But maybe not gratuitous. Surely we got something in return for selling out our friends. Some brilliant secret trade-off to get strong Russian support for stopping Iran from going nuclear before it's too late? Just wait and see, said administration officials, who then gleefully played up an oblique statement by President Dmitry Medvedev a week later as vindication of the missile defense betrayal.
The Russian statement was so equivocal that such a claim seemed a ridiculous stretch at the time. Well, Clinton went to Moscow this week to nail down the deal. What did she get?
"Russia Not Budging On Iran Sanctions: Clinton Unable to Sway Counterpart." Such was The Washington Post headline's succinct summary of the debacle.
Note how thoroughly Clinton was rebuffed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" are "counterproductive." Note: It's not just sanctions that are worse than useless, but even the threat of mere pressure.
It gets worse. Having failed to get any movement from the Russians, Clinton herself moved -- to accommodate the Russian position! Sanctions? What sanctions? "We are not at that point yet," she averred. "That is not a conclusion we have reached ... it is our preference that Iran work with the international community."
But wait a minute. Didn't Obama say in July that Iran had to show compliance by the G-20 summit in late September? And when that deadline passed, did he not then warn Iran that it would face "sanctions that have bite" and that it would have to take "a new course or face consequences"?
Gone with the wind. It's the U.S. that's now retreating from its already flimsy position of just three weeks ago. We're not doing sanctions now, you see. We're back to engagement. Just as the Russians suggest.
Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.
No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naivete, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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