A Midterm Correction Of Reset?

Two years ago, on the eve of U.S. presidential election, I tried to convince a couple of friends in Moscow that as president, the Democrat Barack Obama will be better for U.S.-Russia relations than his Republican opponent, John McCain.  My friends disagreed, arguing that historically, Russia had always been better off with Republicans than Democrats.

What a difference two years can make!  Republicans are obviously not loved in Russia anymore.  Following their victory in the midterm congressional elections, they were already accused, by some folks in Moscow, of a desire to derail the Obama administration's policy of "reset" with Russia.  One of the Russian parliamentarians from the ruling United Russia party went as far as to describe the Republicans as "a dark force" in American politics and called Sarah Palin "monstrous."   (Ms. Palin routinely attracts strong adjectives, but I can't remember anyone in the U.S. choosing this particular one.)  Suggestions that the election outcome has been a result of a vast right-wing conspiracy to harm Russia may soon follow.

Everyone seems to agree that the results of the November 2 elections will affect U.S.-Russia relations, and, most likely, in a negative way.  But before we all collectively hit a panic button, let's clarify a few things.

First, American voters sent a lot of congressional Democrats packing because they were unhappy with the state of the economy and with what they viewed as a dangerous expansion of federal government.  International affairs didn't feature in the elections at all (which is in itself remarkable, given that the country is in the middle of two wars).  Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the voters have punished Obama for his foreign policy, including his attempt to improve the relationship with Russia.

Second, I see no signs of a unified, organized, opposition among congressional Republicans to Obama's Russia policy.  True, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has emerged as a leading Republican opponent of the New START treaty in the Senate.  His fellow Arizonian, Sen. John McCain, is terribly unhappy with the situation in Georgia, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) can't seem to stand anything Russian.  Yet these individual centers of resistance don't look like they're coalescing into one.

Such an organized, active, "anti-Russian" front may soon emerge in the House of Representatives, thanks to the imminent ascension of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to the position of Chairwomen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  A recent article in Foreign Policy called Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen "a Russia sceptic", an understatement of epic proportion.  In the short term, Ros-Lehtinen is likely to attempt, however unlikely to succeed, to block the U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear ("123") agreement.  In the long run, one can expect a long sequel of Committee hearings dealing with "human rights violations" in Russia and featuring the leaders of Russia's so-called democratic opposition along with their admirers from conservative think tanks.  As the first salvo at the administration, Ros-Lehtinen has already called on President Obama "to wake up and recognize the brutal nature of the regime he is dealing with in Moscow and to rethink his 'reset' policy with Russia."  A bitter foe of Hugo Chavez, Ros-Lehtinen will be nervously watching (and producing as much noise as possible in the process) for any signs of increasing cooperation, especially in the military and nuclear energy areas, between Russia and Venezuela. 

Third, the rumors of the imminent death of the New START treaty in the Senate appear to be somewhat exaggerated.  As I wrote before, the treaty is supported by a broad range of Republicans, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relation Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  Besides, according to a recent public poll, two-thirds of Americans (including about 6 in 10 Republicans) want the Senate to ratify the treaty.  The Republican opposition to the New START doesn’t therefore appear ideological at its core (I suspect more congressional Republicans oppose Obama's health care reform than nuclear arms reduction treaties with Russia); rather, it’s being driven by tactical considerations.  The more the Democrats promote the treaty as a foreign policy success of the Obama administration, the more tempted are the Republicans to deny the president such a success, especially now, in the wake of their election glory.  

As the administration is desperately trying to secure the support of a handful of Republicans to vote for the treaty during the lame-duck session of the Senate in November or December, some steps taken in Moscow look unhelpful.  I'm talking about the decision by Russia's State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee to repeal its earlier recommendation to ratify the New START.  The very timing of the decision — on November 3, immediately after the results of the midterm elections began arriving in Moscow — makes it look hysterical and, to be brutally honest, childish.  Immediately, some American experts interpreted the Duma Committee's move as an indication of Moscow's distrust in Obama's ability to negotiate with Congress.  

