Richard Burt and Dimitri Simes discuss U.S. relations with Russia and China:
Many critics of China and Russia—for example, Robert Kagan, a Romney adviser whose work is also cited by Obama—argue that since Moscow and Beijing often act against U.S. interests, working with them will not produce results, and getting tough will not create new problems. This is dangerously flawed thinking.
Neither China nor Russia shares American values or particularly desires to defer to American interests. Neither has been a genuinely reliable U.S. partner, but neither wants to provoke America. Each appears to value a good relationship with Washington and seeks to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Among other things, China and Russia each have a major stake in the health of the international economy, of which the United States is a key driver.
Kagan has a record of underestimating the dangers of provoking Russia. I recall a conversation he had with Fukuyama on bloggingheads several years ago in which he dismissed Russian objections to recognizing Kosovo’s independence, and pretended not to understand why Russia had an interest in Kosovo. Of course, Kosovo recognition was one of the factors that contributed to the tensions leading up to the August 2008 war, which began the week after Kagan made these statements. Fukuyama correctly identified recognition of Kosovo and Bush’s missile defense proposal as two things that needlessly harmed relations with Russia, and he argued that the U.S. should avoid these needless provocations in order to acquire cooperation from Russia on more important issues.
Burt and Simes are correct that it is dangerous to be gratuitously antagonistic to Russia and China, and both states do seem to be interested in avoiding unnecessary conflicts. The authors slightly overstate “the growing geopolitical collaboration” between the two, but they are right that both states are being pushed together by U.S. moves that Russia and China see as directed against them. When they mention Kagan, they describe him as a “a Romney adviser whose work is also cited by Obama,” which could mislead readers into thinking that Romney and Obama are both following Kagan’s recommendations for how to handle relations with these states. Obama apparently likes Kagan’s most recent book, which is unfortunate, but he has cited it by way of rejecting the idea that America is in decline. Of course, Kagan and Kagan’s preferred candidate have argued publicly that they believe Obama is merely “managing” American decline by conducting foreign policy in an insufficiently aggressive fashion, and they regard his Russia policy as one of his great mistakes. In short, Obama cited Kagan in an attempt to refute the charges made by Kagan’s candidate.