In unpacking all the haphazard bumbling stopgaps that pass as the White House’s Smart Power diplomacy, we sometimes lose sight of the administration’s overarching foreign policy failures. It’s very difficult to think of even one geostrategically critical country, for instance, with which we have a substantially better relationship today than we did on the day the president was inaugurated. The unique alliances we had with the UK and Israel have been shaken in various ways, the Eastern Europeans think we’re abandoning them, Middle East countries have either slipped into radicalism themselves or are angry at Obama for abandoning moderates elsewhere, and so on.
One possible exception to that rule has been Russia, where there has at least been the veneer of improved relations. It’s questionable how much that pretense has actually gotten us, inasmuch as sucking up to ambitious global powers doesn’t stop them from pursuing their national interests. Ergo Moscow’s opposition to us on Syrian nuclearization, on Syrian human rights violations, on Venezuelan nuclear development, on Iranian proliferation both nuclear and conventional, on Central Asian arms sales, on isolating Hamas and Hezbollah, and on Japanese security.
It’s also worth noting the cost of the “reset” has been painfully high. The White House’s efforts to placate Russian sensibilities included selling out Eastern European allies so egregiously that Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and 20 other Central and Eastern European intellectuals penned an open letter to Obama asking him to reverse course. The president is now trying to override congressional opposition and disclose missile defense information that would badly weaken U.S. national security. And of course our refusal to back Georgia in the face of out and out Russian expansionism, despite Georgia’s participation in our Afghanistan efforts, has been shameful.
But at least there has indeed been the veneer of a Russian “reset.”
According to a report published yesterday by Eli Lake, even that may soon become untenable. Lake reports the Georgian Interior Ministry has investigated a bombing that occurred near the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi last September, and that it’s traced the plot to a Russian military intelligence officer. September was just a few months before the Senate voted to ratify Start II, which adds extra salience to the allegations. Lake quotes Sen. Kirk describing the potential fallout as “the most serious crisis in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War” which would “put to lie any ‘reset’ in bilateral relations.”
That won’t happen. This administration will go to remarkable lengths to avoid having their badly conceived diplomatic schemes finally – publicly, undeniably – collapse. A Syrian-sponsored attack on our Damascus embassy wasn’t enough to push them into calling for Assad’s ouster, lest their hopelessly naive Syrian policy be exposed as hopelessly naive. In the same region of the world, the justifications they’ve invented for pouring money into Hamas and Hezbollah-controlled territories have been genuinely creative. Those “bolster the moderates” engagement policies are badly destabilizing the region and endangering our Israeli allies, of course, but that doesn’t make the administration’s pretexts any less creative.
So this incident in Georgia is unlikely to rise to the level of a full-blown crisis, and not only because there’s going to be enough doubt to make it a close call. The White House will never admit its Russia policy has been one of wide-eyed credulity, especially not wide-eyed credulity condescendingly obnoxiously marketed as the height of sophistication. The “reset” veneer might lose what’s left of its polish, but appearances will be maintained.