With the first 100 days of the Obama Administration upon us, I decided to take a look at one emerging aspect of the Administration’s foreign policy; its efforts to retool our relationship with the Russians. What I find is not encouraging:
Make no mistake; on a whole host of issues, the Obama Administration has echoed the foreign policy approach the Bush Administration employed. Indeed, so pronounced has the Obama Administration’s adoption of much of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy platform been, that supporters of President Obama may be forgiven for wondering whether beyond the country’s shores, they have seen any kind of real change they can believe in. To be sure, there has definitely been a change in tone, as Peter Baker writes. But there has been exceedingly little change in substance. As Glenn Reynolds might put it, “they told me that if I voted for John McCain, I might get a third term of Bush Administration foreign policy practices. I did . . . and they were right!”
But when it comes to Russian-American relations, the Obama Administration has departed from the approach employed by the preceding Administration. It has done so by accepting Russian demands on the issue of arms control, demands that are explicitly geared to play to Russia’s desire to be viewed as a great power once more. The Russians have consistently sought to make bilateral arms control agreements the centerpiece of the Russian-American relationship, just as they were back in the days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union shared the stage with the United States as one of the two world superpowers. The Bush Administration resisted the Russians’ efforts to take the relationship back to Cold War levels by fighting against the Russian tendency to make bilateral arms control discussions the centerpiece of the Russian-American relationship. By contrast, the Obama Administration has acceded to Russian demands that there be more attention paid to bilateral arms control issues, while at the same time allowing the Russians to divert international attention from North Korea’s and Iran’s efforts to create nuclear weapons programs of their own.