Obaby Makes a Mess in Moscow
No sooner had we come out in support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Russia policy last week, based on his pronouncments setting the foundation for his first state visit to Russia, than he stabbed us in the back. When we called upon him to carry his diplomacy into real policy initiatives, we never dreamed what we should have done is call upon him to carry his diplomatic rhetoric through to the end of his visit rather than suddenly reversing course and babbling like a goose. A cowardly, benighted goose.
We hate when that happens.
No matter how you judge him, Obama failed miserably in his first Russian summit, which famously was supposed to “reset” relations with the KGB regime in the Kremlin.
If you think Obama was supposed to “reset” relations by making friends with the KGB regime of Vladimir Putin, he hardly did. He offended his hosts by making in ill-advised joke about Alaska, he trash-talked Putin before arriving (making it seem as if he wanted to drive a wedge between Putin and his Medvedev sock puppet) and then repeatedly couldn’t remember Putin’s job title after touching down. And his speech to the nation, which was seen by few, was applauded by even fewer. He spent most of his time holed up in his hotel room, offending his hosts who are proud (for lord knows what reason) of their culture and cuisine.
On the other hand, if you think Obama was supposed to achieve the “reset” by reversing the criminally irresponsible policies of the Bush administration, which ignored Russian rollbacks of human rights and democracy and even hosted an infamous war criminal in the White House, you were even more disappointed. Sure, Obama made a few symbolic gestures like speaking to Novaya Gazeta and the opposition tandem of Nemtsov and Kasparov, but he did not say anything memorably about approving, much less helping, with their life-risking battle to preserve the last vestiges of civil society in Russia. The Kremlin would have no reason to believe any serious policies could result from Obama’s rhetoric.
Writing on his blog, opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky has called for Obama to impose personal sanctions (for instance, travel bans) on those high-ranking Russian officials who have been most responsible for the rollback of democracy and the persecution of opposition leaders. Kozlovsky is precisely correct. And Obama could have offered to help leaders like Kozlovsly safeguard their lives and publish their views (Nemtsov’s brilliant white paper has been banned from Russian bookstores). At the very least, he could have held a joint press conference with these leaders and praised their courage. He did not of that, nor did he give any indication that he has any specific policy agenda in mind by which to stand up for American values in Russia.
To say the least, we’re disappointed. Obama had lunch with Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who is risking his life to defend democratic values, and he told him he could only speak for five minutes — the same time he gave Communist thug Gennady Zyuganov. That’s an insult, there’s no way around it, and Obama should be ashamed of himself. We are disgusted.
But then, Barack Obama knows nothing about Russia other than what he is fed by his advisors, so this confused mess was only to be expected. He’s a babe in the woods where Russia, and indeed where foreign policy, is concerned. We gave him the benefit of the doubt, and we paid the price. He has some good advisors, like Michael McFaul, but he doesn’t seem to be listening to them very hard. He appears to have gone out on his own while in Moscow in a very George-Bushlike manner, and failure was predictable after that point. He made a lasting relationship with neither the government nor the opposition, and that implies he will consent to a continuation of the status quo.
All we can do is take consolation from the fact that Obama’s first foray into Russia was less a disaster that that of George Bush, and hope that Obama is capable of learning from his ghastly miscues in terms of future policy. Meanwhile, we intend to hold his feet to the fire of truth.