Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dmitry Medvedev

NATO, Ukraine’s Frozen Conflict, and the Georgia Precedent

President Obama gave a fairly strong speech this morning in Estonia, calling out Russian aggression and rejecting talk of “spheres of influence.” But there was one aspect of the speech that had a missing element, and that element undermines much of Obama’s bluster toward Moscow and his tough talk on beefing up the NATO alliance.

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President Obama gave a fairly strong speech this morning in Estonia, calling out Russian aggression and rejecting talk of “spheres of influence.” But there was one aspect of the speech that had a missing element, and that element undermines much of Obama’s bluster toward Moscow and his tough talk on beefing up the NATO alliance.

In a section of the speech on Ukraine, Obama pledged to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and other regional allies, and that the West “will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea, or any part of Ukraine.” The Georgian conflict with Russia is helpful in understanding why Obama’s comments on defending Ukraine ring hollow.

The New York Times today reports on what should be encouraging news, but is actually nearly a repeat of Moscow’s victory in Georgia: Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are moving haltingly toward a ceasefire arrangement in eastern Ukraine. According to the Times, here are Putin’s conditions:

The primary conditions on Mr. Putin’s list are that the separatists halt all offensive operations and that Ukrainian troops move their artillery back out of range of all population centers in the rebel-held area.

Mr Putin also called for Ukraine to cease airstrikes, for the establishment of an international monitoring mission and humanitarian aid corridors, for an “all for all” prisoner exchange, and for “rebuilding brigades” to repair damaged roads, bridges, power lines and other infrastructure.

Mr. Putin made the remarks at a news conference during a state visit to Mongolia. After confirming that he had spoken with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Putin offhandedly mentioned that he had “sketched out” a peace plan during his flight from Moscow. An aide then handed Mr. Putin a notebook, from which he read the plan.

This is a major victory for Putin, and–though it wasn’t picked up on by the American press–a very clear rebuttal to Obama’s NATO rhetoric. That’s because what Putin has done in Ukraine, if a ceasefire is struck along these lines, is create a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine.

When Putin invaded Ukraine for a second time by sending troops into the eastern part of the country, Kiev asked for Western help. The West ignored such pleas. So Kiev began maneuvering to make some type of robust Western help obligatory, first by asking to be named a major non-NATO ally and then making noises about getting on track to actually join the alliance. The frozen conflict makes this impossible. And here, the Georgia precedent is instructive.

At a 2008 NATO summit, George W. Bush advocated for putting Ukraine and Georgia on membership action plans (MAP), the path of domestic reforms leading to eventual NATO membership. The French and Germans opposed him. The disagreement over Georgia, which was closer than Ukraine to attaining the political stability essential for a MAP, had much to do with the frozen conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway provinces where Russia had installed Russian officers in the local positions of authority and stirred up enough trouble for a pretext for invasion. (Sound familiar?)

The conflicts in Georgia were longstanding; as I’ve explained before, for a decade before war actually broke out Russia had been staffing local governments, arming them to the teeth, distributing Russian passports to these Georgians, and even occasionally bombing Georgian territory. After the 2008 NATO meeting at which the spineless European hypocrites declared frozen conflicts to be cause for MAP rejection (the Germans had been reminded by one diplomat at the time that West Germany was admitted to NATO four decades before its own “frozen conflict,” the east-west division, was resolved), Russia invaded. Putin’s puppet Dmitry Medvedev later openly admitted that Moscow did so in order to keep Georgia out of NATO.

What the Russians are doing now in eastern Ukraine is quite similar, though Putin can’t count on the Western left for support quite to the same degree as when his opponent was the Georgian Mikheil Saakashvili. Putin doesn’t need to conquer territory to control it. Not only does he know how to use pipeline politics to get his way, but he’s already moved Russian military equipment into place in Ukraine and deputized local pro-Russian militants.

Putin may not annex eastern Ukraine (though he might also slow-bleed the territory into submission and lull the Western media into boredom in order to capture the territory eventually, in stages). But he knows precisely how to ensure that when Obama pledges to come to the aid of all NATO allies, that list never includes Ukraine.

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Putin Demands End of USAID in Russia

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.”

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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.

