Resetting the Russian “Reset”

by Joshua Foust on 8/17/2011 · 3 comments

For PBS, I make the case for toning down the apocalyptic language over Russia:

Yet, President Obama made an enormous mistake when he chose to “reset” American relations with Russia. In doing so he discarded all the progress President Bush made with President Putin to advance U.S.-Russian relations, which is shortsighted and mistaken. In a 2000 article for Foreign Affairs, future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice wrote that “The United States needs to recognize that Russia is a great power, and that we will always have interests that conflict as well as coincide.” Eight years later, she wrote another article in FA that argued the U.S.-Russian relationship is “complex and characterized simultaneously by competition and cooperation.”

Despite his infamous remark about looking into Putin’s soul, President Bush was neither a starry-eyed idealist nor a blustering antagonist when it came to Russia. The 2005 Bratislava Initiatives established U.S.-Russian collaboration on a wide range of security and economic issues. Yet, in 2008, President Bush was unequivocal in his condemnation of Russia’s illegal occupation of Georgia.

While the give-and-take relationship between the U.S. and Russia has continued into President Obama’s term, the language to describe it has not. Like any two militarily and economically ambitious countries, America and Russia agree on some things and disagree on others. The U.S. actively sided against Russia in its 2008 invasion of Georgia, for example, and Russia continues to treat Americans in Georgia in a very unfriendly way. This is normal great power politics, and shouldn’t be the cause of such apocalyptic language in the commentariat.

There’s a bit more to it, so do read the whole thing. Now, my good friend and colleague Michael Cohen rightly pointed out that in this piece I don’t mention the New START treaty ratified last year. There are two reasons for this. The first is that word counts are annoying at times and must limit discussions, and it’s hard to discuss to real strategic issues underpinning New START in a way that will preclude yet more apocalyptic language from commentators.

But the second is that, while New START is an important issue in the bilateral U.S.-Russian relationship, it is not the only issue, and I think you could argue it is not even the most important issue in the evolving nature of relations. Rather, I see New START as a symptom of America’s complex and complicated relationship with Russia—the ever-changing mixture of cooperation and competition I outline in the column above. New START certainly deserves a thorough discussion beyond the boosterism or shrieks of capitulation that current defines the partisan wrangle over Obama’s foreign policy. But a broad column about the changes of American posture toward Russia wasn’t a very good place for that.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Zach August 18, 2011 at 7:43 am

Josh, I agree with most of this, but calling Russia “an ascendant power” is not accurate. It is the default power in the region (for now), but it is not ascending anywhere.

Jason August 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Goldman Sachs says otherwise

So? August 30, 2011 at 9:27 am

Yeah, yeah, the smaller country is always the innocent victim.

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