Hillary Clinton was in Russia this week, hoping to "reset" relations
with the Russians which, she said, had been damaged by the policies of
George W. Bush.
As a token of the Obama administration's intentions, Ms. Clinton
presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a large, red
"reset" button when they met in Geneva in March.
But instead of the Russian word for "reset" (perezagruzka), Ms. Clinton
used on her mock button the word "peregruzka," which means
"overcharged." The Russian press had a field day.
That gaffe was a harbinger of things to come.
Ms. Clinton had hoped during her visit to meet with the real power in
Russian politics, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He thought a trip to
Siberia and China was more important than spending time with the
American secretary of state.
But Mr. Putin wasn't too busy to pull the rug out from under the sole
Obama administration foreign policy "triumph" to date.
In September President Obama unilaterally abrograted missile defense
treaties with Poland and the Czech Republic in order to appease Russia.
Conservatives myself emphatically among them denounced both this
betrayal of our allies, and that this enormous concession had been made,
apparently, without a quid pro quo.
But at the opening of the UN General Assembly Sept. 23, the New York
Times reported Mr. Obama had wrung "a concession from Russia to consider
tough new sanctions against Iran."
"With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, (Russian President
Dmitri) Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be
amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against
Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for
(October) failed to make progress," said reporters Helene Cooper and
"White House officials could barely hide their glee," Ms. Cooper and Mr.
Sanger said. "Privately, several administration officials did
acknowledge that missile defense might have had something to do with
Moscow's newfound verbal cooperation on the Iran sanctions issue."
As expected, the Iranians offered no concessions on their nuclear
program at their meeting Oct. 1 with the P5+1 (the five permanent
members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany).
But in Beijing Wednesday, Mr. Putin said sanctions on Iran were
"premature," and could be "counterproductive."
"There is no need to frighten the Iranians," Mr. Putin said. "We need
to look for a compromise."
"Putin's supposed concern for Iranian fearfulness a quality they have
not manifested in six years of openly developing nuclear weapons is
really a veiled way of ridiculing the naivete' of U.S. officials in a
fashion that Putin is sure they will not understand," said David Satter,
a Russian expert with the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
The day before, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Ms. Clinton
to her face that Russia was taking back its apparent pledge to support
"At the current stage," all forces should be thrown at supporting the
negotiating process," Mr. Lavrov said. "Threats, sanctions, and threats
of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be
So the Obama administration did sell out our allies in Poland and the
Czech Republic for nothing. And now they look like yutzes for doing it.
"This episode captures Obama's approach to international affairs and
underscores its dangers," wrote Peter Wehner. "The president is weak
and flaccid when it comes to our adversaries, and unreliable and
unsteady when it comes to our allies. America's enemies don't respect
us, and our allies increasingly don't trust us."
Mr. Wehner was a speechwriter for President Bush, and could be expected
to be critical. But New Republic Editor Martin Peretz was one of Mr.
Obama's most prominent supporters.
"Mr. Obama hasn't reset the relationship with Russia," Mr. Peretz said.
"He was taken for a ride. Maybe his vanity won't let him admit it. But
believe me, the Russians know they have taken him (and us) for a big
"Unilateral concessions by Americans and the absence of criticism (of
Russian duplicity) will be treated by the Russians as a sign of weakness
and an invitation to new adventures at the expense of persons they do
not respect," Mr. Satter warned.