Former Secretary of State and Soviet expert Condoleezza Rice told CBS News’ Charlie Rose in an interview that aired this morning that Barack Obama is “absolutely right” to have canceled the one-on-one summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That’s not to say that Rice gave a stirring endorsement of Obama’s foreign policy regarding Russia, as she skewers the White House’s naïveté and arrogance in its much-ballyhooed “reset” with Moscow. In the end, Rice argues, Russia means a lot less than people seem to think, so it’s not much of a loss — for us, anyway — if the meeting gets canceled:
“President Obama tried to, quote, reset relations with Russia. We reset and Russia didn’t. And so the question is what’s left of our interest in dealing with this Russia?” Rice asked.
“The relationship today is really terrible, just to be very blunt about it,” Rice told Rose, “But it’s not the Cold War. The Russia of today is a diminished power. It still has nuclear weapons. It still has a security council veto. But it is, on any given day, the 14th, 15th or 16th largest economy in the world, in a world in which economic power matters.”
Despite the decline in power, Russia still “has influence,” Rice said, adding “It has influence in Syria, it has influence in Iran, and do we sacrifice that kind of relationship if you don’t try to talk to Putin one on one in Moscow?”
“You have to start with the fact that we have very few overlapping interests any longer with Russia, with this Russia. The Russians are not going to cooperate on Bashar al-Assad and Syria as long as they think he might win. With Iran, frankly, I don’t think the Russians have been all bad on Iran. They’ve supported security council resolutions. But I don’t think that you sacrifice very much by saying to Putin in Russia, look, we are not going to sacrifice our interests trying to court you.”
That’s basically what the Bush administration learned early on with Putin. After an initial attempt at personal diplomacy by George W. Bush went nowhere, Bush and Rice shrugged off Putin and made plans to install a missile-defense system to defend Europe and the US against Putin’s Iranian clients. Obama and Hillary Clinton laid the blame for that impasse at the feet of Bush rather than Putin, offering the bungled “reset button” as a gift to apologize for the previous administration’s attitude.
Now, US-Russian relations are back to the Bush-era status, only we’ve backed down on missile defense and angered our partners in Poland and the Czech Republic by leaving them twisting in the wind on the project. We’re no closer to stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons than we were before, and once again we have Russia backing an Ba’athist Arab dictator that America opposes (Saddam Hussein then, Bashar al-Assad now). If the Snowden asylum was a slap in the face, maybe it will at least have the salutary effect of waking this administration up about Putin and Russia.