President Obama’s Failed ‘Reset’ with Russia

by Jamie M. Fly

On the occasion of Russian president Medvedev’s visit to the White House yesterday, President Obama tried to argue that his “reset” of relations with Moscow has moved the U.S.-Russian relationship into a new post–Cold War era.

President Medvedev’s trip to the United States was rife with talk of technology cooperation and modernization of the Russian economy that overshadowed real questions about the success of the administration’s “reset.” As my organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), pointed out in an FPI Analysis released on Tuesday, “The supposed successes of the ‘reset’ related to arms control, Iran, and Afghanistan have been limited and the United States has paid the heavy price of alienating key allies in Central and Eastern Europe and those fighting for human rights and enhanced freedoms on the streets of Russian cities.”

Instead of engaging in an honest debate about its Russia policy, the administration and its allies are intent on depicting critics of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and of the broader “reset” as out of touch Cold warriors. In a piece by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, administration officials mocked Sen. DeMint’s recent criticism of the administration’s new arms-control agreement with Russia, which faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. Senate.

At the FPI event where those remarks were made, Sen. DeMint rightly pointed out that Russia and the United States have different obligations — Russia being “a threat to many but a protector of none” and the United States being “a protector of many and a threat to none.” DeMint also emphasized that he wants “a good relationship with Russia, but understanding their political environment right now, the only way we can work with them is to demonstrate that we have the resolve, the commitment, and the strength to back up what we say.”

This is a concept that the Obama administration has shown itself unable or unwilling to grasp as it has rushed to grant every possible concession to Moscow in an effort to obtain a new arms-control agreement. Despite the visit to a burger joint, talk about Russian economic modernization, and supposed civil-society cooperation, President Obama’s relationship with President Medvedev has been defined by one thing: arms control.

If Russia were truly ready for a “reset,” President Obama would be able to express concerns about political repression, the rule of law, and Russia’s policies towards its neighbors without risking the collapse of the relationship. President Obama has shown no willingness to broaden his engagement with Moscow to include such issues. Unlike President Reagan’s engagement with Moscow on arms control, which was coupled with criticism of the Soviet Union’s repression of its citizens, this administration has stood by while the situation in Russia deteriorates.

They, not critics like Senator DeMint, are the real Cold Warriors.

Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

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