Home/Daniel Larison/Huntsman’s Potemkin Criticism of the “Reset”

Huntsman’s Potemkin Criticism of the “Reset”

Jon Huntsman’s campaign website tells us that his foreign policy is not nearly as sensible or realist as his supporters would have us believe:

The Obama Administration’s Russia Reset policy is a bad approach because it rests on a foundation of falsehoods. It’s a Potemkin policy. Working with Russia to develop a more cooperative relationship is needed, but we should not make that relationship one that mirrors a Potemkin village in which we pretend the Kremlin is more of a partner than it is, more of a democracy than it is, more respectful of human rights than it is, and less threatening to its neighbors than it is. When we do that, as President Obama has done, we are undercutting those in Russia who see a democratic future for their country. We communicate tolerance for its hegemonic policies including toward Georgia (which it still occupies) and Ukraine. We undercut our criticism of despots elsewhere in the world.

We can nonetheless find productive ways to work with Russia if we view the relationship with more objective eyes. A global agenda for the U.S.-Russian relationship can be successful because we can focus on issues that leverage Russian power: arms control, Iran (UNSC) and America’s need in Afghanistan.

Yes, Huntsman has those Potemkin references down cold. This could be the most annoying criticism of the “reset” I have read. Huntsman sees the value in a cooperative relationship with Russia, but he still insists on attacking the policy that has achieved exactly that. He wants to find “productive ways to work with Russia,” and he then proceeds to list the very things the Obama administration has been doing for the last two and a half years! He mimics Romney by calling for a reset of the “reset,” but that cannot happen without jeopardizing the cooperation that the U.S. has already received. In other words, Huntsman would like to go back to a policy of provoking and irritating Russia, but he would also like all of the benefits of the “reset” that he feels compelled to criticize to demonstrate his independence from Obama. It has been supporters of the “reset” that have had the fewest illusions about what the “reset” could be expected to produce. The “reset” was never going to improve Russia’s internal political and legal conditions, and there were no illusions that Russia was substantively democratic as we mean it or respectful of human rights.

One of the main arguments for Huntsman’s candidacy is that he has foreign policy experience and expertise. We don’t expect Herman Cain to know who rules Uzbekistan, but we do expect Huntsman to know who governs Kyrgyzstan. Huntsman proposes that the U.S. make human rights more of a priority in dealing with Central Asian states:

The U.S. needs to be consistent with its human rights policy and not have double standards like in Kyrgyzstan. To secure access to Manas AFB, the Obama administration has been very light on the Bakiyev regime’s human rights record.

It’s true that both the Bush and Obama administrations gave Bakiyev a pass on his authoritarian abuses because of the need for access to Manas, but this reads as if Huntsman thinks Bakiyev is still ruling Kyrgyzstan. One would think that Huntsman would acknowledge that things have changed a bit in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiyev was ousted over a year and a half ago.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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