Amitai Etzioni rightly corrects some of the enthusiastic praise for Obama’s foreign policy in Bending History, but then writes this:
The authors suffer from the fact that the world did not hold still in the months that passed between writing and publishing the book. They view the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations as a success; however, it did not last and had few positive spillover effects. START, as I have pointed out elsewhere, focused on a low-priority issue while leaving untouched the more serious threats posed by tactical nuclear weapons. It did not inspire Pakistan or North Korea to give up, or even slow down, their accelerating nuclear-arms buildup.
In fairness, some administration officials presented the arms reduction treaty in terms of leading by example, and they did suggest that arms reduction on the part of the two largest nuclear-weapons states would strengthen nonproliferation efforts elsewhere. That was never likely. This was a classic bit of overselling the merits of the treaty. It is unreasonable to judge the “reset” by the behavior of long-time proliferating states that were never going to be influenced by a U.S.-Russian arms control agreement.
As Etzioni must know, there was no way that tactical nuclear weapons were going to be the subject of any negotiations until after the arms reduction treaty was ratified. To fault the “reset” for failing to address the threat posed by tactical nukes is to create an extremely high standard for what would constitute a successful Russia policy. New START was always a modest treaty that was going to produce modest benefits, but the benefits are real. Like most criticisms of the “reset,” Etzioni’s overlooks Russian cooperation on Afghanistan and Russian accession to the WTO. It makes no sense to judge the “reset” without comparing the current state of U.S.-Russian relations to the state of those relations four years ago. One major goal of the “reset” was to repair relations that had fallen to a post-Cold War low in 2008. Even if it has not done as much as it could, it has undeniably done that. Much of the rest of Obama’s foreign policy has been unsatisfactory or underwhelming, but it should be possible to acknowledge that while crediting it for the successes that it has had.