BLOGS FROM SIDNEY

Lame Spin

Editor

OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MOSCOW: IS THERE A GOAL OR JUST AN ENDLESS PLAYING FIELD?

Blog From
March 7th, 2014

In an appearance at UCLA this week, Hillary Clinton claimed that, as Secretary of State, she acted with rugged pragmatism in dealing with Russia. According to Clinton, her tough girl approach was designed to ensure that the U.S. would meet its goals.

It sounds laudable enough, except for one small detail. Truly assessing Clinton’s claims is impossible because it’s impossible to identify the goals of the Obama Administration in any aspect of its foreign policy. For this obfuscation, the President wins this week’s Lame Spin Award.

Goals aside, Obama’s means and methods are readily discernible. He fires off endless strings of moralistic platitudes and drops ridicule bombs with abandon. These tactics are very familiar here at home as Obama commonly uses them to dispatch those who disagree with his domestic policy.

But on the world stage inflammatory rhetoric is purely for public consumption. Neither Russia nor any other country is moved by it. Based on recent polls in the U.S., our voters are beginning to ignore it as well.

As if to acknowledge this failing, Obama is reaching beyond rhetoric after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. He is attempting to isolate Russia in the international community. He wants economic ties cut, visas denied to Russian citizens and similar punitive actions. It remains to be seen how these tactics will play out in the end and Russia’s reaction to them.

Meanwhile, back to the goals’ question. Clinton referred to a list of Administration objectives in 2009 after a lack of meaningful U.S. response to the Georgia invasion the previous year. They included an arms control agreement, trying to get Russian support for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and trying to get Russia into the World Trade Organization.

In fact, the New Start treaty was signed in February 2011. And the Russian Federation was welcomed as the 156th member of the WTO in August 2012.

Afghanistan is a more complicated situation. Perhaps in remembrance of the U.S. opposition to the 1979 Russian invasion, Putin has never really supported our presence in the country.

Curiously, at the end of last year, the Pentagon spent over $1 billion for 63 Russian-made helicopters for Afghanistan’s security force. In making the purchase, the Pentagon bypassed the American-made Chinook helicopter in favor of the Mi-17. The Russian company that sold the Mi-17s also supplied Russian arms to the Syrian government in its war of genocide against the Syrian people.

Members of Congress were “stunned” by the choice. The Pentagon, which had condemned the Russian company for arms sales to Syria, was unable to provide a clear reason for the Mi-17 purchase. One wonders what the actual motivation was. Whatever the answer may be, the episode certainly does not provide grist for Obama’s platitudes mill.

So, what is Obama’s goal in steering our relationship with Russia? Containment? Tough love? Retreat? Other? Five years ago this week, Clinton as Secretary of State tried to refresh relations with the Russians. Presenting her counterpart with a plastic button, they both pushed it to signify an unspecified new start between the two countries.

As if the plastic toy were not cheesy enough, Clinton, who is not fluent in Russian, used the wrong word for ‘reset’. The word she used means ‘overcharged’. The error of that moment may turn out to be the only true assessment of the relationship uttered by any Obama Administration official.

Footnote:

Under Obama’s recently unveiled $4T budget, by 2020 we’ll spend more on debt interest than our entire military budget. The clouds are beginning to part on Obama’s big picture foreign policy.


 





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