Obama is the New Bush on Russia

Writing on Foreign Policy: Jamie M. Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative and Gary Schmitt, director of the Program on Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, say that Barack Obama is acting just like George Bush where Russia is concerned.

Still in the midst of a diplomatic fracas with Israel, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also found herself in a mini-crisis with Russia during last week’s Moscow trip. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly snubbed Clinton during a meeting Friday, hectoring her in front of reporters after announcing Thursday that Russia would bring the nuclear reactor it is constructing in Iran online later this year. This comes just as Washington is hoping to tighten the screws on Tehran over its illicit nuclear program.

Putin’s treatment of Clinton raises doubts about the Barack Obama administration’s strategy toward Russia, which has focused on building up the supposedly moderate President Dmitri Medvedev, reportedly one of the few foreign leaders Obama has bonded with, as a counterweight to Putin.

Obama’s focus on a personal relationship with a Russian leader is nothing new; in fact it’s drearily consistent with how past U.S. presidents have handled their relations with Russia. After his first meeting with then-President Putin in June 2001, George W. Bush famously said: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” But despite some early agreements between the two leaders that enabled the United States to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and cooperate in Central Asia in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, by the end of Bush’s second term relations with Russia had appreciably worsened and Russian democracy was in full retreat.

Bush’s focus on his personal relationship with the thuggish Putin was rightly scorned. But Bush was not the first American president to place a bet on personal ties between himself and a leader in Moscow. As the Soviet Union was coming to an end, George H. W. Bush clearly preferred doing business with its no-nonsense leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to the disheveled, vodka-loving Boris Yeltsin. But Gorbachev’s agenda was about saving the Soviet Union, while Yeltsin, for all his flaws, wanted to bury that corpse and move Russia toward the West and democratic rule. And now, we’re hearing that Obama believes he has a different and promising relationship with Medvedev — one independent of Putin.

Medvedev, to be sure, talks a different game than Putin. On the domestic front, he has spoken and written extensively about the need to liberalize Russia’s politics and economy, tackle corruption, and unwind the worst features of the autocratic and oligarchic system now in place. And it is on this basis that Obama’s efforts to build a solid personal relationship with Medvedev can be justified. Or can they?

For all his talk of reform — and so far it is just that, talk — Medvedev still claims that Russia is a working democracy that protects the liberties of individual Russians despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And on the national security front, it is difficult to see much light between Medvedev and Putin if Medvedev is judged by his actions, not just his rhetoric. Since becoming Putin’s hand-picked successor as president in May 2008, Medvedev has done little to blunt his predecessor’s Russian revanchist policies. On Medvedev’s watch, Georgia has been invaded and Abkhazia and South Ossetia effectively annexed, and Russia has continued to threaten its neighbors and put forward a “new security architecture” whose obvious goal is to undermine NATO’s role in Europe.

Medvedev’s defenders — both in Washington and Brussels — argue that such is the price he must pay for sharing power with Putin. However, even if Medvedev’s more moderate and liberalizing words are to be taken as a reflection of his own views, Russia’s recent actions suggest that he may not even have much control over the Kremlin’s notorious bureaucracy, particularly the security services, since there has been no noticeable effort to reform the Russian regime at home or tame its bullying tactics abroad.

In fact, his seemingly well-meaning comments about arms control or Iran have often been overshadowed days later by more bellicose moves from Putin, as happened last week. The obvious point is that Putin is still calling the shots and will likely continue doing so as he plots a return to the Russian presidency in 2012. This shouldn’t come as any great surprise; it’s a stretch to think that Medvedev could, if he wanted to, break with the system that promoted him, gave him power, and keeps him there. As Michael Corleone, the Godfather’s youngest son, learned, going legit is no easy task for members of the mafia.

In short, there is little reason to believe that basing a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations on increased personal ties between presidents Medvedev and Obama will buy Obama any particular advantage. If anything, doing so reinforces Moscow’s incentive to continue the “good cop, bad cop” routine. In January, thousands of Russians took to the streets in Kaliningrad to campaign for democratic reforms and thousands protested deteriorating economic conditions in cities across the country on Saturday. The success or failure of these democratic forces will likely be more important for the United States in the long run than Obama’s personal relationship with a leader that many Russians view as little more than a puppet.

It’s always possible of course that Medvedev could be his generation’s Gorbachev. But given all we’ve seen so far, that possibility seems remote. More likely, come 2012 Obama will find himself in a position similar to that of his predecessor — defending an ineffective U.S.-Russia policy that rests on the weakest of reeds: close personal ties with a Russian leader.

