Friday, September 21, 2012

The Sunset of the Reset

The news this week that Russia was booting USAID -- the U.S. government's international development arm -- out of the country confirms something I wrote about earlier this month: President Obama's much-hyped reset with Moscow is over.

That's not the same thing as saying the reset was a failure, the election year argument that Republicans have been making. Those claims overlook some very substantial diplomatic and security gains the Obama administration made vis-a-vis Russia between 2009 and 2011 -- the New START bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty, the 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran, the agreement that secured transit routes out of Afghanistan, to name the most prominent.

It's simply that, with Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency, shifting domestic politics in both countries and the rise of new conflicts like Syria, that feel-good phase of bilateral relations has run its course, gone the way of President Medvedev. In it's place is a new, more confrontational era in the U.S.-Russia relationship, but not one that promises to be entirely bereft of cooperation. Afghanistan, Iran even Asia are regions where Washington and Moscow have incentives to work together.

Sen. Dick Lugar, who has a decades-long perspective on the bilateral relationship, acknowledged that both countries seemed inclined to continue "kicking each other in the shins" these days. "The problem is, if there is too much kicking in the shins and so forth, people become unhappy with each other." For both our countries sake, he said, "we better move past that."