Our policy of Russian reset, consisting of giving Russia much (e.g., unconditioned WTO status) and getting virtually nothing (on human rights, Georgian occupation, etc.) has, not surprisingly, given the Russians the impression they are in the driver’s seat. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Russia this week saying nice things about U.S.-Russian cooperation, and here is how he is treated:
In a stinging rebuke of U.S. policy in Libya, the Russian defense minister accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing Libyan civilians through errant air strikes and called for an immediate cease-fire on Tuesday. The comments drew a quick rebuke from visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said the Russian criticism was based on “outright lies.”
Speaking to reporters following an hourlong meeting with Gates, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia continued to support the United Nations resolution authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya but made clear that Moscow was increasingly uneasy about the escalating campaign.
Mind you, Serdyukov not only rebuffed Obama on Libya, making a mockery of that “international consensus,” he did so in public. With Gates standing there.
That shot led to a riposte by Gates:
Speaking to reporters in his hotel overlooking the Kremlin, the American defense chief said he was taken aback by the ferocity of the Russian criticism of the ongoing American-led military operations.
“I’m a little curious, frankly, about the tone that has been taken,” Gates said. “It’s perfectly evident that the vast majority of, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Qaddafi . . . and it’s almost as though some people here are taking at face value Qaddafi’s claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I’m concerned are just outright lies.”
Gates’s comments were an implicit rebuke to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who on Monday accused the United States of causing significant civilian casualties in Libya and likened the American-led operation there to a “crusade.”
The problem with our Russia policy, as with so much else that Obama does, is the lack of consequences for bad, even outrageous behavior. Aside from a verbal retort, will Russia incur any real pain? That is highly unlikely, and so the pattern will repeat itself. At some point Obama, as George W. Bush did, needs to reevaluate the thugocracy he is dealing with.