Sen. John Cornyn makes several unfounded claims in his boilerplate criticism of U.S. Russia policy:

The reset policy was originally predicated on a belief that U.S.-Russian relations had soured because of the Bush administration’s intransigence and ineptitude. In fact, President Bush worked hard to establish a friendly, constructive rapport with Putin [bold mine-DL]. As late as July 2007, he hosted the former KGB officer at his family compound in Kennebunkport. Unfortunately, in August 2008, Russia chose to invade democratic Georgia [bold mine-DL], thereby poisoning bilateral ties with the United States.

If Bush was working so hard to establish a “friendly, constructive rapport,” that tends to support the charge of ineptitude, doesn’t it? What the record shows is that Bush repaid Putin’s initial post-9/11 support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and a military presence in Central Asia with a series of provocative and unwelcome moves: withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, expansion of NATO into the Baltics, support for “color” revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, the push for Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, planning for missile defense installations in eastern Europe, and, last but definitely not least, recognizing the independence of Kosovo. All of these things were done despite strong Russian objections.

Any one of them by itself might not have been so harmful to bilateral ties, but all together they created distrust and resentment of U.S. intentions, and U.S.-Russian ties kept fraying throughout the Bush years. Thanks to the mistaken support for Georgian membership in NATO at Bucharest, Bush’s uncritical rhetorical support for Georgia that the Georgian government overestimated to include material backing in a confrontation with Russia, and the error of recognizing Kosovo’s independence, the stage was set in 2008 for a crisis to which Bush administration policy choices contributed a great deal.

Of course, Georgia bears the bulk of responsibility for escalating the conflict in South Ossetia, and Russia bears its share of responsibility for goading Saakashvili into attacking and then engaging in excessive retaliation, but it is unlikely that the August 2008 war would have broken out how and when it did had the Bush administration not consistently made the wrong decisions on so many different regional issues. Perhaps the Bush administration did not intend for U.S.-Russian relations to reach their lowest point since the Cold War, which doesn’t say much for their competence. Regardless, their mistakes resulted in exactly that. The real, modest improvement in bilateral relations is proof that the Russian government can respond favorably when Washington adopts a less provocative and confrontational approach. Sen. Cornyn’s unsupported revisionism doesn’t change that.

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