Dan Drezner criticizes Obama for lecturing Russia on what is in its own interests:

Telling other countries that they’re acting irrationally because they don’t want what the United States wants is the opposite of soft power. It’s self-defeating diplomacy.

As Drezner explains, this tendency to presume to know what other countries’ interests are is common among U.S. officials and foreign policy professionals. The problem with this bad habit isn’t just that comes across as obnoxious hectoring and won’t change the behavior of the other state, but also that it becomes a justification for pursuing coercive and adversarial policies against the other state that come to be seen as being “for its own good.” This often encourages U.S. policymakers to endorse punitive policies in the belief that they are ultimately benefiting the state they are punishing, and that in turn causes U.S. policymakers to view the intransigence of the other government with a mixture of bewilderment and impatience: “Can’t they see that giving in to our demands is in their best interest?” It’s not long before that turns into exasperation and anger: “They must be crazy, and therefore we can’t deal with them at all.”

Not only will the other government not respond favorably to the condescending rhetoric, but it will then perceive U.S. punitive measures as confirmation that U.S. criticisms of its actions were always in bad faith and are simply part of a larger effort to weaken/humiliate/encircle their country. That will convince the other government, especially when it is a very nationalist government, that the narrow interests of the regime and the broader interests of the country are both being threatened, which reinforces the regime’s belief that it is defending itself and its country against a determined foreign adversary. At the same time, the belief that the U.S. understands the interests of another country better than its own government makes it easier for hard-liners here in the U.S. to argue for policies that are either aimed at changing the regime or to insist that the U.S. give up trying to negotiate with an “irrational” government (or both). If the people Drezner calls “Zen Masters” are more likely to resort to patronizing language about another country’s real interests, it is the so-called “Reality Creators” that end up benefiting in the policy debate here in the U.S.