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Medvedev: Obama Gave Moscow Best Years

Late last week, outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech in which he praised the Obama administration’s effect on the U.S.-Russian relationship, commenting that “these have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade.” His statement was made at the same conference in which Obama promised to sell out Poland (at least that’s how the Poles interpreted the president’s gaffe) just as soon as he won reelection. That the White House has not seen fit to trumpet Medvedev’s warm words perhaps indicates a heretofore undetected modicum of self-awareness.

The Russians are pleased. Of course they are.

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Late last week, outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech in which he praised the Obama administration’s effect on the U.S.-Russian relationship, commenting that “these have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade.” His statement was made at the same conference in which Obama promised to sell out Poland (at least that’s how the Poles interpreted the president’s gaffe) just as soon as he won reelection. That the White House has not seen fit to trumpet Medvedev’s warm words perhaps indicates a heretofore undetected modicum of self-awareness.

The Russians are pleased. Of course they are.

To preserve its vaunted “reset,” the Obama administration has systematically downplayed and acquiesced to a four-year Russian campaign of intimidation and dirty tricks against our diplomats, extending into threats, home break-ins, and manufactured sex scandals.

Despite Secretary Clinton twice raising with Foreign Minister Lavrov the issue of Russian intelligence officers helping to bomb our Georgia embassy, the GRU officer linked to the blast was pointedly not even recalled. The Kremlin was either unwilling or unable to act, meaning that either the government was smugly pocketing U.S. concessions or that Moscow had become a more stable Islamabad, with military intelligence outfits both more powerful than and working at cross-purposes to elected officials. This rather stark double-bind, with either conclusion making a mockery of a political reset, was lost on the Russia apologists who rushed to attack Eli Lake for blowing open the affair (some initial skeptics recanted on the basis of facts; others never did; none drew the obvious conclusions, with one even holding out hope that the bombing was being ignored to preserve the by-then incoherent reset).

All of which might have been justified if we were getting anything in exchange for letting the Russians push us and our diplomats around. But instead, Russian officials have dismissed IAEA reports on Iran’s drive to weaponize its nuclear program, and have threatened to intervene should the West take military action. Putin himself once described Khamenei as literally Christ-like, which in retrospect might have been a clue that an anti-Iran coalition was going to be a tough sell.

The Russians have similarly blocked international action on Syria and begun aggressively crowding out the West, not only sending in naval assets but even reportedly dispatching “anti-terrorism” troops. (Assad’s evaluation of Russia’s approach: “balanced”).

But at least Medvedev feels good about U.S.-Russian relations, and is appreciative of how Obama helped him feel good. And in fairness, Russian harassment could have been worse (at least if you ignore the bombing thing). In comparison to how Russian diplomats and agents comport themselves in the U.K., our officials have actually been treated fairly well.

So that’s not one but two silver linings around this cloud of lost global influence and supine geopolitical stumbling.

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Hot Mic Attack Ad: You Only Run Twice

President Obama’s hot mic slip-up with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is bound to provide endless attack ad fodder for Republicans, but it’s going to be hard to top this ad out today from American Crossroads:

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President Obama’s hot mic slip-up with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is bound to provide endless attack ad fodder for Republicans, but it’s going to be hard to top this ad out today from American Crossroads:

At the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer can’t imagine why Obama thinks he owes Vladimir Putin any “flexibility” on missile defense after the way Russia has tampered with U.S. policy goals in Iran and Syria, and the unnecessary concessions the U.S. already has made on Eastern European missile defense and START. And Obama’s hot mic comments certainly send a detrimental message to our allies:

Can you imagine the kind of pressure a reelected Obama will put on Israel, the kind of anxiety he will induce from Georgia to the Persian Gulf, the nervousness among our most loyal East European friends who, having been left out on a limb by Obama once before, are now wondering what new flexibility Obama will show Putin — the man who famously proclaimed that the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century was Russia’s loss of its Soviet empire?

They don’t know. We don’t know. We didn’t even know this was coming — until the mic was left open. Only Putin was to know. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev assured Obama.

That’s the most troubling part – that we wouldn’t even have known if there hadn’t been a technological slip-up. How concerned you are about the hot mic moment probably depends on whether you think this was a one-time, off-the-cuff remark or a glimpse into Obama’s mindset on foreign policy.

