Austin Bay

Is it reset or repeat?

This past week's rhetorical exchanges between Russia and the Republic of Georgia is a definite reminder that the complex political, historical and geographic issues at play in the Russo-Georgia War of August 2008 still plague both nations and affect Russia's relations throughout Europe.

Likewise, the "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations, touted by the Obama administration as a demonstrable change from Bush administration diplomacy, is, well, quite unsettled.

Take the U.S.-Russia "reset" first. The alleged "reset" of bilateral relations began last March with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's disastrous photo op, involving a large button that she and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were to push. The act would symbolize the Obama administration's new, enlightened diplomatic approach to Moscow. The button featured the Russian word for "reset."

Except it didn't. Pity the State Department translator who made the mistake; the Russian word really translated as "overload."

It became the prop that exploded, a bit like a trick cigar in a Three Stooges comedy, and deservedly so -- the entire "reset" pitch by Obama and Clinton was based on the false proposition that somehow the aggressive, knucklehead (fill-in the slur) Bush administration was at fault for coolish, semi-Cold War Washington-Moscow relations.

That was twaddle, repeated by a U.S. national press disinterested in real diplomatic history. Russia's war with Georgia was the primary coolant in Moscow's increasingly bad relations with the U.S. and Western Europe. Russian anger over Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia was another iceberg in the punch bowl. For at least six years, Russian diplomats had called Kosovo independence, without Serb consent, a "red line" issue that Moscow viewed as a fundamental interest. Secretary Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, had waged the 1999 Kosovo War, which set those conditions. The Bush administration largely stuck with President Clinton's Kosovo policy.

The Kremlin, however, viewed the "Kosovo Precedent" as a bad, United Nations-approved precedent for spinning off ethnic statelets throughout the world.

Defenders of the Obama administration’s "reset" ploy said that the new administration wanted to soothe Russian pride wounded by the loss of the Cold War and their Soviet-era empire as well as endemic economic woes. OK, but note both prior administrations (Clinton and Bush) at times curried favor with coos, calling Russia a partner in peace, a great state, etc.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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