George Will

WASHINGTON -- America's "progressive" president has some peculiarly retro policies. Domestically, his reactionary liberalism is exemplified by his policy of No Auto Company Left Behind, with its intimated hope that depopulated Detroit, where cattle could graze, can somehow return to something like the 1950s. Abroad, he seems to yearn for the 1970s, when the Soviet Union was rampant and coping with it supposedly depended on arms control.

Actually, what was needed was not the chimera of arms control but Ronald Reagan's renewal of the arms race that helped break the Soviet regime. The stately minuet of arms negotiations helped sustain U.S. public support for the parallel weapons spending.

Significant arms agreements are generally impossible until they are unimportant. Significant agreements are those that substantially alter an adversarial dynamic between rival powers. But arms agreements never do. During the Cold War, for example, arms negotiations were another arena of great power competition rather than an amelioration of that competition.

The Soviet Union was a third-world nation with first-world missiles. It had, as Russia still has, an essentially hunter-gatherer economy, based on extraction industries -- oil, gas, minerals, furs. Other than vodka, for what manufactured good would you look to Russia? Caviar? It is extracted from the fish that manufacture it.

Today, in a world bristling with new threats, the president suggests addressing an old one -- Russia's nuclear arsenal. It remains potentially dangerous, particularly if a portion of it falls into nonstate hands. But what is the future of the backward and backsliding kleptocratic thugocracy that is Vladimir Putin's Russia?

Putin -- ignore the human Potemkin village (Dmitry Medvedev) who currently occupies the presidential office -- must be amazed and amused that America's president wants to treat Russia as a great power. Obama should instead study pertinent demographic trends.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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