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Turns Out Russia Is Still Russia

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

You can’t “reset” diplomacy in a diplomatic ghost town. Here’s the New York Times on newly leaked cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow: “The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a ‘modern brand of authoritarianism’ accepted with resignation by the ruled,” reports C.J. Chivers. “Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.”

Also exploded is the appealing notion that President Dmitry Medvedev either wields genuine presidential power greater than Putin’s or represents some new, reform-minded Kremlin. “The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures,” and “Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange ‘tandemocracy’ and ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.’”

So we’ve been hanging our hopes on the boy wonder. In June, Barack Obama praised Medvedev’s “vision for modernization in Russia, especially high-tech innovation as a personal passion of the president.” But the Times notes that “a veritable kaleidoscope of corruption thrived in Moscow, much of it under the protection of a mayor who served at the president’s pleasure.” Chivers writes that “Western businesses sometimes managed to pursue their interests by personally engaging senior Russian officials, including President Medvedev, rather than getting lost in bureaucratic channels.”

That bureaucratic labyrinth is apparently reserved for American diplomats. Meanwhile, liberals rage on about the urgent need to ratify New START so that our helpful Russian partners don’t lose faith in us.

The WikiLeaks fiasco continues to demonstrate the foreign policy naiveté of the Obama administration and confirm the suspicions of conservative critics. Yesterday, in Tablet, Lee Smith detailed eight points on which the “Wikileaks cable dump vindicates the right,” regarding Middle East policy. Today we’re seeing more evidence of this unfortunate vindication in areas beyond. It’s not that this whole episode compromises our standing around the world; rather, it reveals the ways in which we’ve been doing that all by ourselves for two years.

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Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

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RE: Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

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Japan: Russia Piling On

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

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S-300: Political Football

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

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RE: The Middle East Vacuum

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

The Michael Young piece cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi in his insightful post echoes the concerns a number of us have had for some time. Russia’s inroads in the Middle East have been expanding for several years; in 2010, we are seeing an acceleration of moves that Moscow would once have been more tentative and covert in undertaking.

The civil-nuclear deals with Syria and Turkey continue a trend that has been underway since 2006-2007. It’s more efficient today to list which countries in the region do not have civil-nuclear agreements with Russia. Since 2007, the Russians have concluded civil-nuclear cooperation deals with Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Algeria, along with Syria and Turkey. Russia is training nuclear engineers, bidding on reactor contracts, and mining uranium.

Nuclear cooperation takes a back seat only to oil and gas deals and arms sales. Turkey’s geographic position has long made it an object of Russian gas strategy. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the deals signed this week represent the culmination of a years-long Russian effort to co-opt Turkey as a pipeline partner, potentially compromising Ankara’s commitment to European pipeline sponsors. Russia’s intensive cultivation of natural gas giants Libya and Algeria gives Moscow leverage over nearly 100 percent of the natural gas supply to much of central and southern Europe. The sale of big-ticket weapon systems to Algeria, Libya, and Syria serves to isolate Israel – and to complicate any U.S. effort to provide military support to Israel if it becomes necessary.

Now Russia is negotiating a huge arms sale – including the S-300 air-defense system, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and assault helicopters – with U.S. partner and long-time client Saudi Arabia. This development and others are disquieting harbingers of a Russia unconstrained by worry about either offending or alarming the U.S. Two recent events highlight this loss of diffidence. One is the announcement in March 2010 that Russia and Greece would conduct joint naval exercises in the Aegean Sea this year. Turkey is not the only NATO ally being aggressively courted by Moscow.

The other event is Dmitry Medvedev’s May 12 meeting in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. There could hardly be a more overt declaration of Russia’s posture and interests in the Middle East. The Russia of Medvedev and Putin intends to join forces with the regional actors who want to disrupt the status quo; their targets are Israel and the U.S. network of partnerships and influence in the region.

We will see Russia engaged in more unabashed maneuvering in the coming days. The pace of events is quickening. One thing we must understand is that Russia’s influence over Iran’s nuclear program is no longer being exercised primarily as a dynamic in Russia’s relations with the U.S. The Arab nations that fear a nuclear Iran are Moscow’s audience now. The implication is that Russia is the great power that can keep Iran in check. Obama’s America is sitting on the sidelines.

