Was that presidential Kennebunkport photo-op summit with Vladmir Putin a good move? National Review Online asked a few experts.
The point of the Kennebunkport summit — and it is important to stress this was very much a meeting of choice, not of necessity — was to give Russia and the United States some breathing room. The fact that the Bush-Putin meeting was pushed off the front pages by the terror plots in the United Kingdom and new revelations about the role Iran and Hezbollah are playing in training the insurgency in Iraq puts into clear perspective what American priorities are — and gearing up for a Cold War lite. Right now, we don’t need to engage in a game of “sudden death” with Moscow on issues such as missile defense, Iran, and Kosovo.
Both presidents wanted to stress that they are still talking. No definitive conclusions have been reached. No options have been ruled out.
They didn’t pretend that there aren’t serious disagreements on a number of issues — but neither side is willing to foreclose on this relationship just yet.
In the course of the talks, Putin provided some new ideas on missile defense; on contentious issues like Iran he promised that there would be “further substantial intercourse” between the two countries. We have gained a bit of time and now we see whether some creative diplomacy and some good old fashioned horse trading will produce results.
As we puzzle over Russian policies, what is overlooked is the root of Russia’s actions in a distorted perception of reality. Russia has reacted violently to plans for an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe but is not fazed by the idea of Iran becoming a nuclear power or the actions of North Korea. Russia supports the secession of rebellious provinces in Georgia but not in Russia or Serbia. And Russian leaders ridicule a British request for the extradition of a suspect in the murder of Alexander Litivinenko and then accuses the West of showing unjustified distrust.
The tendency of the Russian leadership to insist on a skewed version of reality is important because the invitation to Putin to visit President Bush in Kennebunkport actually legimitizes this underlying mentality. The invitation for Putin to Kennebunkport is part of a tradition that includes the invitations to Russia to join the G-8, Council of Europe, and the NATO-Russia Council and tendency of American presidents to believe that Russian leaders are their “friends.” In all cases, we think that we can influence Russia by ignoring what it is and treating it as it should be. But this means seeing Russia in our own image – and pushing the day when it becomes what it should be ever farther into the future.
– David Satter is affiliated with the Hoover Institution and the Johns Hopkins University. He is author, most recently, of Darkness at Dawn: the Rise of the Russian Criminal State.