Rejecting the previous arguments of one Robert Kagan, Robert Kagan has decided that Obama’s handling of Russia and Georgia has not produced a “wave of insecurity” throughout the region. Apparently, the administration has not abandoned Georgia to ravenous Russian hordes (or whatever it is that Kagan thought had happened) after all, but obviously has continued supporting Georgia and objecting to Russia’s presence in the separatist republics as it did all along. This is both unwise and unnecessary, but it is U.S. policy. It is true that this administration is generally less combative and obnoxious about the dispute between Russia and Georgia than its predecessor, and it seems that there is some scaling back of U.S./NATO ambitions in the region, but Obama has largely continued Bush’s misguided approach towards Russia’s neighbors as much as it realistically can.
Just as Obama cannot work magic and topple the Iranian government with a few well-chosen words of solidarity for the opposition, he does not control the dynamics of Ukranian politics, nor can he expel Russian forces from territories whose inhabitants do not want to be part of Georgia. As Samuel Charap correctly argued earlier this month, there has been no sell-out of U.S. allies along Russia’s borders. One wonders how Kagan will reconcile this reality with the satisfying story of Obama’s betrayal of allies that hawks have been telling themselves for the last year and a half. Having given Obama a little credit this month, he will presumably return to the satisfying story in July and go back to making ridiculous attacks.
What is strange is that Kagan seems to have just discovered the administration’s support for Georgia. His praise for Obama’s backing of Georgia comes just a month after he lamented Obama’s betrayal of Georgia. Kagan’s entire view of how Obama is handling Georgia changes wildly depending on what press release he has read most recently. There seems to be no awareness of the major continuities in U.S. policy from one administration to the next and from one year to the next. For that matter, Kagan doesn’t seem to remember his own columns from one month to the next. In May, the U.N. security resolution on Iran was “hollow” and worthless, and certainly not worth the supposed betrayals of U.S. allies and concessions to Russia that bothered Kagan so much. Now Kagan has endorsed the resolution as one of Obama’s five main foreign policy victories. Yes, his endorsement was filled with qualifications, but in just a few weeks a resolution that was absolutely worthless became much more valuable. As far as I can tell, the only thing that changed was that two rising powers went against Washington at the Security Council, Washington slapped them down, and this mistreatment of Brazil and Turkey for the sake of what Kagan used to think was a “hollow” resolution was enough to earn Kagan’s admiration.
On the whole, the more abrasively and stupidly Obama has acted toward genuinely valuable allies in pursuit of questionable or foolish policies, the more Kagan cheers. Kagan regards Washington’s mistreatment of Turkey when it foolishly dismissed and insulted Turkish efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran as part of Obama’s success in foreign policy. He likewise sees the downfall of Japanese PM Hatoyama as a boon for the alliance and another Obama success. It is actually a sign of the profound dysfunction of the alliance and one of Obama’s biggest mistakes so far. Kagan has taken the two most clear examples of how important allies actually are being mistreated and abused by this administration and makes them out to be examples of wise and appropriate statecraft. It’s safe to say that Kagan’s judgment on these matters isn’t very reliable, and it’s even more certain that whatever Kagan regards as one of the administration’s foreign policy successes should probably be counted as one of its blunders.