In the new issue of The National Interest, Samuel Charap explains how the “reset” ran its course:
The paradox of the “post-reset” period is that the main factor that allowed for all the deliverables of the reset—the Obama administration’s course correction—remained unchanged while the relationship itself deteriorated. Instead, other factors were to blame. First, the flood of deliverables slowed to a trickle. Given how many of them were achieved in the first few years of the reset, that pace could not be sustained [bold mine-DL]. The agreements of that period were anything but low-hanging fruit, despite some critics’ claims. Many of the most significant ones resulted from months of hard work, and nearly all of them seemed impossible in 2008. Still, they were “lower hanging” than the issues on which the two sides are seeking agreement today, particularly missile defense and Syria.
In other words, the “reset” was a victim of its own success. Some of these ongoing disagreements between the U.S. and Russia are often cited as proof that the “reset” failed entirely, but that simply ignores what the “reset” did and was designed to do. Disagreements on some high-profile issues such as Syria are taken as evidence of a Russian preoccupation with thwarting the U.S. at every turn, but this treats a handful of controversial issues as if they were the whole of the U.S.-Russian relationship. Rob Farley and I recently discussed the apparent hawkish desire for clashes with Russia, which seems to be rooted in nostalgia for rivalry with the Soviets and a belief that the U.S. is still obliged to counter Russian influence wherever it may be found.
As Charap notes, the advocates for the “reset” in both countries were badly outnumbered by its detractors:
In both countries, a small number of individuals—largely concentrated in a handful of executive-branch departments—were responsible for producing those deliverables. Their numbers were dwarfed by those on both sides not involved in the reset and who therefore did not become stakeholders in its success or develop trust in the opposite side.
Needless to say, except for the former Sen. Lugar there were no elected Republicans that did much to support improving relations with Russia, nor was there much support for this policy from Democrats in Congress. Provided that critics of the “reset” weren’t concerned about making things up out of thin air, the policy seemed an inviting target. On the Russian side, the “reset” was identified with Medvedev, and it suffered from the fact that many Russians perceived it to be a lop-sided deal in favor of the U.S. Of course, almost all critics of the “reset” policy wanted it to fail because they weren’t interested in cultivating a more constructive relationship, and so they kept insisting that it had failed even when it was delivering results.