What Does “Reset” Mean?

Anne Applebaum makes a solid point in the Washington Post this morning:

Any president can legitimately call for a fresh start in his relations with the world, and none more so than this president, who replaces an unpopular predecessor. Sooner or later, however, Barack Obama will also have to make hard decisions about regimes that oppose U.S. policy for reasons deeper than dislike of George W. Bush. If Russia persists in its occupation of Georgia, do we accept it? If Russia uses its energy policy to blackmail Europe, do we go along with that, too?

The rest of the world is no different. It’s a fine thing to open diplomatic relations with Iran or Syria — I’ve always thought it extremely stupid that we have no embassy, and thus no resident intelligence officer, in Tehran — as long as we remember that talking itself is not a solution: Sometimes more “dialogue” reveals deeper differences. It’s also a fine thing for the president to issue greetings on the occasion of the Persian new year, but that might not dampen the popularity of Iran’s nuclear program among both adherents and opponents of its current government. What then?

I’ve been critical of the notion of a “reset” in U. S.-Russian relations, largely because I think the metaphor is extraordinarily inapt. We have no default position with respect to Russia. You can’t return to a nonexistent initial state.

I’m not antithetical to the Obama Administration. However, I would like to know the answers to some of Anne Applebaum’s questions. I know what “peregruzka” means. It isn’t “reset”. What does “reset” mean?

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Russian for BOHICA

  2. Dantheman says:

    James,

    “this president, who replaces an unpopular predecessor.”

    These words of Ms. Applebaum’s go to the heart of her confusion, as they conceal more than they reveal. The prior Administration was more than merely unpopular — he made statements and took actions. Some of them (e.g., “Axis of Evil” with Iran, determination to place anti-missile defenses in Europe with Russia) led to reactions of the sorts she is condemning.

    By phrasing it as if the countries took actions merely because they disliked GWB, rather than because they felt the need to react to the explicit or implicit threats contained in his statements and policies, her comments suggest that they are irrational actors. I interpret “reset” as suggesting that both sides move back to where they were prior to the Bush Administration’s actions, and move forward from there.

  3. Jim Henley says:

    Applebaum’s questions are asinine. Fareed Zakaria has recently explained why.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Jim,

    I presume you’re talking about this March 15 PostGlobal piece, which ends,

    The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and
    negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own. The only way to deal with them is by issuing a
    series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

    I’m 100 percent in agreement with that but still think Applebaum’s point is valid. Yes, reaching out is good. But the conflict is ultimately over policy, not style.

    To combine Zakaria’s and Applebaum’s points, the real question is Will Obama end America’s imperial ambitions? My strong guess is No.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Jim, just for the record had it been left to me I wouldn’t have invaded either Iraq or Afghanistan. I’d also have removed our forces from Europe, South Korea, and Okinawa.

    However, specifically with respect to the relationship with Russia what would a “reset” constitute? We’ve only dealt with a Russia distinct from the Soviet Union for the last twenty years. I objected strongly to the Clinton Administration’s policy WRT Russia and, indeed, thought that George W. Bush’s policy in that regard was mostly a continuation of the previous administration’s policy.

  6. Floyd says:

    Through this last election, America has chosen to be led into third world style weakness and poverty.
    If we can’t stare down Mexico or Venezuela, how can we be expected to stand up to big, bad,& broken Russia?
    A country who can’t hold it’s head up on the world stage certainly can’t be expected to STAND for anything.

  7. Triumph says:

    We have no default position with respect to Russia. You can’t return to a nonexistent initial state.

    Give me a break, Shue. You might want to take a look at Bolkhovitinov’s “Russia and the The Amerian Revolution.”

    It is the definitive work on early US-Russian relations. The Russians were strong allies during the Revolutionary War, being a major signatory of the first League of Armed Neutrality.

    Guys like Nikolay Novikov–who was instrumental in writing the nakaz–were huge supporters of the Revolution.

    So, yes, there is a “default” position: it is one based on shared Enlightenment values, something that Bush threw out the window during his reign.

  8. Jim Henley says:

    Dave and James: I get what you’re saying – at some point you have to have an actual policy one way or the other, and advocate for it. My concern is that, based on the history of her columns, Applebaum is essentially Floyd with a proclivity for dependent clauses – someone who can’t get outside the dominance/submission paradigm, with an outlandish conception of national entitlement. Just the very way she construes Russian decisions on adjusting pricing on a resource they own as “blackmailing Europe” kind of gives the game away.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Just the very way she construes Russian decisions on adjusting pricing on a resource they own as “blackmailing Europe” kind of gives the game away.

    Of course, European leaders characterized it in precisely the same way. They’ve used the same language against Turkey, too.

