Obama: To Russia, with Love

Obama: To Russia, with Love

One of the Obama administration’s worst foreign policy gaffes occurred when Secretary of State presented her Russian counterpart with the gift of a red button that was meant to say “reset.” The international press enjoyed a laugh at President Barack Obama’s expense at the Russian foreign minister’s observation that the button actually said “overcharge.” For all the good it did the U.S., it ought merely to have said “surrender.”

For the sake of better relations with Russia, and in the vain hope of obtaining Russian help in pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear program President Barack Obama gave up the U.S. missile defense program, replacing it with a weaker substitute. What Obama saw as an exchange, Russia saw as the rectification of a mistake that never should have happened, and carried on supporting Iran and other hostile nations, regardless.

The price of Obama’s capitulation was increased danger for America’s allies in post-communist Europe, particularly Poland and the Czech Republic, both of which had joined the U.S. missile defense program at great political risk. (Obama’s reversal was particularly cruel in Poland’s case, as it was announced on Sep. 17, 2009, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland in the Second World War.)

Obama pressed on, regardless, pushing a new START nuclear arms treaty through Congress that absurdly balanced reductions to working U.S. weapons with reductions to Russia’s aging and decrepit nuclear stockpile. And while the U.S. Senate ratified the new START treaty on the condition that it should not be interpreted to block any future missile defense system, Russia ratified it on precisely the opposite basis and warned that it would withdraw from the treaty entirely if the U.S. failed to meet that demand.

Meanwhile, the hoped-for cooperation from Russia on Iran and other issues failed to materialize, with Russia blocking even mild action against Iran, Syria and other hostile powers at the UN Security Council. Worse, Russia recently withdrew from the Nunn-Lugar agreement with the U.S., through which both countries had prevented nuclear and chemical weapons in former Soviet republics from falling into the wrong hands. In addition, Russia also expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Obama has mocked Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” But others agree, noting that in terms of its global strategy, Russia’s constant goal is to oppose whatever the U.S. does, and that Russia frustrates American attempts to deal with Iran, Al Qaeda and other threats. 

Even if other threats are more immediate, it is clear that Obama has no desire at all to stand up to Russia, not even after Russia has exploited each of his “reset” gestures to its own advantage. He famously told then-President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after the election, implying that he would be better able to offer concessions Americans would otherwise oppose once he no longer needed their votes.

Obama’s attitude towards Russia has its roots in his undergraduate enthusiasm for unilateral American disarmament–a perspective he barely updated in three decades. It is Obama’s policy of capitulation, not Romney’s policy of peace through strength and alliances, that represents old “Cold War” thinking–and on the wrong side of the issue.