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The Middle East Vacuum

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

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Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

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Won’t Get Out of the STARTing Gate

Obama is quite pleased with his START agreement and sees this as evidence of his reset with the Russians. But there are serious questions — about the linkage to our missile defense programs and about modernization of our nuclear stockpile. It seems there just aren’t the votes in the U.S. Senate now to ratify the deal:

The new nuclear arms reduction treaty signed last week is unlikely to be ratified by the Senate this year, a GOP leader suggested Monday evening.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the third-ranking GOP member of the Senate, said that it would take longer than the end of the year to get together the 67 votes necessary to ratify the nuclear arms treaty President Barack Obama signed last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“No, not this year. That’s my view,” Alexander said during an appearance on Fox News when asked if the Senate would ratify the treaty this year.

“We have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to get the right answers and then it might get 67 votes.”

And if there aren’t the votes this year, I’ll go out on a limb and predict there certainly won’t be the votes next year. So the shining “achievement” of the Obami’s year-long suck-uppery to the Russians is an unratifiable agreement and the Russian refusal to agree to more than pin-prick sanctions against Iran. Alas, our Eastern European allies were thrown under the bus for precious little.

Obama is quite pleased with his START agreement and sees this as evidence of his reset with the Russians. But there are serious questions — about the linkage to our missile defense programs and about modernization of our nuclear stockpile. It seems there just aren’t the votes in the U.S. Senate now to ratify the deal:

The new nuclear arms reduction treaty signed last week is unlikely to be ratified by the Senate this year, a GOP leader suggested Monday evening.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the third-ranking GOP member of the Senate, said that it would take longer than the end of the year to get together the 67 votes necessary to ratify the nuclear arms treaty President Barack Obama signed last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“No, not this year. That’s my view,” Alexander said during an appearance on Fox News when asked if the Senate would ratify the treaty this year.

“We have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to get the right answers and then it might get 67 votes.”

And if there aren’t the votes this year, I’ll go out on a limb and predict there certainly won’t be the votes next year. So the shining “achievement” of the Obami’s year-long suck-uppery to the Russians is an unratifiable agreement and the Russian refusal to agree to more than pin-prick sanctions against Iran. Alas, our Eastern European allies were thrown under the bus for precious little.

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Birds of a Feather

It makes one squirm to hear Russian president Dmitry Medvedev gush over Obama — how he is not only a “comfortable partner” but a “thinker,” according to the Russian president. One wonders what thoughts Medvedev admires. Perhaps it is their shared disdain for any military action against Iran. (“It would be the worst possible scenario. Because any war means lives lost. Secondly, what does a war in the Middle East mean? Everyone is so close over there that nobody would be unaffected. And if conflict of that kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expect anything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in the middle east, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths.”)  Perhaps it is their mutual unease with crippling sanctions. (“They should not lead to humanitarian catastrophe, and the whole Iranian community would start to hate the whole world. And we’re worried that there are a significant number of people which have radical opinions. Do we want that radical thought to be sent to the whole world? So sanctions should be smart.”) Or maybe it’s their wink-wink-nod-nod understanding not to make a fuss about human rights or democracy.

George W. Bush was mocked for looking into Vladimir Putin’s soul. But in a sense, it’s more disturbing that Obama has made such a splash with Medvedev. In Obama, Medvedev obviously sees a kindred spirit who is unwilling to rock despots’ boats and who shrinks from a confrontation with Iran. That’s reason for worry for those who seek promotion of democracy, human rights, and more robust response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

It makes one squirm to hear Russian president Dmitry Medvedev gush over Obama — how he is not only a “comfortable partner” but a “thinker,” according to the Russian president. One wonders what thoughts Medvedev admires. Perhaps it is their shared disdain for any military action against Iran. (“It would be the worst possible scenario. Because any war means lives lost. Secondly, what does a war in the Middle East mean? Everyone is so close over there that nobody would be unaffected. And if conflict of that kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expect anything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in the middle east, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths.”)  Perhaps it is their mutual unease with crippling sanctions. (“They should not lead to humanitarian catastrophe, and the whole Iranian community would start to hate the whole world. And we’re worried that there are a significant number of people which have radical opinions. Do we want that radical thought to be sent to the whole world? So sanctions should be smart.”) Or maybe it’s their wink-wink-nod-nod understanding not to make a fuss about human rights or democracy.