As I argued a few weeks ago, the real threats to "reset" don't originate from a position taken by a number of high-ranked congressional Republicans – and even not in the new power configuration on Capitol Hill.  The real danger comes from the fact that having made "reset" a flashy slogan to define a new tone of U.S.-Russia relations — and then having made "reset" a hostage to the ratification of the New START –  the Obama administration has failed to articulate a forward-looking, comprehensive, Russia policy.  A failure to ratify the New START will inevitably throw U.S.-Russia relations back precisely because the ratification of the treaty has been defined as the major prerequisite for these relations to move forward.

The other side is to be blamed too.  Russia's U.S. policy remains passive and reactive, with Moscow only responding to initiatives coming out of Washington while never putting forward ideas of its own.  And this is not because of the inability of the Russian expert community to generate such ideas.   They are being proposed, but so far, apparently failing to reach the upper echelons of the country's foreign policy establishment.  If the problem resides there, isn't it time to make some personnel changes at Smolenskaya Square?

Finally, I'll never get tired of repeating that Russia should take practical steps toward creating a professional lobby in the U.S.  Its primary goal, at least initially, should be working with both parties in Congress to explain Russia's positions on issues and to advance its economic interests.  This may not prevent certain shifts in the bilateral relationship with any new presidential administration.  Yet this may make the relationship largely immune to the changing congressional outlook every second year.   

Should this happen, folks in Moscow won't have to struggle deciding whom, Democrats or Republicans, they prefer.  They will love both. 

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A Midterm Correction Of Reset?

  1. Well, as to Sarah Palin, Randy Scheunemann is said to be one of her advisors (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/magazine/21palin-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp) and Saakashvili bought him long ago.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randy_Scheunemann
    But, ever the optimist, I believe that the Common Enemy will over-rule this.
    As to “Russia should take practical steps toward creating a professional lobby in the U.S.” see above.
    What Kosovo ought to have taught us is that if you want a certain goal, your best possible investment is not tanks and guns, but PR companies in Washington. IF it all works out, NATO will supply your air force. Free

  2. Hello,
    The pro-Kosovo independence agenda involves several variables that include a small, not tremendously wealthy, but patriotically/nationalistically Albanian-American community, which gives $$ to their cause in a way that seems to (comparatively speaking) elude Serbs – who don’t appear as monolithic when it comes to giving $$ to an org./orgs. advocating their views. There’re statistics kept on campaign donations giving credence to this thought. This observation has also been acknowledged to me by some Serbs.
    The Serbs’ upside down Russian flag, two headed eagle, Cyrillic alphabet, Orthodox Christian faith, historically pro-Russian leanings and historical differences with pro-Habsburg enthusiasts and Balkan nationalists among Turks, Albanians, Croats and Slavic Muslims (“Bosniaks”) puts them on a lengthy shit list. Then you’ve neocon to neolib types seeking to please the so-called “Muslim street,” which has included Serb bashing. This neocon/neolib agenda flunks as shown by how the EU has been more gung ho on Kosovo’s independence than the nations making up the Organization of the Islamic Conference. You don’t need the overrated Stratfor to figure this one out. Many predominately Muslim nations aren’t in the kind of warped Crusades mindset as some Western neolibs and neocons. Rather, these nations sympathize with the issue of respect for a nation’s boundaries against terrorism.
    On the Russian lobby in America comments, note how AIPAC doesn’t shy away from singling out politicians deemed as not so pro-Israeli. Pro-Russian advocacy should be responsibly assertive. This involves fact based hard hitting to the point criticisms, minus (seemingly) unsubstantiated BS that permits the rascals an unnecessary talking point:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andreas-umland/lies-and-innuendos-what-happens-when-you-take-on-russian-far-right
    Legitimately speaking, influential anti-Russian elements in the West can only be blamed so much. As I’ve said before: how Russia screws itself in a way that’s not so well known is an ongoing and not so well known issue. Don’t expect me to support policies/individuals which don’t appear to be in Russia’s best overall interests relative to other available options.
    On the bright side McCain, DeMint and Palin have their detractors within Republican as well as some strictly conservative ranks. An oldie (from last year) from a source who recently came up again:



    Sorry to not have a segment from last night’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He showed a released tape of off record (during a commercial break) sarcastic comments made about Palin by two Fox News Watch contributors, including the one in the above You Tube link.
    There’s hope meshed with continued disappointment.
    Best,
    Mike

  3. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Patrick,
    Just never underestimate (misunderestimate, as we Republicans would say) the propensity of Russian leaders NOT to learn from past mistakes, their own mistakes, other people’s mistakes, and other people’s positive experience.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Patrick,
    Just never underestimate (misunderestimate, as we Republicans would say) the propensity of Russian leaders NOT to learn from past mistakes, their own mistakes, other people’s mistakes, and other people’s positive experience.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    A real quick on the ending of your comment. Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint is the best weapon Democrats have to retain the WH in 2012.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    A real quick on the ending of your comment. Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint is the best weapon Democrats have to retain the WH in 2012.
    Cheers,
    Eugene

  7. Mark says:

    Hi, Eugene;
    Patrick’s recent piece, “The Third Turn” on “Other Points of View” is especially instructive on western perceptions of Russia, and the impressions on which they’re based. Epiphanous reading indeed.
    I wouldn’t be too optimistic about the ratification of NEW START from an American standpoint. All 10 incoming freshman Republican senators wrote a joint letter today urging their colleagues to vote against it.
    American voters sent a lot of Congressional Democrats packing because of demonstrably incorrect assumptions based on demonstrably incorrect reporting (spending has exploded under Obama, you’ll go to jail if you don’t buy health insurance, the size of government is mushrooming under Obama, the stimulus hasn’t created any new jobs, etc…etc…) The voters just couldn’t be bothered to inform themselves. I have no doubt their laziness will be appropriately rewarded.

  8. Mark says:

    Hi, Eugene;
    Patrick’s recent piece, “The Third Turn” on “Other Points of View” is especially instructive on western perceptions of Russia, and the impressions on which they’re based. Epiphanous reading indeed.
    I wouldn’t be too optimistic about the ratification of NEW START from an American standpoint. All 10 incoming freshman Republican senators wrote a joint letter today urging their colleagues to vote against it.
    American voters sent a lot of Congressional Democrats packing because of demonstrably incorrect assumptions based on demonstrably incorrect reporting (spending has exploded under Obama, you’ll go to jail if you don’t buy health insurance, the size of government is mushrooming under Obama, the stimulus hasn’t created any new jobs, etc…etc…) The voters just couldn’t be bothered to inform themselves. I have no doubt their laziness will be appropriately rewarded.

  9. Eugene says:

    Hi Mark,
    To blame American voters for not knowing what they are voting for is about the same as blaming them for having two legs and two arms. To educate them, we have televized debates and positive campaign ads — just kidding, kidding, kidding…
    Obama has made his health care reform a top priority and in the process of pushing for it spent all the capital of good will he had. Nothing is left now for the START.
    The Democrats should stop calling the treaty Obama’s major foreign policy success and instead focus on the lack of on the ground inspections. Framed as a national security issue, the treaty has a better chance to be ratified. Historically, it always took more than a year to ratify a nuclear arm treaty with SU/Russia. But this time around, we all believed this can be done faster. Why?
    I keep saying: we have too many elections.
    Best,
    Eugene

  10. Mark says:

    Hello, Eugene;
    In my excitement and haste to agree with you that America has too many elections – being virtually in campaign mode for somebody around the clock – albeit from a slightly different viewpoint, I missed what were probably the most insightful paragraphs: the last two.
    Creation of a professional Russian lobby is a fabulous idea. However, I caution that they must register upon arrival as agents of a foreign government. You’ll recall that recent eforts to start a Russian lobby in the U.S. resulted in them being summarily swept up and bundled out of the country as spies. Global Issues magazine suggests that the work of the Russian “spy ring” had much more in common with lobbyists than that of spies, who are theoretically supposed to steal classified information rather than schmoozing business leaders for deals.
    http://www.globalissues.org/article/737/what-us-lobbyists-do-for-dictators