  10. Jim Henley says:

    Of course. Almost any time a resource-holder charges more than a resource-consumer wants to pay the resource consumer will describe the seller’s pricing as extortionary. I notice, reading the first link, that Russia said the problem was the Ukraine owed them a bunch of money. Ukraine says, “Dude, don’t you remember? We totally paid you!” As a professional Russophobe Applebaum is absolutely sure she knows where the right lies and that the US has standing to somehow enforce her view of things. THAT’S the problem.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Triumph:

    Thanks for the reference. It will be interesting. I was unaware of it since it’s after my time of serious scholarship.

    But on the other hand, please, don’t be absurd. Are you seriously claiming that Novikov has intellectual descendants with relevance in today’s Russia? And that they’re included in the current leadership? I look forward to your proof. It’s a romantic notion but it makes no more sense than creating a France policy that relies on appeals to royalist sentiments. What’s the default position WRT to today’s Russia, not that of 200 years ago?

  12. Jim Henley says:

    What’s the default position WRT to today’s Russia, not that of 200 years ago?

    Keep fvcking with it and then act hurt and offended when Russia eventually pushes back? I mean, sixteen years and counting is remarkable continuity for American policy on anything.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    As I noted above, Jim, I thought that was a lousy policy under Clinton and I think it’s a lousy policy now.

  14. Jim Henley says:

    But at least it’s an ethos!

  15. Matthew Stinson says:

    I reject the whole “Reset Button” talking point on the grounds that it blames the decline in US-Russian relations on Bush and, furthermore, that it suggests the current anti-US/anti-Western posture of Moscow can be transformed with better diplomacy on America’s part. Naive partisan scapegoating shows a failure to grasp the situation at hand.

    Clinton lost Russia towards the end of his presidency with moves in the Balkans and expansion of NATO eastward that seemed to justify Eastern Orthodox distrust of Western Christendom. The media, which drove us into the Balkan conflicts, largely ignored the larger geopolitical implications of the wars with Serbia on the grounds that the US was “stopping genocide” while casting the Russians as “accessories” to the Serbian crimes. Moreover, by expanding NATO without defining a new role for NATO, Clinton left implicit the notion that the alliance exists primarily as an anti-Russian policy tool, and his overtures to embrace Russia through NATO could only be met with suspicion in the Kremlin.

    Bush, as Dave mentioned, more or less continued Clinton policies in the Balkans and NATO. Recognition of Kosovo was a bipartisan tragedy and energized the Russian drive to carve up pieces of Russia. But beyond that, Bush did try to reach out to Russia early on (“Pootie Poot” was his own Reset Button), but by then Russia had already stabilized its economy and autocratized its political system, and wasn’t prepared to cooperate. (One should not forget that Clinton and Yeltsin’s warmest moments were at a time when Russian power was at a historical low point.)

    In the end, liberal internationalists may like to pretend that the War on Terror and putting a missile shield on Russia’s western border are the chief causes of Russian bellicosity towards the US, but Russia didn’t irradiate half of London because of Star Wars, Jr. or shut off gas supplies to Europe because of the War in Iraq. The Obama team will have to face the facts that Russian goals are explicitly anti-American because that is how a great power behaves when it is sufficiently economically independent and culturally alienated from the system leader, when it resents insults both real and imagined, and when it can effectively wield resources to rebuild past spheres of influence in its near abroad in a manner that contradicts the longstanding American agenda of democracy-building, anti-proliferation, and energy stabilization in Europe and Central Asia. We cannot escape the fact that the Russian bear, once we stop poking it with sticks, is still a bear.

  16. Matthew Stinson says:

    Er, in the third graf it should be “the Russian drive to carve up pieces of Georgia.” It’s late.

  17. Bithead says:

    I reject the whole “Reset Button” talking point on the grounds that it blames the decline in US-Russian relations on Bush and, furthermore, that it suggests the current anti-US/anti-Western posture of Moscow can be transformed with better diplomacy on America’s part. Naive partisan scapegoating shows a failure to grasp the situation at hand.

    I’m with Matt on this one, all points.
    Ya know, someone brought this quote up on another topic, earlier today, and I wonder…

    Goodwin:

    He is the most radical President of our times, far outside the mainstream of our political philosophy.

    He is not a reformer who fixes things. He fancies himself “transformative,” a man who reshapes and reorders. It apparently begins with smashing the existing order under the pretext of managing the crisis he inherited.

    During the campaign, a fellow journalist confided that “I know Obama is a Manchurian candidate, I just can’t figure out what for.”

    I laughed then, but no more. Obama represents a secular religion that believes, no matter the malady, Washington is the antidote. More government is the chicken soup of his tribe.

    It would seem to describe the situation with Russia as well as anything. But as with Domestic policy, his actions are more often destructve than constructive. So much so, I teeter between this explaination and one that’s by far more sinister.

  18. All of the discussions concerning whether it was Bush or Clinton who lost Russia are predicated on the assumption that Russia was ours to lose to begin with. I do not believe this is even remotely true. As screwed up as Iraq was, and is, Russia was much, much worse as its institutions were more mature and even less amenable to “Western” ways.