George W. Bush was mocked for looking into Vladimir Putin’s soul. But in a sense, it’s more disturbing that Obama has made such a splash with Medvedev. In Obama, Medvedev obviously sees a kindred spirit who is unwilling to rock despots’ boats and who shrinks from a confrontation with Iran. That’s reason for worry for those who seek promotion of democracy, human rights, and more robust response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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More Peace in Our Time

Another year brings another wintertime oil dispute between Russia and an Eastern European client. In January 2009 it was Ukraine; this year it’s Belarus. Although oil has surged to more than $80 a barrel since the threats and counter-threats began on December 31, Russia is reassuring European customers that the dispute won’t affect their access to refined petroleum. Other concerns, however, are likely to surpass this one in the capitals of Western Europe if Russia’s career of subjugating Belarus continues at its current pace.

Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Minsk was a holdout last year against inclusion in Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), incurring painful Russian sanctions on its dairy industry with its determined resistance. But after Russia put thousands of troops in Belarus in September, for its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, Lukashenko changed his mind and joined the CSTO. He then committed Belarus to participation in the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), announced by Dmitry Medvedev in February 2009, as an armed counterweight to NATO. Democracy groups in Belarus oppose all these developments, taking as a given that the CRRF will be used to suppress dissent in CSTO nations. (The Belarusian KGB will, predictably, be an element of the CRRF.)

In another wearisome echo of the region’s perennial dynamics, tiny Lithuania could be effectively crippled by the current oil dispute. Lithuania closed its last 1980s-era nuclear plant on December 31 as a price of admission to the EU,and now relies for electric-power generation on Russian oil from Belarus. Foreseeing this vulnerability, Nicolas Sarkozy gamely brought up the EU’s concern about it with Medvedev in late 2008, a venture in mediation that Medvedev summarily rebuffed.

In Belarus’s eyes, however, EU leaders have done even less than that to bolster Minsk’s independence from Moscow. Granted, the EU adopted its “Eastern Partnership” initiative in May 2009, with Belarus as one of the six former-Soviet targets. But this hasn’t produced any effective EU communication on the topics of Minsk joining the CSTO in November, or Russia’s fraternal determination to form a customs union with Belarus. With both developments having substantial implications for the Partnership’s objectives – vague and underfunded though they may be – the EU’s silence on them has been more informative than its abstract policy proclamations.

I agree with Max Boot that our European allies are more resilient and resourceful than their reputation with some American pundits would indicate. But their stately-paced, ineffective responses to events in Eastern Europe suggest that they are as subject as anyone to a dangerous, bureaucratized complacency. Only one force – American military might – has ever kept Europe in stasis during periods of geopolitical perturbation like the current Russian campaign. Perhaps the unity of the EU’s major nations will survive an accelerated Russian campaign, even without the context of U.S. dominance. But we have no historical justification for believing that it will. The EU has a number of tests facing it; Russia’s peculiar concept of power and security may well be the biggest one.

Another year brings another wintertime oil dispute between Russia and an Eastern European client. In January 2009 it was Ukraine; this year it’s Belarus. Although oil has surged to more than $80 a barrel since the threats and counter-threats began on December 31, Russia is reassuring European customers that the dispute won’t affect their access to refined petroleum. Other concerns, however, are likely to surpass this one in the capitals of Western Europe if Russia’s career of subjugating Belarus continues at its current pace.

Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Minsk was a holdout last year against inclusion in Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), incurring painful Russian sanctions on its dairy industry with its determined resistance. But after Russia put thousands of troops in Belarus in September, for its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, Lukashenko changed his mind and joined the CSTO. He then committed Belarus to participation in the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), announced by Dmitry Medvedev in February 2009, as an armed counterweight to NATO. Democracy groups in Belarus oppose all these developments, taking as a given that the CRRF will be used to suppress dissent in CSTO nations. (The Belarusian KGB will, predictably, be an element of the CRRF.)

