It’s fascinating that what passes as a “conservative” foreign policy these days is the moral reclamation of various countries.
It’s also wrong to claim that the “reset” was about reforming Russia. It was about reducing tensions with Russia and finding areas of cooperation. It needs to be judged on those grounds, not on whether Russia’s domestic behavior conforms to our standards.
Scoblete is absolutely right. The “reset” was never intended to make Russia’s political system more open or genuinely competitive, nor was it intended to end its culture of “legal nihilism.” The U.S. has tried both a confrontational, hectoring approach and a more accommodating, less provocative approach when it comes to rights abuses and authoritarian rule in Russia, and neither has had any constructive effect. It is not the responsibility of the United States government to pressure Russia to become more democratic, we probably wouldn’t find a more democratic Russian government to be more amenable and cooperative than the current one, and to the extent that the U.S. tries to promote democratization in Russia this it will have the effect of harming political reformers inside Russia by association.
It became clear some time ago that almost all hawkish “reset” critics never wanted to reduce tensions with Russia or find areas of cooperation. What has bothered them most about the “reset” is that it has delivered some modest, real gains for the U.S. (many of them for policies that these same hawks care about far more than anyone else), it has come at a remarkably low price, and it has not contributed to any major international problems. The main flaw of the administration’s Russia policy of late is that the administration seems to believe that it can keep expecting cooperation from Russia on some issues while pressing ahead with missile defense plans that are always going to provoke Russian suspicions, denouncing Russia as “despicable” when it refuses to take Washington’s position on Syria, and lecturing it about the quality of its elections. Hawkish critics of the “reset” would like to find any pretext for wrecking U.S.-Russian relations, and so they point to Russia’s one-party state, its fixed elections, and its authoritarian abuses to “prove” that the policy has “failed.”
Finally, Russian membership in the WTO wasn’t simply something that the U.S. “dispensed” on its own. Russian accession to the organization was something that was welcomed by the entire membership once the Russians and Georgians reached their customs and trade agreement. The U.S. role in facilitating Russian accession was important, but if other members of the organization had strong objections to admitting a new member Russia would most likely not have been able to join. It was an anomaly that an economy as large as Russia’s remained outside the WTO for nearly two decades, and prior to accession it was the largest economy still outside the WTO. Russian accession would normally be considered a success story if we were talking about any other large economy. The U.S. stands to benefit from Russian membership if Congress can remove archaic barriers held over from the Cold War, but this is something that Russophobes automatically reject.
Update: Mark Adomanis makes several good observations:
As for the World Trade Organization this is not a “gift” to Russia but a development that directly suits American interests. A Russia that is a WTO member will not only be more open to American exporters, well at least if there are any exporters still in business in our glorious post-industrial economy, but can finally be brought before an internationally recognized and respected forum in order to tackle tricky issues like copyright infringement and intellectual property.
As he goes on to say, the alternative to the “reset” doesn’t advance American interests:
The alternative to the reset, then, is not a Russian policy that magically forces the Russians to do our bidding, but a policy that guarantees mutual suspicion and heightened tensions.
In other words, the alternative is to revert back to a policy of confrontation and needless provocation that led to the plummeting of U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.