January 27, 2013


The “reset” policy with Russia that was one of the Obama administration’s signature endeavors in its first term came closer to death this week, as the United States pulled out of a key working group on civil society in Russia. The decision came after weeks of heightened tensions between the two countries, beginning with the passage of the Magnitsky Act last month. Since then, Russia has increased crackdowns on civil society groups at home, and inflamed tensions with the US by measures like the ban on American adoptions of Russian kids.. . .

Like their predecessors in the Carter years, the Obama team has been torn between the demands of the international realpolitik they think America needs and the attachment to human rights they cannot live without. Maximizing cooperation with Russia on issues like the war in Syria and the Iranian nuclear issue demands that we shut up as Putin jails his opponents, cracks down on civil society and generally consolidates authoritarian rule as best he can. If we don’t pay Russia’s price on human rights, the Kremlin retaliates by making life as difficult for the United States as it conveniently can. That makes it harder for the Obama administration to achieve its goals in the Middle East without the use of force and with the blessing of the United Nations Security Council.

This is another version of the problem that the United States faced in the 1970s when the policy of detente with the Soviet Union led to what many people on both the left and the right considered an immoral tolerance for Soviet human rights abuses. For Carter, the struggle ended unhappily; he was unable to get another nuclear deal, the human rights situation in the Soviet Union and its satellites did not change, and the Cold War heated up when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Tell me again how successful Hillary was as Secretary of State? Remember, even the original reset-button prop was bungled. Which, in retrospect, was a pretty accurate omen.

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