21 responses to “Obama is the New Bush on Russia

  1. I’m sure whoever Putin is he’s no fool. And he appointed Medvedev as a successor, if not to have his presidency back in 2012, though why not, what legal or political factors can prevent him from doing so, then at least to perpetuate the regime and preserve a real hold on Russia. So guys, give me a break, who knows Medvedev better, Obama and American experts on Russia or Mr. Putin?
    And concerning, this personal-ties-based “strategy”, it’s nothing but a smokescreen for a Chamberlain-Daladier style wishful thining based pacification policy.
    And yes sure, Obama’s Russian policy is typically leftist and liberal and its something I always fail to get, why?? Why traditinally all these American liberals, lefrists, peaceniks are so fond of Russia. Ok, years before, in times of Cold War and communism vs capitalism ideological confrontation it could be explained by their identifiying with Soviet Union as a power nominally sticking to the leftist agenda. But now? What all this tree-hugging, gay-cuddling, politically correct, feminist, multiculturalist, laicist, caring about the weak and poor sweet bunch does with Putin’s Russia which is both ideologically and tecnically nothing like that. It authoritarian elitist country where the gap between the rich and poor is enormous, nationalism and racism rampant, human rights being constantly violated, and authorities show no sensitivity to gender and environmental issues.
    I understand that all these “Putlers” and “RuSSias” are rather rhethoric exaggeration. In reality we aren’t likely to see a kind of new Auschwiz, being built somewhere near Ekateterinburg but if it’s possible to draw some analogy in lots of respects contempory III Rome can be viewed as equivalent to the III Reich. First of all I mean the role it plays in current international relations. In both cases we deal with an expansionist empire, which lost the war, was forced to start some skin-deep democratic reforms without any significant progress, where thepopulation was deeply traumatized by their country’s loss of imperial prestige and status and preoccupied with the lot of their compatriots (Germans in one case Russians and Russophones in another) having been left behind. As a result, authoritarian/totalitarian refimes eventually emerged based on these sentiments (disappointment with democracy and freedom, bitterness against winners who deprived them of their superiority, hurt national pride and the most important thing – a passionate wish for revenge) + sure some back up from big corporations who unlike their counterparts in America where Big Business traditionally wants Small Government, due to national historical traditions tends to rely upon the strength of the State. And in both cases we deal with typical revisionist states trying to play history back, to thwart their previous adversarys’ efforts to secure the results of their success, to return at least some part of their former sphere of influence, to use protection of the compatriots as a pretext for intervention with egging them to undermine neigboring countries. The war on Georgia looks almost the same as the 1938 business with Czechoslovakia placed in the XXI century. Yanukovych with his Slavic-Orthodox solidarity rhetoric looks pretty much like Quisling who justified his treasonous policy with slogans of allegiance to a wider Nordic Aryan community. Wherever Russia comes, Freedom goes… That’s not about just today, that’s the way it was for centuries.
    One more detail, which might catch American liberals’attention. The official ideology of the Putinist party is Russian Conservatism. Sure the word Russian here is crucial, because Russian consevatism ansd its Anglo-Saxon are divide not just by some minor differences but a true chasm. While Anglo-Saxon conservatism stems from the British tradition of aristocratic individualism with its deep respect to rights and dignity of an individual and all that Magna Carta stuff, the Russian one is an heir to chauvinistic anti-democratic and hate-mangering ways of Holy Brigade and Black Hundreds.
    So as a bleeding-heart, compassionate, feminist, gay-cuddling liberal I’m asking my American fellows: What in the world are you guys thinking about?

    • Damien:

      There is a very simple answer to your question “why all these American liberals, lefrists, peaceniks are so fond of Russia.” It’s because Russia is a sworn enemy of the United States. They support every person, entity, organization or country which wants to harm or destroy the United States.

      Russia is not the only one on the list of enemies of the U.S., obviously. They are likewise fond of Iran, N. Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Palestinians, Syria, Islamic terrorists, environmental terrorists, Communist groups, especially if the membership of these groups is predominantly non-White, and on and on.

      • [It’s because Russia is a sworn enemy of the United States.]

        Hi, dude.
        Did you found something that proves it already?

        • in recent weeks, I have posted a number of anti-American hateful statements for you, on your request. I consider my promise fulfilled.

