Last May, the world was treated to an unprecedented spectacle. President Obama was meeting in Seoul, South Korea, with leaders of the G-8 (G-10? G-20?) He was caught on a live mic talking with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Mr. Obama wanted no disturbances in foreign policy to roil the waters. He wanted smooth sailing to re-election in November.President Obama: "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space."
Somehow, the Libyans in Benghazi missed the flexibility memo. But the Russians got the message loud and clear: The President of the United States wanted peace in our time.
The Russians have had four years to take the measure of this administration. President Obama’s one-time rival and possible successor, Hillary Clinton began our new relationship with Russia by meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She thought it would be clever to present the dour Russian diplomat with a red plastic button with the Russian word for “re-set” on it. You know, like Staples’ red button motto: “That was easy.”
Well, it wasn’t. Lavrov was not amused. “You got it wrong,” he said. Did she ever! State Department gnomes had used the wrong word for re-set. The Russian word they chose means “overcharge.” And they didn’t even use the Russians’ Cyrillic alphabet. If Dan Quayle had messed up like this the media would be hooting all the way to Saturday Night Live.
The British media, however, always delights in highlighting flatfooted missteps by clumsy Yanks. The BBC headlined their story “Button Gaffe Embarrasses Clinton.”
But the Beeb got their story wrong, too. Nothing embarrasses a Clinton. We have George Stephanopoulos’s word on that: “The Clintons have no shame; it’s a great advantage in politics.” So it has proved to be.
A year later, in 2010, President Obama was able to host Dmitri Medvedev for a “summit” at Ray’s Hell Burger, an Arlington joint the president likes. This was just days after the FBI had uncovered a large Russian spy ring. Ten agents were nabbed, not questioned, not even patted down, and given first class airfare home. Suddenly, it seemed, we were all back in the USSR.