, in which Russia, one of Assad’s chief weapons suppliers, walked away with the jackpot, sending warships into the Mediterranean and wielding diplomacy to translate Assad’s use of chemical weapons into a ticket for the Russian-backed survival of his regime and alarming expansion at U.S. expense of Russian influence in the Middle East. Surely, if the U.S.-Russia relationship is to be improved, it is Russia that owes the U.S. some conciliatory moves. Not the other way round.