Mark Adomanis responds to the Foreign Policy Initiative’s latest demand that the U.S. destroy its relationship with Russia:

There is, sadly, no magic formula for bringing countries in line with American foreign policy objectives: it takes hard work, time, and, perhaps most importantly, a good faith effort [bold mine-DL]. If one’s entire policy, like Zarate and Moore’s, is predicated on treating a country with hostility and on undermining its current political arrangement, the result will be an increase in tension and a decrease in cooperation. You could, of course, argue that the Kremlin’s position is so weak and compromised that rolling the dice is worthwhile, that America’s long-term gains would be worth the short-term fallout. But Zarate and Moore don’t even acknowledge that there would be any short term-losses: it’s a simple equation in which confrontation –> more democracy –> greater Russian cooperation.

This summary could describe hard-line hawkish approaches to a number of other issues, but it definitely captures the essence of anti-Russian arguments. It doesn’t seem to matter that a more confrontational approach was tried in the previous administration or that it proved to be a disaster. We know what happens to U.S.-Russian relations when Washington ignores Russian concerns and provokes it on a regular basis, and it isn’t a good outcome. Hostility serves the interests of neither country, and it is quite dangerous for the countries that are caught in the middle. The only people who stand to benefit from the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations are hard-liners in both countries whose preferred policy is one characterized by mistrust, sucpision, and antagonism. The spectacular failure of Bush’s Russia policy necessitated the somewhat more accommodating policy that anti-Russian hawks condemn in such strong terms. If the U.S. followed FPI’s recommendations and reverted to the older policy of confrontation, we would watch it fail once again.

Adomanis’ inclusion of good faith as a prerequisite of cooperation is important, and it gets to the heart of difficulties between the U.S. and Russia over the last twenty years. As Moscow sees it, the U.S. has acted in bad faith on several issues from NATO expansion to Kosovo (both the intervention and recognition of its independence) to Libya, and Putin in particular resents what he perceives as American abuse of his initial goodwill at the start of the Bush era. Russian intransigence on the conflict in Syria can’t be fully understood until one appreciates that Moscow assumes that any cooperation it provides will be exploited to Russia’s disadvantage, because that is what happened to it in the past when it has offered to help the U.S.

One of the standard tropes in attacks on current Russia policy is to find something in Russian regime behavior that has nothing to do with the “reset,” condemn that behavior, and then declare that the “reset” has failed. Even though the U.S. has essentially zero influence over Russian internal politics and domestic policies, opponents of current Russia policy will declare if a failure if improved U.S.-Russian relations haven’t magically ended corruption or increased political liberalization. Likewise, they will ridicule the policy because it has supposedly “failed” to end Russian behavior, such as arms sales to its foreign clients, that it could not have ended and was never intended to end. By the same token, one might judge Bush’s genuinely successful India policy a failure because it did not resolve the dispute over Kashmir. To make that argument, one would have to claim that Bush had failed in his effort to improve U.S.-Indian relations because he chose not to antagonize India over an issue that it considers purely bilateral and off-limits to others. In other words, one has to redefine success as failure by imposing an arbitrary standard that no policy could ever hope to meet. We would all recognize that this argument was patently absurd and insulting to everyone’s intelligence. This is the sort of argument that critics of the “reset” use all the time.