Russian Roulette

The president and the secretary of state have to get their stories straight. Yesterday, the news broke that Barack Obama indicated to the Kremlin his willingness to abandon plans for a missile defense in Eastern Europe, provided Russia helps the U.S. halt Iran’s nuclear program. The offer was flatly rebuffed, and today Hillary Clinton is floating another line entirely:

“It is my hope that we will persuade Russia to (take) part in that defence,” she told reporters travelling with her to Brussels, adding that she thought Moscow might now feel less threatened by the US anti-missile shield plans.

After having an attempted quid pro quo shot down on the world stage, the Obama administration is back to relying on the power of suggestion. “I think they are beginning to really believe it, that this is not about Russia.” She sounds like a nightclub hypnotist trying to implant an idea in a woozy subject.

And if that’s not bad enough, Clinton is wrong on two counts. In the sense intended, Moscow has always known that the missile defense isn’t “about Russia.” George W. Bush already worked long and hard to get Vladimir Putin’s cooperation on it — to no avail. But in another sense, this most certainly is “about Russia,” because Moscow decided to make it so. Putin and Medvedev don’t want the U.S. to play hero in a region they consider to be their rightful sphere of influence. While enduring profound economic and demographic decline, the Kremlin believes its best shot at shoring up domestic support is to show disdain and aggression towards the U.S. Every time they shoot down an American exchange or plea it’s another feather in their caps.

Within two days’ time, this new administration has publicly beseeched an autocratic, hostile, and near-imploding country to help us in two different areas. The first request was thrown in our faces. The second rebuff will be coming any second now. “Smart power,” as far as I’ve been able to discern, is not about the judicious employment of might and diplomacy, but about heaping portions of servility and incoherence.