Rich Lowry: The Russian reset to nowhere

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Sunday, March 9, 2014 5:30pm
  • Opinion

The “reset” with Russia had a brief, unhappy life. It began with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting her Russian counterpart with a mistranslated reset button reading “overcharged.” It ended with current Secretary of State John Kerry denying knowledge of the late, unlamented policy on “Meet the Press”: “Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset.”

Memories are short in Foggy Bottom. And understandably. Who wouldn’t try to forget a geopolitical initiative that has been exposed as willful naivete and strategic obtuseness from the beginning?

George Kennan wrote the famous “Long Telegram” at the outset of the Cold War. President Barack Obama would have needed only “A Very Brief Telegram” at the outset of his administration: “Bush’s fault.”

This was a perverse misreading of history. Of all President George W. Bush’s failings, not giving the Russians a chance wasn’t one of them. He notoriously looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes at the beginning of his presidency and saw sweetness and light. By the end, his illusions were shattered by the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

President Obama picked up like this Russian act of aggression had been perpetrated long ago by the Grand Duke of Muscovy, instead of by the very regime he was resetting with.

In a 2009 visit to Moscow, the springtime of reset, President Obama professed his belief “that Americans and Russians have a common interest in the development of rule of law, the strengthening of democracy, and the protection of human rights.” He was 0 for 3.

It didn’t take a student of Russian history, or of international relations or even of the model U.N., to know that this would end in ashes.

At one level, the Obama administration was guilty of the human impulse of wanting to see the world as you would like it to be rather than as it is.

At another, the president is not particularly interested in international relations. It was appropriate that one of his statements on the crisis came at an elementary school while announcing his latest budget, which reduces the U.S. Army to pre-World War II levels. Because we all know that we will never face an unexpected, unpredictable international crisis again.

This gets to the deeper ambition. The president thought Putin would help him manage an American stand-down from global leadership. Putin was happy to do so — on his own terms.

Whereas Obama has the left’s traditional discomfort with American power, Putin has no such guilty conscience. Whereas Obama believes we’ve entered a paradisiacal new period in history when everyone can be constrained by international norms, Putin has no such delusions.

Consider the New START treaty. According to nuclear expert Keith Payne, it didn’t require any cuts of deployed warheads or strategic launchers by Russia, which was already under the agreement’s limits, only by the United States.

Still, the administration treats the treaty as a signal triumph of American diplomacy. You can imagine Russian national-security analysts arguing over whether this is more pathetic or hilarious.

The attitudes behind the reset linger. John Kerry’s plaintive observation that the invasion of Crimea is “a 19th-century act in the 21st century” carries the quaint assumption that raw power politics and nationalist pride are things we left behind two centuries ago.

In a similar vein, President Obama said last week that Ukraine’s stability and success are “in Russia’s interest.” Not if you are Vladimir Putin and stung by the humiliation of the Russian empire’s diminishment after the end of the Cold War and informed by Catherine the Great’s belief that the only way to secure Russia borders is to extend them.

President Obama declares that Russia is on the wrong side of history. That may be a clinching argument in a debate over gay marriage at Wesleyan University, but won’t carry much weight with Putin. He thinks he can make history move with lies, thuggery and iron.

It’s now Obama’s challenge to prove him wrong.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

Deborah Morel’s beachhouse near Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Morel)
Voices of the Peninsula: The Dream Team saves the day

The story, I believe, speaks to the goodness of humankind.

teaser
Opinion: The truth Dunleavy should tell about COVID vaccines

Dunleavy made a political calculation to appease his party’s angry base by joining the lawsuits against the mandates.

Laura Black, owner of Fireweed Bakery, sells some of her wares during the Merry Little Christmas Market at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, Alaska on Nov. 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Shop local this holiday season!

By Julie Anderson Shopping locally has never been as important or as… Continue reading

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: What do voting statistics say about our democracy?

Kenai Peninsula Borough total voter turnout in this past October 2021 municipal election was a sad 11.84%.

Tease
Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

Most Read