THE RICH LOWRY COLUMN
By Rich Lowry
One would think Barack Obama would have learned something about the limits of his personal charm at the G-20 summit in London. Even with the hated George W. Bush back in Texas, the anarchists still rage in the streets, the French and Germans still hate “Anglo-Saxon-style” capitalism, and the nations of the world still won’t take dictation — on the need for a coordinated, global stimulus — from Washington.
But Obama’s faith that his fresh attitude — more flexible and thoughtful — will in itself open new international vistas is unshaken. It’s on that basis that he hit “reset” with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev at the London meeting, in a joint statement touted by the international press as one of the summit’s few accomplishments.
Obama and Medvedev agreed to negotiate a new arms-control treaty and work together on a host of initiatives from the Afghan War to the Iranian nuclear program. Medvedev — and his master, Vladimir Putin — must be delighted enough to consider sanctioning the beating of yet another meddlesome journalist in celebration.
“(The meeting) brought Russia a shot of prestige, upbeat headlines about nuclear-arms cuts and a powerful signal that Moscow has the ear of the new U.S. president,” The Associated Press wrote. “The price tag for Russia so far: virtually zero.” Medvedev likes that price point.
The Russians revel in this. It makes them feel important and puts the focus on nuclear warheads, their last truly impressive measure of national power. It might be worth indulging the Russians in endless arms-control talk — in fact, it’s a perfect assignment for Vice President Joe Biden — if it were part of a broader strategic scheme from which the U.S. would benefit. Instead, the arms-control process will likely become an end in itself.
The Obama administration wants to win Russian cooperation in squeezing the Iranian nuclear program. To this end, its chief bargaining chip is the proposed U.S. missile-defense site in Poland. The Russians pretend that this site — designed to defend against a threat emanating from Iran — will neutralize Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. How 10 interceptors can work this magic against 2,800 warheads is never explained.
The Russians can surely get Obama to ditch missile defense in exchange for a more cooperative-sounding version of the same double game they’ve been playing on Iran. They can cite their votes for Security Council resolutions sanctioning Iran — once they’ve been watered down to meaninglessness. At the same time they continue to build Iran’s reactor at Bushehr and provide the regime sophisticated conventional arms, including air defenses.
It’s foolish to think the Russians behave this way out of pique at George W. Bush. The Russians have a geo-political goal of establishing dominance again in as much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia as possible, and will do whatever necessary to achieve it — from cutting off fuel to Ukraine, to invading Georgia, to getting us kicked out of our air base in Kyrgyzstan. They view us as a rival power to be frustrated, and therefore our enemy Iran is — if not their friend — their useful foil.
Barack Obama didn’t claim to see Medvedev’s soul, but demonstrates his own form of naivete.
(Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)
© 2009 by King Features Synd., Inc.