Yet despite the administration’s penchant for bungling its messaging, most officials in these countries have become significantly less worried about the reset with Russia in the last six months. They are adapting to the reality that the administration’s top priorities require a working relationship with Moscow and that Washington no longer showers them with highly public displays of devotion. They have also grasped something that the reset-bashers haven’t: There have been no grand bargains or quid pro quos with Moscow that affect their relations with the United States. In fact, the administration is delivering for them on the ground, including in ways their supposed champions in the Bush administration never did. Put a different way, there is no bus. ~Samuel Charap
I appreciate Mr. Charap’s analysis very much. It largely supports what I have been arguing for the last year and a half in a couple of ways. Charap shows very clearly that no U.S. allies have been betrayed or abandoned in any meaningful way, and he correctly notes that the extent of U.S. concessions in pursuit of the “reset” has been exaggerated. Indeed, if anyone should be disappointed with the extent of the “reset,” it should be Moscow. One of the prime examples of Obama’s imaginary habit of abandoning allies and coddling rivals has been the “reset,” and Charap demonstrates convincingly that the hawkish critics of the “reset” are simply wrong in what they say about it. The administration has opened itself up to criticism by making more of Russian support for Iran sanctions than is warranted, but on the whole U.S.-Russian relations are significantly improved from this time two years ago and that is due in large part to the concerted effort of this administration to rebuild the relations that at times the previous administration seemed intent on destroying. There has never been much substance to the claims that Obama has been betraying allies in order to “appease” Russia, but then the people making this charge have never really understood what Obama has been trying to do in working with Russia, and many of them have been comically wrong in their assessment of Russian goals. Now that Kyrgyzstan is melting down, it is a good thing that Moscow and Washington have built up enough trust that both our governments can cooperate to limit the damage from the violence that erupted across the south of the country this week.
There are two cases of allied governments being hung out to dry, so to speak, and these are Japan and Turkey. The way that the new Japanese government was treated when it insisted on trying to re-negotiate basing on Okinawa was genuinely harmful to U.S.-Japanese relations, and it led more or less directly to the resignation of PM Hatoyama. Washington’s reaction to the new DPJ government has seemed flawed from the beginning, but it was a perfectly conventional reaction that treated the concerns of a major ally as irritating and irrelevant. Despite rhetoric about a “model partnership,” Washington has been handling Turkey even more clumsily in its dismissive treatment of the Tehran nuclear deal and its sorry response to the flotilla raid. Here are two cases of democratic allies that are attempting to pursue foreign policies slightly more independent of the U.S. and more in line with their own national interests and the wishes of their electorates, and in both cases Washington has slapped them down and made clear that it expects obedience. Instead of seeing an opportunity for burden-sharing and disentangling the U.S. from some of its responsibilities around the world, the administration has chosen to see signs of independence from major allies as problems to be eliminated.
Of course, the hawks who have been weeping over the supposed mistreatment of Poland and Georgia have no problem when the administration mishandles and harms relations with economically powerful, strategically valuable, democratic allies, because this is what they would have done at a minimum had they been in power. As far as many hawks are concerned, abusing allies and ignoring their legitimate concerns in pursuit of often questionable U.S. goals are a large part of what they think U.S. foreign policy is supposed to be. They responded so badly to the “reset” with Russia not because they believed that these allies were being exposed to some new danger, but rather because they saw the “reset” as a repudiation of their more combative, confrontational and disastrous approach to U.S. policy in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. If the “reset” succeeded and did not come at the expense of the security of any allies, their bankrupt anti-Russian agenda would be pretty thoroughly discredited.