Home/Daniel Larison/Whitewashing the Failure of Bush’s Russia Policy

Whitewashing the Failure of Bush’s Russia Policy

Rich Lowry makes a typically preposterous argument:

This was a perverse misreading of recent history. Of all President Bush’s faults, not giving the Russians a chance wasn’t one of them [bold mine-DL]. He notoriously looked into Putin’s soul at a meeting at the beginning of his presidency and saw sweetness and light. By the end, any illusions he had left were shattered by the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.

As perverse misreadings of history go, there aren’t many worse than what Lowry has done in this column. Notice how he skips through the entire Bush presidency as if 2001-2009 had been one long attempt to cooperate with Russia that ended badly. That is exactly what it wasn’t. It was a period in which the U.S. consistently pursued policies that were certain to antagonize Russia, which undeniably did antagonize Russia, and which the Bush administration seemed to pursue in no small part because they antagonized Russia.

The silly “soul-gazing” remarks at the beginning of Bush’s presidency were the sort of thing one would expect from a president as clueless on foreign policy as he was, but in terms of policy the last administration reliably did almost all of the things that Moscow opposed. It is not possible to understand Russian behavior over the last ten years without acknowledging the extent to which U.S.-Russian relations were wrecked by several Western policies, chief among them being Bush’s push for missile defense in eastern Europe and NATO expansion into the former USSR. If the Bush administration suffered from any illusions, it was that the U.S. could consistently goad and provoke Russia in its own region without consequences. By the end of Bush’s second term, that illusion was dispelled, and it was in order to repair the substantial damage that had been done in the previous five or six years that the U.S. successfully sought to find common interests with Russia.

As it happened, that effort was finished by the end of Obama’s first term in part because it had succeeded in doing what it tried to do. Both old and new disagreements flared up over the last two years, and we all know what these are. Needless to say, relations with Russia would be even worse and Russian behavior even more antagonistic if the U.S. had pursued more aggressive policies in Syria and the former Soviet Union than it did. That is what hawks have wanted the U.S. to do all along, and it is fortunate that they have not been in a position to make it happen. It matters that Bush-era Russia policy is understood correctly, because the people seeking to revise the history of that period are eager to revive the very same aggressive policies in the former Soviet Union that have already failed so miserably.

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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