          I am not any “dude.” Neither my age nor lifestyle qualifies me as such

    • “I understand that all these “Putlers” and “RuSSias” are rather rhethoric exaggeration. In reality we aren’t likely to see a kind of new Auschwiz, being built somewhere near Ekateterinburg”

      Actually, we ALREADY HAVE SEEN concentration camps in contemporary Russia.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russias-filtration-camp-policy—is-to-cripple-chechens-for-life-724924.html

    • My suspicion is that lefty liberals have a serious sympathy and concern with the underdogs, the poor, and those looked down upon, local and worldwide, which Russia historically has been and is. The fact that its regime is nominally centrist by ideology when it comes to economics may also play some role here. Note well how Mr.Putin is a fan of the New Deal and Roosevelt. He has been a strong critic of the IMF which position is popular in Russia due to the Yeltsin years severe depression the country suffered through. While many people especially on this blog well note the Russian sensitivity to national criticism Russia is and has been historically a very, very strongly criticised country. People know that too and in some circles it will generate sympathy whether deserved or not.

    • “we aren’t likely to see a kind of new Auschwiz, being built somewhere near Ekateterinburg”

      I would agree that there would be no Auschwiz.

      Why? Because Russia never has invested in modern, high standard killing facilities.

      I believe though that there is a high probability of seeing typical Russian standard aka GULag extermination camps deep in the uninhabited spaces of Siberia. Cheap, poorly built and poorly managed, but effectively guarded.

      There is no need for Zyklon B and tiled shower rooms, when all the dirty work can be done by -40 arctic cold and starvation. And the dead bodies even do not smell – they freeze solid and you can store them in piles like firewood.

      There still are alive many honored extermination veterans in Russia, receiving government pensions. They can help to restore the conveyor and get it up and running in no time.

      Especially when there are so many enthusiastic young “patriots” willing to crush with iron fist all those pesky “Russophobes” and “enemies of Motherland”.

    • [Black Hundreds]

      What’s wrong with the ‘Black Hundreds’?
      I wouldn’t recommend you to insult the memory of these great people.

      • “What’s wrong with the ‘Black Hundreds’?
        I wouldn’t recommend you to insult the memory of these great people.”

        In previous LR issue you stated that you don’t support extremism.

  2. NATO and Missile Defense is like Israel with Muslim countries if they did not exist every thing would be perfect and democracy around the world and no problems besides thinking of things to help the other with. But the reality is if it were not NATO and Missile Defense it would be something else and the same with Israel! Israel will continue to exist andNATO and Missile Defense will not only continue to exist but GROW!!!

    • Russia and her hypocritical, provocative buzzing nuclear bombers and nuclear threats to Europe and arming rouge states and terrorist doesn’t equate. The reality is that if Russia and the neo Soviet thugs didn’t exist the world would be much better. The Kremlins doom is near.

      • I would agree to all that you wrote except for “The Kremlins doom is near”.

        I am afraid it is not so, and opportunistic, coward, often naive and infantile attitude demonstrated by many in USA and Europe towards the Kremlin makes such a possibility even smaller.

        I hope I am wrong.

  3. Let this idiot keep going. He imagines his little written “agreements” are permanent.

    As elections approach they will become desperate. Calmly wait until they have done their best.

    Do not give Obama an excuse to try something desperate like declare martial law, etc.

  4. The 100% American is 99% an idiot. — George Bernard Shaw

    One of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory. — Chou En-Lai

    I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are, on the whole earth besides, so many intensified bores as in these United States. No man can form an adequate idea of the real meaning of the word, without coming here. — Charles Dickens

    Their … demeanour is invariably morose, sullen, clownish and repulsive. I should think there is not, on the face of the earth, a people so entirely destitute of humour, vivacity, or the capacity of enjoyment. — Charles Dickens

    I believe that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty’s head will be dealt by this nation [the United States] in the ultimate failure of its example to the earth. — Charles Dickens

    The American woman is a monstrosity. — Charles Dickens

    America is a mistake, admittedly a gigantic mistake, but a mistake nevertheless. — Sigmund Freud

    A single nation that has succeeded in lowering the intelligence, the morality, the quality of the human race almost throughout the globe is a phenomenon never before experienced since the beginning of time. I accuse the United States of being in a constant state of crime against humanity.” — Henry de Montherlant

    Catholicism has made man stupid, but it has not degraded him; it has introduced as many good and beautiful things as bad things. The United States have simply degraded humanity. Catholicism has done less harm in two thousand years than the United States in two hundred. — Henry de Montherlant

    White man speaks with forked tongue. — Native American saying

    Americans are so dumb! — Bjork

    Most American men are repressors. — Ayn Rand

    America is the only nation in history which has gone miraculously directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilisation. — Georges Clemenceau

    If you’re going to America, bring your own food. — Fran Lebowitz

    No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. — H.L. Mencken

    It was wonderful to find America, put perhaps it would have been more wonderful to miss it. — Mark Twain

    The American has no language. He has dialect, slang, provincialism, accent and so forth. — Rudyard Kipling

    America … where laws and customs alike are based on the dreams of spinsters. — Bertrand Russell

