U.S. political elite: different views on “Reset” Policy
There is no consensus in the U.S. political elite and society regarding the resetting of relations with Russia. In fact, the U.S. political elite has been split on that issue.
The Democrats, who support the Barack Obama administration, are cautiously optimistic about the reset policy. This is reasonable, as Russia is the main regional success of the current administration.
The United States’ relations with China, the European Union, the Muslim world, Latin America, Eastern Asia, India and other global economic and political centers have not improved since Obama came into office. The country has made considerable progress only in relations with Russia.
An analysis of the current U.S.-Russian relationship shows that both sides are willing to expand the positive agenda and to go beyond the disarmament and non-proliferation questions, where they have achieved considerable success. Considering the state of relations with Russia Obama inherited from the Bush administration, this can be judged as major progress.
Obama’s other achievement is the adoption of the UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. But then again, they would not have been approved without Russia’s contribution because it was the U.S.-Russian cooperation on Iran that has allowed Obama to reach that goal.
In other words, all the positive and progressive achievements in Obama’s foreign policy were made possible thanks to a major contribution from Russia.
Among them are the success of the nuclear summit in Washington in April 2010 and Obama’s nuclear achievements such as the restoration of the U.S. global leadership through a demonstration of its desire to support disarmament regimes and promote a nuclear-free world. They would have been impossible without Russia, and in particular the new START agreement the United States signed with it in Moscow.
The situation in Afghanistan is another proof of Russia’s importance; Russia’s contribution is crucial for the success of that war, Obama’s main foreign policy project.
Given all of the above, Russia is crucial for strengthening Obama’s credentials regarding the success of his foreign policy. This is why the U.S. elite groups that support Obama clearly view the resetting of relations with Russia as successful.
But they consider it only moderately successful because there are quite a few unresolved problems, and much in this sense will depend on the path the sides choose.
The unresolved problems include the situation in the South Caucasus and the uncertain prospects for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. The Obama administration has shown clearly that it is not ready to admit Russia to the WTO on Russia’s terms and continues to advance additional requirements. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment has not been lifted either, also because the Obama administration has been overzealously protecting its interests like in case of the WTO.
But by and large, the Democrats have a positive view of the policy of resetting relations with Russia.
At the same time, the Republicans think the reset project is Obama’s big foreign policy mistake and even betrayal of the U.S. national interests. However, I don’t think the reason for this is traditional hostility toward Russia; there are two factors that can explain the Republicans’ approach.
The first factor is a strong right-wing drift in the Republican Party. Its moderate core is becoming diluted, while the conservative, hawkish and even neo-conservative wing, which has always pursued a more aggressive policy, including regarding Russia, is growing stronger.
The second and most important factor is the growing polarization of U.S. society. The Republicans are becoming a “No” party that is using every opportunity to criticize Obama so as to weaken his positions and prevent his hypothetic re-election. They are using his relations with Russia as the main instrument in this policy.
They have accused Obama of making excessive concessions to Russia, allegedly without getting anything in return. In particular, the Republicans claim that the United States has not ensured a sufficiently strong response on Iran from Russia. They argue that the new START treaty limits the U.S. ability to pursue its ballistic missile defense and conventional weapons programs. They also say that Obama has weakened the United States’ national security by agreeing to excessive cuts of nuclear weapons.
None of this is true, of course.
The Republicans have also criticized Obama for his soft attitude to Russia’s policy in the CIS, in particular Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the South Caucasus. They demand that Obama “torpedo” Russia and strongly resist its policy in the region, pursuing instead the policy of George W. Bush. By demanding that, they forget that Bush’s policy resulted in a new round of confrontation with Russia.
It is argued that Obama, seeking to ensure a closer relationship with Russia on issues of vital concern to the United States, such as anti-Iran sanctions, agreed to tone down some contradictions in relations with Russia, in particular regarding Georgia and Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence.
This wave of criticism will grow stronger by November 2010, when midterm elections to Congress are to be held.
Of crucial importance in this situation will be President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Washington and the sides’ ability to win one more victory in bilateral relations and to carry on their positive development, which will benefit not only Russia but also the United States.
If the Kremlin tries to use the U.S. dependence on Russia in Afghanistan and Iran and demands more concessions from Obama without giving some tangible proof of his policy’s success in return, this will damage Russia’s long-term interests. It would be in Russia’s interests to see Obama’s political positions strengthen, because the future of the reset policy and development of sustainable partnership with the United States depend on Obama.
If Obama loses his standing in the United States – and he will lose it if his policy towards Russia fails – the U.S.-Russian relationship could be pushed back into confrontation in a foreseeable future.
Dmitry V. Suslov is Deputy Director for Research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.