Remember Barack Obama’s presidential debate retort, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back”? According to Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, that would now be an improvement. Dmitry Peskov told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America that US-Russian relations have hit a new low, which considering the history involved would have to plumb some significant depths. Relations now “may be even worse” than the Cold War, according to the view from the Kremlin:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 31, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man said in an interview today on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that current relations between Russia and the United States are “maybe even worse” than the Cold War.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos that allegations of Russia’s trying to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election are “fake news” and “slander.”
Well, let’s take stock of the situation. In the Cold War, at least from the perspective of the Kremlin, the USSR’s frontier with NATO and the EU was as far west as Germany, and its economic and political power extended all through Asia, and into Africa and South America. These days, the frontier is in Ukraine, and Russia no longer exports ideology at all. Life has been worse than the Cold War for a long time — at least for Russian imperialists.
That was precisely Mitt Romney’s point in 2012, which Barack Obama spectacularly missed until Russia finally threatened his own self-interest in the last election. George W. Bush also didn’t see the threat from Putin until late in his own presidency, but Obama had no excuse by 2012 for missing it. Romney was right; a Putin-led Russia was the most significant potential threat to the US on the horizon, but Obama was too busy attempting to appease and co-opt Putin to see it, hence his pledge for “more flexibility” to Dmitri Medvedev in the spring of 2012. And let’s not forget Hillary Clinton and the 2009 “reset button” meant to blame George Bush for awakening to the threat over which she and Obama now obsess.
Now that we’re taking Putin more seriously as an opponent, it’s not a surprise that the relationship has cooled. One problem, though, is that Democrats and the media have gone from blindness to hysteria. Almost on a dime, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, their party, and the national media went from “the 1980s are calling” to seeing a Russian behind every critical comment in the space of a few months. Neither approach is serious, and both end up benefiting Putin — the latter especially at home in quashing dissent. Russia is a serious threat to Western security, but it’s not an insurmountable threat, and engaging in hysterics over its propaganda operations do nothing but amplify it.
Former Georgia president Mikheil Saakashvili, who had the misfortune of serving as the catalyst for Bush’s awakening in 2008, brings some needed perspective on the whiplash of American policy on Russia. Donald Trump isn’t the problem in US-Russian relations, and he may be the solution if given the chance, Saakashvili writes at Politico:
From the very beginning, Barack Obama’s administration behaved rather differently. U.S. officials made it very clear that nobody should expect the United States to act the way Bush acted in 2008. Many in the new administration were convinced that Russia’s invasion was in fact the result of a Georgian provocation designed to help John McCain to win the U.S. presidential election, some in the White House told us. From day one, the Obama administration saw relations with Russia’s neighbors through the eyes of Moscow, introducing, for instance, a de facto arms embargo in Georgia. And in March 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov pushed the reset button in the misguided hope that the Kremlin would become more cooperative. Watching this, the leader of one of Russia’s neighbors told me he had a feeling the two were trying to kill us off like some annoying flies.
The demoralizing effect of the reset reverberated all over the region, and I would argue it was largely responsible for the demise of the pro-Western governments all around the Russian periphery, bringing to power Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev and my successor Bidzina Ivanishvili, the largest Gazprom shareholder, in Georgia. …
What of President Donald Trump? It’s true that some of his seemingly pro-Russian statements have also been met with alarm in our countries, as we are all too used to the reality that big countries can always deal with one another at the expense of smaller ones.
But I also have my own personal experience with Trump. After the 2008 invasion, many politicians in the West would avoid me in order not to alienate Putin—and many businessmen did, too. Anyone who invested in Georgia risked becoming persona non grata with Putin, precluding them from making money in Russia. In 2009, Trump faced the same dilemma. He had a choice to make between investment projects in Georgia or Russia, with Russia promising greater returns, but Georgia being attractive as an uncorrupt, safe place, and one of easiest countries to do business in the world. And Trump, who clearly had presidential ambitions even back then, opted for Georgia, and this very fact speaks volumes for me. I never detected any weakness in Trump for the Russian system—in fact he was very skeptical of corruption and red tape in Russia in his conversations with me.
Of course, legitimate questions need to be answered about whether anyone in his camp colluded with Moscow, but based on my personal experience, I believe the conspiracy theories that are swirling around Trump are just that: theories. What is unquestionable fact is that his predecessor’s weakness and misreading of Putin has led to dire consequences in this part of the world. When will you Americans investigate that?
Good question. Maybe after we get over our current bout of hysteria — and perhaps that’s one reason why some are content to keep feeding it.