    In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors. — Bertrand Russell

    I heard an Englishman, who had been long resident in America, declare that in following, in meeting, or in overtaking, in the street, on the road, or in the field, at the theatre, the coffee-house, or at home, he had never overheard Americans conversing without the word DOLLAR being pronounced between them. Such unity of purpose … can … be found nowhere else, except… in an ant’s nest. — Frances Trollope

    The United States is an illegitimate country, just like Israel. It has no right to exist. That country belongs to the Red man, the American Indian… It’s actually a shame to be a so-called American, because everybody living there is a usurper, an invader taking part in this crime, which is to rob the land, rob the country and kill all the American Indians. — Bobby Fischer

    The United States is evil. There’s this axis of evil. — Bobby Fischer

    One of the worst terrorist states in the world. — Noam Chomsky

    The US is a business-run huckster society, and its primary value is deceit. — Noam Chomsky

    The United States is evil. — Henry de Montherlant

    Americans … [have] wrought a country that has after more than two centuries yet to evidence a single year during which it was not making war upon someone, somewhere, for some reason. — Ward Churchill

    The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. — John Brown

    We have met the enemy and he is U.S. — bumper sticker, 2003

    The United States is in many ways the biggest ghetto in the world. — Selma James

    I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare. — Malcolm X

    America is the greatest of opportunities and the worst of influences. — George Santayana

    There is nothing redeemable about America. — Ewuare Osayande

    We believe the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. — Osama bin Laden

    Russians take your freedom, but Americans steal your soul. — anonymous German

    The big Satan is a big liar. — Iranian chief of intelligence

    They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet. — Michael Moore

    The percentage of mentally disturbed people in the United States is very high. From the time the American gets up in the morning, he feels as if someone is trying to influence his will in some way: he is a person with a thousand pressures. The Americans live under a great strain … and have great feelings of frustration. — Fidel Castro

    The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. — D.H. Lawrence

    I believe the United States is a truly monstrous force in the world. — Harold Pinter

    The United States of America is a threat to world peace. — Nelson Mandela

    Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism, and a battle hymn for the people’s unity against the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America. — Che Guevara

    America is a lunatic asylum. — Ezra Pound

    [the US] … cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth … it lives in a perpetual present. [in the US] everything human is artificial. The country is without hope. What is arresting here is … both the absence of architecture in the cities and the dizzying absence of emotion and character in the faces and bodies. — Jean Baudrillard

    • Quite an assortment of quotes you got there. Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, Ezra Pound (fascist sympathizer who ended up in a mental institution), Ward Churchill (crackpot, wannabe Indian and academic impostor), Noam Chomsky (pathetic old wanker, much loved by the spoiled brats of the upper class), Ayn Rand (possibly the worst writer in history), Rudyard Kipling (advocate of British colonialism), Harold Pinter (great playwright, but supporter of a variety of stupid causes, from Stalinism to Saddam Hussein to Serbian ultra-nationalism) etc. Well done, “happierabroad”, you’ve found some really reliable people to quote. I bet you’re one of those Americans who claim they’re Canadian when they backpack in “Europe” (by which they mean Paris, Amsterdam and Prague) That’s probably the worst sort of Americans, along with teabaggers.

      • No need for your endless ad hominem attacks. Listen to the message, and not the messenger.

        Almost everything that these people have stated has turned out to be accurate or nearly accurate.

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  6. @After his first meeting with then-President Putin in June 2001, George W. Bush famously said: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” But despite some early agreements between the two leaders that enabled the United States to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and cooperate in Central Asia in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, by the end of Bush’s second term relations with Russia had appreciably worsened and Russian democracy was in full retreat.

    Russian democracy was in full retreat even by the time Bush was just a presidential candidate.

    Anyway and by the way,

  7. @RV:

    “It’s because Russia is a sworn enemy of the United States. They support every person, entity, organization or country which wants to harm or destroy the United States.”

    I think the former NATO General Secretary would disagree with that:

    ‘We have many things on which we disagree, but NATO needs Russia and Russia needs NATO. Let’s work on the things we agree on, and let’s not hide our disagreements, and let us realize that also this relationship can, and in my opinion should, be strengthened.’

    “Russia is not the only one on the list of enemies of the U.S., obviously. They are likewise fond of Iran, N. Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Palestinians, Syria, Islamic terrorists, environmental terrorists, Communist groups, especially if the membership of these groups is predominantly non-White, and on and on.”

    Please provide proof to this outrageously false and ignorant statement; exluding Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, and Iran. Russia is a capitalist country, capitalism means business, business needs customers, sales mean profit. Simple. Might I suggest you study some, little dude? The Cold War is over in case you didn’t know.

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