  11. Folks,
    Regarding START, this article touches on what Richard Burt said on PBS:
    http://counterpunch.org/alvarez11192010.html
    It’s articulated that Iran, North Korea and some American politicos share a desire for not wanting to see START implemented.
    Pro-Russian lobbying advocacy in the US has a basis for stressing how improved Russo-American relations are mutually beneficial.
    The matter of enhancing Russia’s images faces an uphill challenge, given the predominating biases.
    At issue is the ability to effectively communicate this thought and counteract against the opposing advocacy. It’s important to understand that opposing advocacy.
    I’m a bit wary of hired hand mercenary types, who can go to another position for the right price. Based on the current status, it’s not unreasonable to hope that other options are considered by the higher ups behind the effort of better understanding the Russian position.
    Best,
    Mike

  12. Eugene says:

    Mark,
    First of all, thanks for the link: fascinating reading. Sure, I’m well aware of the perils of professional lobbying. However, if about 100 foreign countries managed to have their lobbies in the U.S., Russia will eventually manage too.
    Best,
    Eugene

  13. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mike,
    Those are very helpful links. And yet, Kyl has not articulated, at least as yet, any principal objections to the treaty; he seems to still leaves the door open to ratification.
    And this brings me again to my prior point: the Democrats blew it. They presented the treaty as Obama’s “victory” instead as a national security issue.
    Regardless, the best the administration can do now is to keep the House in session long enough to expire the 90-day grace period to reject the 123 Agreement. This one is more important that START, IMO, at least for the short term.
    Best,
    Eugene

  14. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mike,
    Those are very helpful links. And yet, Kyl has not articulated, at least as yet, any principal objections to the treaty; he seems to still leaves the door open to ratification.
    And this brings me again to my prior point: the Democrats blew it. They presented the treaty as Obama’s “victory” instead as a national security issue.
    Regardless, the best the administration can do now is to keep the House in session long enough to expire the 90-day grace period to reject the 123 Agreement. This one is more important that START, IMO, at least for the short term.
    Best,
    Eugene

  15. Your’re welcome Eugene.
    Says something when Burt and Sikorski support it unlike some Repubs.
    Repub-Dem differences can get simplistic. Recall the 1999 NATO bombing when some (stress some) Repub leaning advocates opposed that action for the seemingly primary reason that Clinton was for it – as opposed to sincerely being against it. I’ll count Ron Paul as (at least) one who sincerely opposed it.
    Best,
    Mike

  16. Your’re welcome Eugene.
    Says something when Burt and Sikorski support it unlike some Repubs.
    Repub-Dem differences can get simplistic. Recall the 1999 NATO bombing when some (stress some) Repub leaning advocates opposed that action for the seemingly primary reason that Clinton was for it – as opposed to sincerely being against it. I’ll count Ron Paul as (at least) one who sincerely opposed it.
    Best,
    Mike

  17. Eugene says:

    Mike, agreed on Ron Paul. The only reason I can’t get mad at the guy, in some circumstances, is because I know he’s following some principles and not playing games.
    Best,
    Eugene

  18. Eugene says:

    Mike, agreed on Ron Paul. The only reason I can’t get mad at the guy, in some circumstances, is because I know he’s following some principles and not playing games.
    Best,
    Eugene

  19. My sentiment on him as well Eugene.
    Regarding some of my opening set of comments at this thread, the release of this article is timely:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/18/will-ukraine-survive/
    As I recently noted in some closed company, the author of the above linked article is a Croat-Canadian, with an extreme grudge against Russia and Serbia. I’ve been informed of an earlier piece of his, where he writes of a threat from Bosnian Muslim nationalists, while claiming that the Serbs can’t be trusted as allies unlike the Croats.

