Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rice pudding

Condoleezza Rice, a one-time Soviet expert and former Secretary of State, weighs in with her recommendations for handling Russia in the Post today.

She says: "Putin is playing for the long haul, cleverly exploiting every opening he sees. So must we, practicing strategic patience if he is to be stopped. Moscow is not immune from pressure."

Her only policy recommendation, however, is to restore American leadership, whatever that means.
Most important, the United States must restore its standing in the international community, which has been eroded by too many extended hands of friendship to our adversaries, sometimes at the expense of our friends. Continued inaction in Syria, which has strengthened Moscow’s hand in the Middle East, and signs that we are desperate for a nuclear agreement with Iran cannot be separated from Putin’s recent actions. Radically declining U.S. defense budgets signal that we no longer have the will or intention to sustain global order, as does talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan whether the security situation warrants it or not. We must not fail, as we did in Iraq, to leave behind a residual presence.
It's factually wrong to say U.S. defense budgets are "radically declining." The withdrawal from Iraq, of course, was based on an agreement signed by President Bush, and Afghanistan depends on agreement with the mercurial President Karzai. And while U.S. Syria policy has failed to achieve some of its goals, it's unclear what actions would be acceptable to Congress and effective.

Rice is trying to score political points rather than to propound a viable policy for dealing with Russia. "Leadership" requires followers -- and the Europeans for the most part lack the military capabilities that might frighten Putin. (Their defense budgets have been radically declining.) The Europeans also have economic vulnerabilities, including some to Russia itself, that hinders their cooperation.

The Post's diplomatic correspondent, Karen de Young, has an analysis that flatly contradicts Rice. It's not U.S. weakness, but American strength, that is bothering Putin.

Although some U.S. lawmakers have criticized Obama as appearing weak in the face of Russian aggression, U.S. officials believe that, if anything, Putin overestimates U.S. power.
In Putin’s worldview, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid inflaming an already volatile situation, the United States is responsible for engineering virtually every recent upheaval in the world, from the Arab Spring to revolution in Ukraine. And, despite Obama’s efforts to differentiate his own policies from those of his predecessors, Putin appears to see them as an unbroken continuum.

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