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One would think Barack Obama would have learned something about the limits of his personal charm at the G-20 summit in London. Even with the hated George W. Bush back in Texas, the anarchists still rage in the streets, the French and Germans still hate “Anglo-Saxon-style” capitalism, and the nations of the world still won’t take dictation — on the need for a coordinated, global stimulus — from Washington.
But Obama’s faith that his fresh attitude — more flexible and thoughtful — will in itself open new international vistas is unshaken. It’s on that basis that he hit “reset” with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev at the London meeting, in a joint statement touted by the international press as one of the summit’s few accomplishments.
Obama and Medvedev agreed to negotiate a new arms-control treaty and work together on a host of initiatives from the Afghan War to the Iranian nuclear program. Medvedev — and his master, Vladimir Putin — must be delighted enough to consider sanctioning the beating of yet another meddlesome journalist in celebration.
“[The meeting] brought Russia a shot of prestige, upbeat headlines about nuclear-arms cuts and a powerful signal that Moscow has the ear of the new U.S. president,” the Associated Press wrote. “The price tag for Russia so far: virtually zero.” Medvedev likes that price point.
“We, the leaders of Russia and the United States, are ready to move beyond Cold War mentalities,” the joint statement said. With no apparent sense of irony, both sides also pledged to reinstitute a Cold War–style arms-control process, with an alphabet soup of treaties and elaborate compliance mechanisms that recall the days when the fate of the world hung on the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance.
The Russians revel in this. It makes them feel important and puts the focus on nuclear warheads, their last truly impressive measure of national power. It might be worth indulging the Russians in endless arms-control talk — in fact, it’s a perfect assignment for Vice President Joe Biden — if it were part of a broader strategic scheme from which the U.S. would benefit. Instead, the arms-control process will likely become an end in itself.
The Obama administration wants to win Russian cooperation in squeezing the Iranian nuclear program. To this end, its chief bargaining chip is the proposed U.S. missile-defense site in Poland. The Russians pretend that this site — designed to defend against a threat emanating from Iran — will neutralize Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. How ten interceptors can work this magic against 2,800 warheads is never explained.
The flaw with the bargaining chip is that everyone knows it is worthless to Obama. Even if the Russians had no objection, the administration would want to be rid of the missile-defense site — if it could eliminate the two sites here in the U.S., it would do that, too. Obama officials are suffused with the Left’s instinctive hostility to missile defense, an ideological reflex left over from the Cold War.
The Russians can surely get Obama to ditch missile defense in exchange for a more cooperative-sounding version of the same double game they’ve been playing on Iran. They can cite their votes for Security Council resolutions sanctioning Iran — once they’ve been watered down to meaninglessness. At the same time they continue to build Iran’s reactor at Bushehr and provide the regime with sophisticated conventional arms, including air defenses.
It’s foolish to think the Russians behave this way out of pique at George W. Bush. The Russians have a geopolitical goal of establishing dominance again in as much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia as possible, and will do whatever is necessary to achieve it — from cutting off fuel to Ukraine, to invading Georgia, to getting us kicked out of our air base in Kyrgyzstan. They view us as a rival power to be frustrated, and therefore our enemy Iran is — if not their friend — their useful foil.
Barack Obama didn’t claim to see Medvedev’s soul, but demonstrates his own form of naïveté.