  20. Leo says:

    Eugene,
    Interesting to observe how the Balkans (or Palestine for that matter) can enter a political discussion on ANY topic.
    Anyhow, on START – that is Obama’s lack of leadership and fighting spirit showing here. If he is serious about the ratification, he needs to skillfully turn the tables and accuse the Republicans on being soft on national security. While the 123 agreement with Russia may be of benefit short to medium term (real money is to be made for both sides), the START agreement is equally important in the long term and not only for the US-Russia relations. The non-passage of the treaty gives the world another indication that the US is not a trustworthy partner. One that can be dealt with only in the cash-on-the-barrelhead fashion. So even if the stipulations of the START treaty don’t mean much or not binding enough, the non-ratification will poison the nascent spirit of cooperation, should the 123 agreement be enacted.
    Certainly, the presence of a strong Russian lobby could somewhat rectify the situation. Possibly by working with DC insiders to push the ratification. Or relaying back to Russia the fact that the age of bipartisan support for anything substantial is over at DC, so no more treaties. However, the credentials of one important figure at the center of this whole START thing – Sen. Ros-Lehtinen – got me thinking: Is ethnic lobbying always a good idea? In the case of Cuba the containment approaches (when worse is better) profferred by Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and her ilk have failed miserably. The communist government of Cuba has outlived its relevance by about a quarter of a century, yet we are too proud to extend our hand and engage the Jaruzelski of Cuba. Rather than wielding a baseball bat, smother Cuba in a brotherly hug, figuratively speaking. So, I think the kind of lobby represented by the respectful senator is actually detrimental to Cuban-US relations (or lack thereof). Similarly, we should be careful what we wish to see for a Russian lobby. If a Russo-British lobby coalesces in London, it will likely be a Russia-without-Putin kind of lobby. Could be even more destructive than Cuban-Americans.
    All the best,
    Leo

  21. Hi Leo
    So there’s no misunderstanding, AIPAC and the Balkans are brought up at this thread in relation to the lobbying point in Eugene’s article.
    Yours truly didn’t initiate the Balkans reference at this thread. I thought it appropriate to follow-up on what was said. I mentioned AIPAC as an example of hard hitting advocacy that has gotten results.
    Your last point brings to mind some feedback I got from a Russian NY Consulate gathering of a few years ago. As I understand, the purpose of that meeting was to reach out to the Russian community in the US. Among the attendees were folks who could be considered part of the KGB (Khodorkovsky, Gusinsky and Berezovsky), as coined by (I believe) Edward Lozansky.
    One sees interesting mixes of people involved with ventures like Snob magazine, who might not have the same take of its editor Masha Gessen. I’m all for the Russian government attempting to reach out to varied Russian and non-Russian views. At the same time, it’s sheer idiocy for the responsibly pro-Russian view to get overlooked to the one running opposite of it.
    Some others besides myself are of the impression that back in the bad old days of the Cold War, Novoye Russkoye Slovo (for decades the largest Russian language newspaper in the US) was far more pro-Russian than its current post-Soviet, tabloid, oligarch owned version.
    Best,
    Mike

  22. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Leo,
    While I’m with you on Obama’s leadership (the lack thereof, that is) and the need of describing the Republicans as soft on national security, I’m disagreeing on the significance of the 123 Agreement. IMO, the lack of developed economic relations between the U.S. and RF is one of the reasons for troubles with political ones. The 123 Agreement is a serious contribution to improving economic relations — that’s why I believe that its significant is a long-term.
    With all due understanding of the symbolic (and political!) importance of New START, I agree with those who question its real military significance. And although you’re right when saying that the failure to ratify the treaty will undermine our trustworthiness, this effect will be short-term if we do ratify, however later (which, as I believe, will eventually happen).
    With respect to the Russian lobby (first, let me correct you: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is not a Senator, she’s a House member representing a Miami district), I never try to imagine it as one, single, unified body. (Those don’t exist in ethnic lobbying: even the proverbial Jewish lobby is composed of a miriad of different organizations, of which the AIPAC is only the most famous. The same for the Cuban lobby: there are 4 or 5 different organizations, CANF being the most recognized.) What I’m saying is that the Russian government should hire professional lobbyists to establish and maintain regular contacts with congressmen from both paties. In addition, there could be groups of private individuals (both Russian Americans and “simply” Americans) trying to do the same through their personal contacts. And if there is a group of people who want to lobby against Putin, well, we live in a free country. By the way, there is already a de facto Russo-British lobby “Russia-without-Putin.” And that’s fine. What Russia needs is another one: “Russia with Putin” (or Medvedev, or tandem, your pick)🙂
    Thanks,
    Eugene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s