So the problem with the Obama Administration's Russian Reset button approach lies in the apparent assumption that Russia and the USA can move towards a new substantive partnership which gives the USA significant new gains which Russia will be happy to support. This partnership can not be.
At the root of it, Russian foreign policy ambitions have nothing to do with ideals or principles but only a strange self-absorbed zero-sum nationalist-tsarist idea that whatever territory Russia at some point has conquered is ipso facto 'Russian' for ever. Where those lands are no longer in Russia itself, Russia must have some sort of psychological or strategic edge there, and other influences (Europeanisation, Westernisation) necessarily subtract from that and are a threat.
America by contrast does have real universalist ideals and principles, however much they are sneered at in America itself and more widely round the planet. Even if the execution of its policy is (inevitably?) often incoherent, messy and contradictory, Washington looks at the Middle East, Africa and other strategic problems in their own terms - what might work to get a substantively respectable and fair and stable outcomes, preferably in a way which increases freedom for ordinary people.
Which is why when the going gets tough, Russia will never do more than the bare minimum to give the Americans real help against obnoxious states and extremists and terrorists. Much better for Moscow to keep the prospect of such help dangling like a carrot indefinitely, so that Russia can negotiate from greater strength far down the road as and when its power has grown and America's has diminished.
The optimistic interpretation of this Obama move is that he has given up something that really did not count for much in strategic reality terms so as to get some other modest diplomatic gains (all with a keen eye on Obama's poll ratings), wrapping it up in vast spin about a 'huge move' to make it look bold and statesmanlike. Poles and Czechs are too right-wing for Democrats, so get a sharp clip round the ear followed by a perfunctory kiss to make up. The Russians know that it is all (mainly) rubbish, but piously applaud the 'wisdom' of it so as to make themselves look more powerful than they are. No real change.
The pessimistic interpretation is that there really has been a 'huge shift' in US foreign policy and President Obama is ready to put at risk all the gains for freedom, pluralism and progress achieved around the world by Ronald Reagan with a little help from his friends, in the hope of creating a new world order based around a diminished unambitious USA in sly cahoots with left-collectivist post-democratic polities (EU, Russia, China) and sundry unhealthy pre-democratic Islamic regimes.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Yesterday I said what I thought. However, The former British Ambassador to Poland (and other places) has a different view: