David Rothkopf

The perils of wanting to be loved

I worry sometimes that we are going to suffer the international consequences of a bad case of don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-butt-George, we-want-to-heal-the-wounds-so-can’t-we-all-get-along-now, with muscle-atrophying complications caused by the double onset of Iraq fatigue and financial disaster. It struck me as I read first of Joe Biden’s “reset button” comments re: Russia at the Munich Security Conference and then ...

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (unseen) in Moscow on February 6, 2009. EU Commission chief Barroso expressed hope for wider ties with Russia, as he met Russian leaders in a bid to mend ties battered by the New Year gas crisis and Moscow's war in Georgia. AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI / POOL / ALEXEY DRUZHININ (Photo credit should read ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images)

I worry sometimes that we are going to suffer the international consequences of a bad case of don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-butt-George, we-want-to-heal-the-wounds-so-can’t-we-all-get-along-now, with muscle-atrophying complications caused by the double onset of Iraq fatigue and financial disaster.

It struck me as I read first of Joe Biden’s “reset button” comments re: Russia at the Munich Security Conference and then as I followed the progress of the Obama Administration’s other outreach to Russia.

There is a view among some very senior Dem foreign policy types that now we can make a deal with Russia, that using our charms and our deftness we can coax Vladimir Putin and his little dancing monkey Medvedev back into acceptable behavior. The theory is all we have to do is a give a little on missile defense (cave completely to the Russians), give a little on the ideas that underlie NATO expansion (accept their idea of the entire near abroad, and then some, being in their sphere of influence), treat Russia like the virtuous superpower it wishes it were (except for the virtue part), and we can resume our path to the democratic dream of Russia that intoxicated Clinton administration foreign policy makers more severely than any of the anti-freeze that had the President’s buddy Boris Yeltsin on his ass half the time.

Of course, in the Kremlin, like elsewhere in the world, they are viewing this slightly differently. They see an administration tending to a fire at home and eager to heal the wounds of the Bush years and they are calculating that it will be soft, pliable, and easier to negotiate with than anyone Elliot Spitzer was seeing at the Mayflower.

In Teheran, in Damascus, in Havana, in Pyongyang, and around the world leaders are thinking, never has the United States been in such a position — one where concessions will look like diplomacy and play on Main Street U.S.A. better than have in years. Joe Biden was right, Obama will be tested.

Some of the tests — Russia’s move in Kyrgyzstan (which has the Chinese very unhappy too as they had wanted to avoid seeing the “great game” between them, Russia and the muslim world creep deeper in Central Asia), North Korea’s missile maneuvers, the Iranian provocations that accompany their sporadic “let’s make nice” vibe — will be of the saber rattling variety. But some will be subtler and will actually appear to the naked eye like the United States is making progress, achieving our goals of a better functioning international system while all it is really doing is strengthening potential adversaries or rivals.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for healing the multiple wounds (self-inflicted and otherwise) of the Bush era. I also think we should seek to find common ground where it exists. But it’s worth remembering that just because we have restored the character of American leadership doesn’t mean we have changed the character of everyone else’s leadership. Trust me on this, Putin is a bad guy. He can be charming, and as Bush said, he has those romantic deep blue eyes (although personally, I wish he would keep his shirt on in photos), but he will accept what he is given right up until he feels he has to take what he wants.

I understand Russia has deep financial, social, demographic, environmental and almost every other sort of problems. I understand that can make them appear more inclined to concessions. I understand that much good has happened in Russia in the past decade and a half. But, Georgia, the Ukraine energy stand-off, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, their stance with regard to Iran and a host of other instances underscore that they believe that within certain geographic boundaries they should be allowed to set the rules and that is in no one’s interest. (And given the recent ugly bromance that has popped up between the narcissism twins, Vlad and Hugo, we can calculate those geographic boundaries may expand in ways that would have offended even James Monroe.) We’ve seen that movie before and they need to know that not only won’t we tolerate it, but that we will do everything within reason to stop it…including pushing them away from the head table of nations.

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images

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