In another wearisome echo of the region’s perennial dynamics, tiny Lithuania could be effectively crippled by the current oil dispute. Lithuania closed its last 1980s-era nuclear plant on December 31 as a price of admission to the EU,and now relies for electric-power generation on Russian oil from Belarus. Foreseeing this vulnerability, Nicolas Sarkozy gamely brought up the EU’s concern about it with Medvedev in late 2008, a venture in mediation that Medvedev summarily rebuffed.

In Belarus’s eyes, however, EU leaders have done even less than that to bolster Minsk’s independence from Moscow. Granted, the EU adopted its “Eastern Partnership” initiative in May 2009, with Belarus as one of the six former-Soviet targets. But this hasn’t produced any effective EU communication on the topics of Minsk joining the CSTO in November, or Russia’s fraternal determination to form a customs union with Belarus. With both developments having substantial implications for the Partnership’s objectives – vague and underfunded though they may be – the EU’s silence on them has been more informative than its abstract policy proclamations.

I agree with Max Boot that our European allies are more resilient and resourceful than their reputation with some American pundits would indicate. But their stately-paced, ineffective responses to events in Eastern Europe suggest that they are as subject as anyone to a dangerous, bureaucratized complacency. Only one force – American military might – has ever kept Europe in stasis during periods of geopolitical perturbation like the current Russian campaign. Perhaps the unity of the EU’s major nations will survive an accelerated Russian campaign, even without the context of U.S. dominance. But we have no historical justification for believing that it will. The EU has a number of tests facing it; Russia’s peculiar concept of power and security may well be the biggest one.

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Holiday Over

African politicians storm in fury out of international conferences. Latin American dictators stage anti-Western rallies – complete with concerts and artistic performances – in the capitals of Europe. Global busybodies convene to panic in unison, certain that the cataclysmic demise of Planet Earth is on the horizon due to (check all that apply) wealthy nations, nations aspiring to be wealthy, the emission of natural gases, the emission of unnatural gases, warm temperatures, cold temperatures, population pressures, coal heat, incandescent light bulbs, plastic bags, and motor vehicles. Pariah regimes seek nuclear weapons. The “non-aligned” clamor for recognition. Pirates menace the seas. Islamist assassins and revolutionaries blame all the world’s ills on Israel and the U.S. In a running sideshow, America and Russia are negotiating a disputed follow-on to the START arms control treaty, which expired on December 5.

Are we back in the 70s? The question is not really a sarcastic one. Too many old patterns are reemerging. There was never really a “holiday from history” after the end of the Cold War, nor was the Cold War itself an interruption of history. Americans tend to think in terms of watershed years, like 1945 and 1991. But in truth, no major geopolitical trends of the last century either stopped or started in those years. The brutal collectivism, complacent progressivism, post-colonial nationalism, eco-apocalypticism, even America’s global ascendancy – all predated the “years of decision” and continued after them.

So it is discouraging to see exchanges like this one from the December 10 press briefing at the State Department:

QUESTION: On the START negotiations, do you expect them to move forward more quickly now that the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is out of the way? There’ve been some people who’ve suggested that the Russians didn’t want to give the U.S. a victory ahead of that. And do you think that – or is this —

MR. CROWLEY: That’s kind of a Cold War kind of a question. (Laughter.)

Well, OK. The question is frivolous, and would have been equally so during the Cold War. But in evoking the sense of an underlying strategic competition between Russia and the U.S., it’s actually quite acute. The competition itself can’t be dismissed as an outdated concept.

There’s better evidence of that competition, of course: Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for a new, overarching security framework for the whole Euro-Atlantic region, for example, along with dynamics like Russia’s determination to control the natural gas going to Europe, its cultivation of Latin American clients, and its relentless campaign to deter the U.S. missile-defense program. Russia’s competitive posture, like the restiveness of our radicalized Latin American neighbors or the discontent of the G-77, is very real.

Barack Obama has stepped forth to preside over a post-Cold War status quo that is already slipping away, and cannot be summoned back with his speech-and-ceremony political style. As Jennifer argues, he will have to prove himself on the commitments implied in his Nobel address this week – and the conditions he faces now are no longer the ones he campaigned on being anxious to transcend. Today, invoking the Cold War as an era we have to get beyond has the aroma of mothballs about it, like invoking Woodstock and the Nuclear Freeze movement. Most of us have moved on. It is not the Russia, Iran, or Islamist guerrillas of 30 years ago that we are concerned about, but rather the ones of today.

