President Obama, upon taking office, promised “A New Beginning” for U.S. relations in the Middle East. We know how that’s working out. Yet another pillar of his foreign policy is faring no better–the “reset” with Russia. Vladimir Putin has kicked metaphorical sand in Uncle Sam’s face by demanding that the U.S. government end all assistance for civil-society organizations in Russia, which totals some $50 million a year.
This is more bad news for Russia’s future. As Yelena Panfilova, head of the Moscow branch of Transparency International, told the New York Times: “What is the list of other countries that have expelled U.S.A.I.D.? It’s not about money — we can cope somehow — the problem is about this whole feeling that we have been brought together with Venezuela, Somalia and Belarus.”
But this is also bad news for Obama’s policy. As John McCain noted in a statement: “The Russian government’s decision to end all U.S.A.I.D. activities in the country is an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama administration, which has consistently trumpeted the alleged success of its so-called reset policy toward Moscow.”
One struggles now to recall the heady days of the 2008 campaign when Obama was promising to sit down with every dictator under the sun on the apparent assumption that exposure to his awesome powers of persuasiveness would repair years, even decades, of friction with the United States and other democracies. Obama has indeed had sit-downs with some dictators, though thankfully not all (no Obama-Ayatollah summit!) but the results of his parlays have been, in a word, meager.
In the case of Russia, Obama was actually caught reassuring Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s sock-puppet, that he would have “more flexibility” to deal on missile defense after the election–and Putin in turn has praised him as a “very honest man.” But, lo and behold, that hasn’t produced a turnaround in U.S.-Russia elections. If, indeed, there is any sign of a revolution wrought by Obama in foreign policy, we are still waiting to see it.