Diplomacy is delicate. It is nuanced. It requires experience.
Recall back in 2009 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with a “reset” button to reset our relations after the oaf in office? The story is now famous. The outgoing SecState was fluent in Russian. The newly installed SecState wasn’t. The button didn’t say “reset”. Watch the short exchange.
Not letting the Russians overcharge our relationship–that isn’t working out so well. In fact, as I and countless others have written, the supposed simpleton VP candidate Palin and the retro-loving foreign policy candidate Romney called this re-charge. Palin even called it with specificity back in 2008.
I’ve seen two main defenses to the “told you so’s” from Palin and Romney voters. Obama and Kerry are pushing the latter themselves.
- Obama was faking. It only sounds like he didn’t understand the Russian situation because he thought that the nuances of foreign policy were too complicated for ordinary Americans to understand. As Dave Weigel put it in Slate, Obama was “playing to the cheap seats.” If true, this is shocking condescension, even for this president. Yes, he thinks little of our collective intellect and has dumbed down other complicated topics for purposes of securing his power, so consistency suggests this might be true. If false–and I do think it false, Obama really thought Romney’s concern about Russia was silly–this is a respect destroying excuse. It’s a ‘the boss screwed up so blames his secretary’ defense on a national scale.
- Putin is nuts. He is unpredictable and unreasonable and our diplomats rely too much on the reasonable actor analysis. This is almost complete nonsense. Any student of history can predict Putin. We do rely on the reasonable actor analysis too much, but not about leaders’ characters. The main problem is not that we think all leaders are reasonable but that we assume their reasonable is our reasonable. I thought my husband put it well the other morning. “Our elite see the world through a rich man’s glasses,” he said. They assume that since they themselves worry about world opinion, the environment, and the common person that so does every other leader. This is the same mistake Kennedy made in the Vienna Summit. The assumptions, the posturing, the excuses–we’ve done it all before. And for as many times as the press has cried “Vietnam!”, they ought to at least be getting a broken clock’s twice-a-day luck.
One last note. I’ve seen a few articles on Hillary Clinton and her recent Russia and Hitler comparison. That is certainly noteworthy. I agree with the Best of the Web’s heated rhetoric point (first item). Hitler comparisons are more likely to overcharge than reset relations, no? But Hillary’s comments from the 2012 election bother me more. In response to Romney’s comments about Russia as our main geo-political foe she told CNN “I think it is rather dated to be looking backward.” (See the 25 second mark.) We all learn from experience. Diplomats must learn from our collective experience, throughout history. I think it is rather ominous to have a diplomat who doesn’t look back. But of course, this is one of the reasons I am conservative. Conservatives respect the known and tried, while the progressive motto seems to be ‘This time it’ll work’ without much regard or even knowledge of history or facts.
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