African politicians storm in fury out of international conferences. Latin American dictators stage anti-Western rallies – complete with concerts and artistic performances – in the capitals of Europe. Global busybodies convene to panic in unison, certain that the cataclysmic demise of Planet Earth is on the horizon due to (check all that apply) wealthy nations, nations aspiring to be wealthy, the emission of natural gases, the emission of unnatural gases, warm temperatures, cold temperatures, population pressures, coal heat, incandescent light bulbs, plastic bags, and motor vehicles. Pariah regimes seek nuclear weapons. The “non-aligned” clamor for recognition. Pirates menace the seas. Islamist assassins and revolutionaries blame all the world’s ills on Israel and the U.S. In a running sideshow, America and Russia are negotiating a disputed follow-on to the START arms control treaty, which expired on December 5.

Are we back in the 70s? The question is not really a sarcastic one. Too many old patterns are reemerging. There was never really a “holiday from history” after the end of the Cold War, nor was the Cold War itself an interruption of history. Americans tend to think in terms of watershed years, like 1945 and 1991. But in truth, no major geopolitical trends of the last century either stopped or started in those years. The brutal collectivism, complacent progressivism, post-colonial nationalism, eco-apocalypticism, even America’s global ascendancy – all predated the “years of decision” and continued after them.

So it is discouraging to see exchanges like this one from the December 10 press briefing at the State Department:

QUESTION: On the START negotiations, do you expect them to move forward more quickly now that the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is out of the way? There’ve been some people who’ve suggested that the Russians didn’t want to give the U.S. a victory ahead of that. And do you think that – or is this —

MR. CROWLEY: That’s kind of a Cold War kind of a question. (Laughter.)

Well, OK. The question is frivolous, and would have been equally so during the Cold War. But in evoking the sense of an underlying strategic competition between Russia and the U.S., it’s actually quite acute. The competition itself can’t be dismissed as an outdated concept.

There’s better evidence of that competition, of course: Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for a new, overarching security framework for the whole Euro-Atlantic region, for example, along with dynamics like Russia’s determination to control the natural gas going to Europe, its cultivation of Latin American clients, and its relentless campaign to deter the U.S. missile-defense program. Russia’s competitive posture, like the restiveness of our radicalized Latin American neighbors or the discontent of the G-77, is very real.

Barack Obama has stepped forth to preside over a post-Cold War status quo that is already slipping away, and cannot be summoned back with his speech-and-ceremony political style. As Jennifer argues, he will have to prove himself on the commitments implied in his Nobel address this week – and the conditions he faces now are no longer the ones he campaigned on being anxious to transcend. Today, invoking the Cold War as an era we have to get beyond has the aroma of mothballs about it, like invoking Woodstock and the Nuclear Freeze movement. Most of us have moved on. It is not the Russia, Iran, or Islamist guerrillas of 30 years ago that we are concerned about, but rather the ones of today.

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It’s a Gas

Why is Dmitry Medvedev now reporting himself to be losing patience with Iran? The likelihood that he is blowing hot merely as a prelude to blowing cold again is, of course, pretty strong, given his failure to demonstrate any reliable support for tougher sanctions to date. But Medvedev’s protestations to President Obama in Singapore coincided with a Russian announcement that the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which depends on Russian technical support, will not be brought online in 2009 as previously projected. This is a material setback for Iran’s overall nuclear program – and comes on top of Moscow’s continued refusal to deliver the S-300 air-defense system Iran contracted to buy in 2007.

Nothing in Russia’s history of dealing with revolutionary Iran supports the conclusion that Medvedev wants to get tough with Iran because he shares a common purpose with the Western powers to prevent Iran’s nuclearization. But Russia is wielding bargaining chips with Tehran at the moment, and is uttering vague words that might be interpreted by optimistic Westerners as support for intensified sanctions. Is Moscow seeking to leverage something from the West – or from Iran?

