Friday, October 16, 2009

So what has that reset button gotten us?

Charles Krauthammer, provoked by Obama's Nobel Prize looks at the so-called achievements of the Obama foreign policy. For some initiatives, we may have to wait a bit to see whether he achieved anything, but we've seen a remarkable demonstration of the lack of accomplishment in his approach to Russia.
And what's come from Obama's single most dramatic foreign policy stroke -- the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed? For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.

But maybe not gratuitous. Surely we got something in return for selling out our friends. Some brilliant secret trade-off to get strong Russian support for stopping Iran from going nuclear before it's too late? Just wait and see, said administration officials, who then gleefully played up an oblique statement by President Dmitry Medvedev a week later as vindication of the missile defense betrayal.

The Russian statement was so equivocal that such a claim seemed a ridiculous stretch at the time. Well, Clinton went to Moscow this week to nail down the deal. What did she get?

"Russia Not Budging on Iran Sanctions; Clinton Unable to Sway Counterpart." Such was The Post headline's succinct summary of the debacle.

Note how thoroughly Clinton was rebuffed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" are "counterproductive." Note: It's not just sanctions that are worse than useless, but even the threat of mere pressure.

It gets worse. Having failed to get any movement from the Russians, Clinton herself moved -- to accommodate the Russian position! Sanctions? What sanctions? "We are not at that point yet," she averred. "That is not a conclusion we have reached . . . it is our preference that Iran work with the international community."

But wait a minute. Didn't Obama say in July that Iran had to show compliance by the G-20 summit in late September? And when that deadline passed, did he not then warn Iran that it would face "sanctions that have bite" and that it would have to take "a new course or face consequences"?

Gone with the wind. It's the United States that's now retreating from its already flimsy position of just three weeks ago. We're not doing sanctions now, you see. We're back to engagement. Just as the Russians suggest.

Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.

No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naivete, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.
Oh, and if you were still holding out hopes for strong sanctions on Iran, the Chinese have just slammed that door shut.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Thursday that his nation was committed to deepening its ties with Iran, a declaration that underscores the difficulty the United States will face in seeking broad economic sanctions against Tehran in an effort to rein in its nuclear program.

"The Sino-Iranian relationship has witnessed rapid development, as the two countries' leaders have had frequent exchanges, and cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened," Wen said at a meeting in Beijing with visiting Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, according to the official New China News Agency.

The U.S. and its allies are counting on China and Russia, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, for support in pressuring Iran to abandon activities the West fears could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.

But Washington is finding little support in either Moscow or Beijing. On Tuesday, during a visit to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said further sanctions on Iran would be "counterproductive."
So if sanctions would be "counterproductive," what is left of all those wonderful results that Obama is supposed to be achieving by engaging with nations like Russia and China?