Putin and Russia generally have sharply ramped up the anti-Americanism since his election, and the protests. This is overdetermined. Partly it is playing on the prejudices of a domestic audience, but it also reflects Putin and the elite’s belief that the US is actively trying to undermine their rule by fomenting an Orange-y revolution in Russia-hence the clampdown on NGOs and the demonization-and worse-of anyone who receives western funding. With regards to foreign policy, it reflects Russian zero sum thinking and a belief that Russian interests and American interests are at odds generally, and in specific areas like Syria and Iran. It also reflects a deep seated suspicion of, and hostility to, the West generally and the US specifically that traces far back before Soviet times, but was inculcated in everyone in the Soviet Union, especially those in the security apparatus and the Party-individuals who dominate the Russian hierarchy today, including notably Putin.
Given this, Obama’s Reset was unrealistic, romantic, and even delusional when first announced in 2009. It only became more unhinged from reality thereafter, as developments in the past years, including the protests, the Arab Spring, and the fall of Khadafy all reinforced all of the foregoing tendencies. (Note the slick video attacking Medvedev that went viral: one of the main charges leveled against Mr. #Pathetic was that he acquiesced to the NATO takedown of Khadafy.)
Hence, it is truly bizarre to read David Ignatius’s piece in the WaPo advocating Obama make another go at “aligning” American and Russian interests.
How do you align the orthogonal? Just asking.
Yes orthogonal probably overstates things, but only a tad. Certainly in Putin’s zero sum mind the areas of common interest are quite limited indeed. These are particularly true in the three areas Ignatius argues that the US could use Russian assistance: Syria, North Korea, and Iran.
With regards to Syria, Russia has vigorously protected its client Assad, and obstructed every effort to resolve the conflict. “No more Libyas” is clearly the Russian watchword here. It conducted naval operations off the Syrian coast at the end of last month, and just announced that it is looking to maintain a continuous deployment there. This is obviously serving as a tripwire to deter any NATO/US action against Syria.
With regards to North Korea, in the aftermath of the NoKo’s recent nuclear test, Lavrov dodged calls from Kerry to discuss matters, claiming he was too busy on his Africa tour to Algeria, South Africa, Mozambique and Guinea to pick up the phone. On the last stop Lavrov tried to cajole the Guinean government to restore Deripaska’s aluminum smelting concession. “I can’t talk to you about NoKo nukes because I’m talking to Guinea about Deripaska” tells you exactly how much they are interested in cooperating on this issue. They also continued to oppose any additional sanctions on North Korea that would affect “normal trade.” Uhm, what “normal trade” does North Korea have? (Not counting drugs or counterfeiting.) Perhaps they are still holding out hope for that trans-Korean gas pipeline.
With regards to Iran, Ignatius pixels (as in pixilated) three of the most delusional paragraphs I’ve read in a while:
So what’s the answer to this classic foreign-policy dilemma, where U.S. interests and values are in conflict? I’d argue that the benefits of a more cooperative U.S.-Russian relationship — on Syria, Iran, North Korea, arms control and other issues — are so substantial that they are worth the cost. That’s a heavy burden, especially since it’s likely to be borne by Russian human-rights activists. [There’s always more room under the Obama Bus!]
The Obama administration made a similar strategic choice in its first term, when it decided that a positive “reset” with Russia was a top priority and placed missile defense, NATO expansion and other issues lower on its list. This decision opened the way for Russian support of U.N. resolutions sanctioning Iran.
A second presidential term isn’t a clean slate, but it offers a new chance to test whether Russia’s interests and America’s can be aligned. To get where he wants over the next four years, Obama needs to unlock the Russia door.
Yeah. The Russian support for sanctioning Iran has been so helpful. So much progress has been made with Russia’s assistance.
If Obama needs Russia’s help to get to where he wants to go, it’s a case of I know where you’re going, but you can’t get there from here. Indeed, the zero sum mindset means that if Putin believes he is helping Obama get what he wants, he’s less likely to do it.
I’m not saying to go all confrontational, although showing some spine on the Russian tantrum on Magnitsky and the tragic case of the death of an adopted Russian child in Texas would be desirable. (I will write on that latter issue, especially the role of the truly execrable Pavel Astakhov, when the results of the Texas authorities’ investigation are released.)
But chasing after Russian unicorns is completely counterproductive. A serious deal with the Russians on Syria, Iran, or North Korea is about as likely as finding a silky, single-horned animal grazing on the White House lawn. So get real and move on.
Indeed, Obama’s best strategy for dealing with Putin is one that comes naturally to him: pretty much ignoring. Obama is focused on domestic issues, and is naturally aloof with even the members of his own party in Congress, let alone with foreign leaders. That aloofness drives Putin crazy: it’s hard to figure what he hates worse, when the US pays attention to Russia, or when it doesn’t. So here’s one case where Obama’s personality and personal style actually pays dividends: by being his superior self, he doesn’t waste time pursuing the impossible, avoids doing a stupid deal with Russia, and drives Putin around the bend in the bargain.
So here’s one time I encourage him to channel his inner ‘Bam, and avoid the temptation to listen to David Ignatius’s blathering about the beautiful unicorns that roam the steppes.