The clue to this puzzle may be flowing through pipelines in Central Asia. Iran is actually the key to what is being hailed in the region as the liberation of gas-rich Turkmenistan from the stranglehold of Gazprom. Turkmenistan, with the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, is no small prize. Its gas production was second only to Russia’s in total Gazprom output, until a pipeline explosion in April prompted a cutoff by Ashgabat amid allegations that Gazprom had sabotaged the pipeline to intimidate the Turkmens. Gazprom accounts for 10 percent of Russian GDP and 25 percent of federal tax revenues, but its highest-producing Siberian fields are being quickly depleted of their recoverable gas, with production from them expected to decline to nil by as early as 2020. Control of Turkmen gas is a major financial issue for Moscow.

Turkmenistan has found pipeline partners in Iran and China, however, and next month anticipates inaugurating an increased gas flow to Iran that could ultimately connect it, through Turkey, with the Nabucco pipeline that will bypass Gazprom to bring gas to Europe. By one route or another, the pipeline through Iran promises to be a gateway to Western consumers. President Berdymukhamedov emphasized his country’s gas independence in October by replacing most of the oil- and gas-industry officials in Turkmenistan. On November 1, in a fresh start after their ugly gas-pricing dispute of 2008, Turkmenistan welcomed a delegation from Iran seeking to eliminate customs barriers, increase trade, and jointly develop oil and gas infrastructure in the Caspian Sea.

Russia has never hesitated to twist foreign arms for Gazprom, whose revenues prop up the state and make its military acquisition program possible. It’s considerably more likely that Iran is being pressured on its gas arrangements with Turkmenistan than that Russia’s government has begun seeing the Iranian nuclear problem through Western eyes.

Why is Dmitry Medvedev now reporting himself to be losing patience with Iran? The likelihood that he is blowing hot merely as a prelude to blowing cold again is, of course, pretty strong, given his failure to demonstrate any reliable support for tougher sanctions to date. But Medvedev’s protestations to President Obama in Singapore coincided with a Russian announcement that the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which depends on Russian technical support, will not be brought online in 2009 as previously projected. This is a material setback for Iran’s overall nuclear program – and comes on top of Moscow’s continued refusal to deliver the S-300 air-defense system Iran contracted to buy in 2007.

Nothing in Russia’s history of dealing with revolutionary Iran supports the conclusion that Medvedev wants to get tough with Iran because he shares a common purpose with the Western powers to prevent Iran’s nuclearization. But Russia is wielding bargaining chips with Tehran at the moment, and is uttering vague words that might be interpreted by optimistic Westerners as support for intensified sanctions. Is Moscow seeking to leverage something from the West – or from Iran?

The clue to this puzzle may be flowing through pipelines in Central Asia. Iran is actually the key to what is being hailed in the region as the liberation of gas-rich Turkmenistan from the stranglehold of Gazprom. Turkmenistan, with the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, is no small prize. Its gas production was second only to Russia’s in total Gazprom output, until a pipeline explosion in April prompted a cutoff by Ashgabat amid allegations that Gazprom had sabotaged the pipeline to intimidate the Turkmens. Gazprom accounts for 10 percent of Russian GDP and 25 percent of federal tax revenues, but its highest-producing Siberian fields are being quickly depleted of their recoverable gas, with production from them expected to decline to nil by as early as 2020. Control of Turkmen gas is a major financial issue for Moscow.

Turkmenistan has found pipeline partners in Iran and China, however, and next month anticipates inaugurating an increased gas flow to Iran that could ultimately connect it, through Turkey, with the Nabucco pipeline that will bypass Gazprom to bring gas to Europe. By one route or another, the pipeline through Iran promises to be a gateway to Western consumers. President Berdymukhamedov emphasized his country’s gas independence in October by replacing most of the oil- and gas-industry officials in Turkmenistan. On November 1, in a fresh start after their ugly gas-pricing dispute of 2008, Turkmenistan welcomed a delegation from Iran seeking to eliminate customs barriers, increase trade, and jointly develop oil and gas infrastructure in the Caspian Sea.

Russia has never hesitated to twist foreign arms for Gazprom, whose revenues prop up the state and make its military acquisition program possible. It’s considerably more likely that Iran is being pressured on its gas arrangements with Turkmenistan than that Russia’s government has begun seeing the Iranian nuclear problem through Western eyes.

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The Giants Meet

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

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Russia Threatens Europe–Again

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

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