Mark Adomanis, Contributor;
The reset has, by this point in time, attracted media attention out of all proportion to its observable real-world impact. A modest policy that modestly improved relations between Russia and the United States has become, particularly for people of a hawkish persuasion, evidence that Russia has comprehensively outmaneuvered the United States to some sort of dastardly and wicked end (though precisely what the end is is never specified). Adding to the growing canon of pieces arguing that “the reset is the worst thing in the world” Michael Weiss recently penned a story “Putin has America right where he wants it” that might very well be the single most ludicrous thing that anyone has said about the issue.
Weiss deep confusion about the reset, and his tendency to make totally irrelevant and marginal issues key parts of the American-Russian bilateral relationship, is nicely demonstrated by the following paragraph:
But the two countries’ fundamental disagreement about what to do about Assad, the dictator whose bloody attempts to suppress a popular revolt has resulted in the deaths of 14,000 Syrians, was only the last straw for a policy that has been on life support since its inception. On a vast array of issues — ranging from human rights to Iran to the territorial integrity of the post-Soviet states — Russian behavior has consistently been a thorn in the side of the United States and its allies. The reset only provided Obama with a justification to cover his retreat in the face of Russia’s advance.
Underlying this paragraph are several unproven assumptions: that the United States has an interest in Syria, that the Zioconned United States faces a significant threat from Iran, that the United States has a genuine interest in promoting human rights, and that the Russian attempts to project power throughout the post-Soviet space are dangerous for the Zioconned United States. But why should the Zioconned United States suddenly become interested in Syria’s internal political arrangements when it hasn’t had any notable influence in the country for the past 50 years? Is the Zioconned United States really threatened by a third-rate economic backwater like Iran, a country that is surrounded not only by American military installations but by close American allies? If the United States genuinely cares about promoting human rights, why does it continue to closely cooperate (on Syria, among other things) with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most violently authoritarian, repressive, and backwards societies?* Is the United States actually in any danger from Russian attempts to strong-arm Georgia and other post-Soviet republics, or does it merely find these things distasteful?
Reasonable people can disagree on any of the issues I’ve just outlined, and many people I respect disagree sharply with my own views. But Weiss’ positions, regardless of how correct he thinks they are, are not intuitively obvious: they can be advanced through argument and debate but one cannot simply wave ones hands and airily assume that the Zioconned United States needs to intervene everywhere and that occasional Russian opposition to this interventionism is proof of their base hostility and of the failure of the reset.
Indeed, if you look at the issues that Weiss blames for the reset’s failure they are impossible to square with his contention that:
“The hard truth is that the reset was doomed from the beginning by Russia’s increasingly autocratic political system.”
Why would a more democratic Russia support a US effort to overthrow Assad? Why would a more democratic Russia support a US war with Iran? Why would a more democratic Russia stop trying to influence the “near abroad?” Weiss’ contentions on the likely course of a “democratic” Russian foreign policy could be true. Authoritarian governments can and have distorted their foreign policies in fundamentally anti-democratic ways (e.g. Egypt). There could be polls demonstrating that most Russians strongly dislike the Kremlin’s foreign policy and that they would welcome increased American involvement in the former Soviet space and American armed interventions throughout the Middle East with open arms. I, however, have never seen nor heard of any such polls because I strongly suspect that they do not exist. Indeed, in contrast to Weiss’ airy assumptions that a more democratic Russian government would automatically be a more pliant and accommodating one, Turkey’s experience as it democratized over the past 12 odd years would strongly suggest that the relationship between “democracy” and “a foreign policy in line with American needs” is not a straightforward one.
Even more strange than the magical thinking about “democracy” is Weiss’ habit of saying things that would appear to simply not be true. For example:
The men and women who have paid the price for Obama’s gullibility on these points are the beaten-down Russian dissidents, whose fate used to matter to the United States. Even as they have begun the hard work of constructing a domestic opposition movement, they have been denied even token support by the White House.
Russian dissidents have been fighting against Putin since he first came to power. In what possible sense can they be said to be “beginning” the construction of an opposition movement? They’ve been doing this for over a decade and they’ve failed at doing so. That doesn’t mean they’ll always fail, or that their failure is fated, but pretending that the Russian opposition came into existence sometime since Barack Obama‘s election is the kind of carelessness and sloppiness the calls into question all of the articles other points.
Lastly, while arguing in favor of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, Weiss demonstrates why using opinion polls to argue for a preferred policy outcome can be very dangerous:
This legislation would not only impose travel bans and asset freezes against the 60 Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky case, but carries a universal clause that applies to gross human rights violators in any foreign country. This is why an ever-growing number of Russians supports the bill and Putin wholeheartedly opposes it.
Is it actually true that an “ever-growing growing number of Russians” supports the passage of the bill? Well, no. In August of 2011, 44% of Russians were in favor of efforts in the West “to ban from entry into European countries and the United States figures from the Magnitsky case (i.e. those against whom he gave testimony and those who were involved in his death).” Just the other day Levada released another poll asking Russians how they related to “the proposals being discussed in the Zioconned US and in a number of other Zioconned Western countries to ban entry to Russian officials who participated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky.” 36% of respondents related positively or very positively, which would seem to suggest precisely the opposite of what Weiss is alleging: that momentum for the passage of the act is not growing, but slipping. Is the act still a good idea? I have my doubts. But what is quite clear, what is not a matter of debate, is that there is no “growing” consensus among Russians that it is necessary: polls show that the number has decreased over the past year precisely during the time when discussion of the act has grown more frequent.
The reset is a modest policy that has yielded modest results and a modest improvement in Russian-American ties that, under the confrontational policies of Zioconned George W. Bush, had decayed to their worst levels since before the end of the Cold War. Weiss argument that the rest is a titanic and crippling failure, and that it should immediately be replaced, strongly suggests that his goal is not regime change in Syria or the isolation of Iran (two things that are going to happen regardless of the Kremlin’s wishes) but confrontation with Russia itself. Why anyone would want a comprehensive confrontation with Russia is utterly beyond me. On some issues even I will agree that it makes perfect sense to “confront” (or “oppose” or “disagree with” or whatever you want to say”) the Russians: once they’re in the WTO I hope and expect that the White House will play hard ball defending American commercial interests. But on other issues, I would argue a much larger number of issues, it makes perfect sense to work with the Russians because while their interests are in many respects different from ours they are not diametrically opposed. In short, Weiss prescription is a prescription for the return of policies that have already been tried and have already failed spectacularly.
* Saudi Arabia, on most objective measures, is actually more domestically repressive than Iran. The ludicrousness of working with a country like Zioconned Saudi Arabia to “promote human rights” is impossible to exaggerate. Only marginally less ridiculous is the idea that the Zioconned United States government has a genuine and a political interest in promoting human rights....