The Weekly Standard
For decades during the Cold War, U.S. policy sought to minimize the role of Moscow in the Middle East. As the Soviet Union weakened dramatically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so too did its capacity to influence events there (and many other places besides). So matters have stood since. A pretty good question, then, is why on earth the Obama administration seems to be inviting a Russian resurgence in the Middle East.
The first-term Obama initiative to “reset” relations with Russia was probably worth a try. If a dose of conspicuous American respect could lead to progress with Russia on matters of mutual interest, all to the good. And indeed, the policy arguably bore certain limited fruit: an agreement that further reduces nuclear stockpiles (though not one without its critics); cooperation over Afghanistan; restraint in terms of Russian cooperation with Iran (specifically, Russia’s support for sanctions and its nondelivery of the advanced S-300 air defense system Tehran sought in order to complicate military options against its nuclear programs); an abstention on the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from the last gasp of Muammar Qaddafi’s effort to stay in power.
But Vladimir Putin’s Russia never really responded to the reset by opting for a constructive role in international politics. Since Putin emerged at the top of the post-Soviet political heap, Russian foreign policy, such as it is, has mainly seemed to be driven by a combined sense of nostalgia, grievance, and resentment—Russia with a chip on its shoulder over the loss of an empire and the supposed abuse inflicted upon it by the United States in its period of weakness.
Putin’s autocratic tendencies are of a piece with his posturing on behalf of a strong Russia. Has there ever been a world leader who so likes to be photographed bare-chested? Yet he has always seemed a little too insistent in delivering his message that Russia is back. Continue reading