We only know an Obama foreign policy initiative has been recognized to be a failure by the administration when they dump it. Backing Hugo Chavez’s stooge in Honduras was a blunder that the Obama team would not admit; it simply stopped backing him and allowed the democratic, constitutional process to play out. Obsession with a settlement freeze proved to be disaster in the Middle East, but none of them would acknowledge it. They simply gave up and let the negotiations go dark. Likewise, the Russian reset has been a dud.
How do we know it’s been a failure? There is a reset to the reset as the administration reveals to the New York Times:
The intense engagement on the reset led to notable achievements, including the New Start nuclear arms treaty and Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. But after more than a year of deteriorating relations, the administration now envisions a period of disengagement, according to government officials and outside analysts here and in Washington.
Both of those “achievements” are wins for Russia, not for the United States. We’ve gotten nothing and given up much in the last four years and given Russian President Vladimir Putin a pass on his internal repression. In moving on, the administration finally concedes what critics have been saying during that time. (“We have differences over human rights and democracy. We have differences over — in a number of areas that have been in the media in recent days and weeks,” an official finally admitted.)
It is no coincidence that the shift comes as Hilary Rodham Clinton departs as secretary of states. The Russian reset was one of her lauded achievements; now everyone can admit that it was a flop. (The Clinton legacy is already tarnishing.)
But the “new” policy is to withdraw, do nothing (“a message that the United States views much of its relationship with Russia as optional”). Well its better than aiding and abetting Putin’s internal crackdown. But really shouldn’t we be doing something, rather than simply ignoring Russian mischief? After all, Russia is engaged in a lot of bad behavior. (“These included the prosecution and jailing of members of the punk band Pussy Riot; the decision to end more than 20 years of cooperation on public health programs and civil society initiatives run by the United States Agency for International Development; cancellation of a partnership to dismantle unconventional weapons; and approval of legislative initiatives clamping down on pro-democracy groups and other nonprofit organizations.”)
It would seem that vigorously opposing human-rights violations, being firm about supporting an independent Georgia and taking action in response to the monstrous ban on Russian adoptions by Americans would be in order. Have we no tools for “soft power,” of which the administration speaks so fondly? We don’t need to return to the Cold War, but we certainly should match these moves with a chilly reaction and demonstrate negative diplomatic, economic and trade consequences. Some of these moves may be symbolic, but symbolism is important if for no other reason than to hearten the dissidents under siege in Putin’s regime.
And given that Putin’s wealth, and in turn his power, is largely dependent on oil and natural resources we should (as I have argued for many reasons) redouble our efforts to establish energy independence. Low oil prices are a fitting rebuke to Putin.