    There is a Hellenistic concept of sins of the fathers being passed on to their sons that may be closer to the truth than anyone today wants to imagine, especialy those predicating their hopes for change on a Messianic politican.

  19. Triumph says:

    Are you seriously claiming that Novikov has intellectual descendants with relevance in today’s Russia? And that they’re included in the current leadership? I look forward to your proof. It’s a romantic notion but it makes no more sense than creating a France policy that relies on appeals to royalist sentiments. What’s the default position WRT to today’s Russia, not that of 200 years ago?

    Let’s remember that it is Hillzilla & B. Hussein who are pressing the “reset” button.

    I think it is more of an act of where they see the US and where they would like to see Russia meet the US in the next few years.

    Of course Putin–his soul notwithstanding–is an autocrat. But there certainly are reformers in the country. Much like during Novikov’s time when Russia was run by Catherine the Great–an Empress, for crissakes–there were numerous levels of pro-Western sentiment in official circles.

    I think Hilzilla’s message is to reformers in Russia–as well as to the current leadership. The message is: we adhere to Enlightenment values (unlike our previous President) and we hope to pursue them with your cooperation.

    Obama is a student of history (he’s read Team of Rivals, for instance). I am sure that he is trying to engage the latter-day Novikovs (like Kasparov, for instance) and tell them that America is they friend.

  20. Anderson says:

    I detest Applebaum, but the annoying thing in her column is pretty common to op-ed writers.

    as long as we remember that talking itself is not a solution

    Well, who the hell ever said it might be? A typical straw-man formulation of “x, provided that we remember that not-y,” where “y” = “magic pixie dust,” or “free lunches for everybody.”

    Absent a single example of ANYONE who’s ever said that talking to Iran, BY ITSELF, is a “solution” … Applebaum is just typing, not thinking.

  21. Bithead says:

    Well, who the hell ever said it might be?

    Biden, for one. “We want a diplomatic solution’ means they’ll accept none other and thereby, he’s saying it’s the solution.

    Trouble is, of course, it’s not. Nor, in the end, is it the path to a solution, as has been noted.

    Tell us, Anderson…What is Biden, and for that matter, the Democrats in general, what are YOU willing to negotiate away to mollify Iran? You, for example, are willing to let them have nukes, perhaps?

    Has such capitulation ever done anything but create more demands for capitulation?

  22. sam says:

    @Triumph

    So, yes, there is a “default” position: it is one based on shared Enlightenment values, something that Bush threw out the window during his reign.

    Who are you and what have you done with Triumph?

  23. sam says:

    Well, who the hell ever said it might be?

    Biden, for one. “We want a diplomatic solution'” means they’ll accept none other and thereby, he’s saying it’s the solution.

    Jesus, Bit, that’s pretty gross logic-scrambling, even for you. “We want a diplomatic solution” does not entail “we will accept no other kind of solution.” Aristotle up, cowboy.

  24. Dantheman says:

    Only Bithead could find an article entitled “Biden: U.S. will to talk to Iran, will act if necessary” and which contains within the first 3 paragraphs lines like: “U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday said that the U.S. is willing to talk with Iran, but will act to isolate and pressure Tehran if Iran continues its current course and does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.” and “However, the American vice president held out the option that the United States could take pre-emptive action against Iran if necessary to stop crisis before they start. “We are willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon your illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives,” he said.” to mean “”We want a diplomatic solution’ means they’ll accept none other and thereby, he’s saying it’s the solution.”

    Computing power is cheap. There’s no reason to keep your old 1-bit head — it clearly doesn’t have enough power for the uses you put it to.

  25. kb says:

    “Of course, European leaders characterized it in precisely the same way. ”

    Well the leader of one eastern european country who has been getting russian gas cheap describes the attempt by the russians to make them pay market prices as ‘blackmail’.

    Count me as unconvinced…….

  26. Floyd says:

    “Talk itself” could easily be more effective than a military threat,Just let Biden start talking….
    Khamenei & Ahmadinejad will either capitulate or commit suicide within the first few hours,Like a scene from the movie “Airplane”!!

  27. kb says:

    “They’ve used the same language against Turkey,”

    Oh and that european ‘leader’ (the german Minister for Economics and Technology ie a minor german political hack) resigned a few days after his comments.

    Not very convincing arguments about how europe regards the russians.

  28. Bithead says:

    Jesus, Bit, that’s pretty gross logic-scrambling, even for you. “We want a diplomatic solution” does not entail “we will accept no other kind of solution.”

    And…

    Only Bithead could find an article entitled “Biden: U.S. will to talk to Iran, will act if necessary” and which contains within the first 3 paragraphs lines like: “U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday said that the U.S. is willing to talk with Iran, but will act to isolate and pressure Tehran if Iran continues its current course and does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.”

    Apparently, neither one of you has been watching history, particularly when Democrats are running the foreign policy show. Does the name Jimmy Carter ring any bells with you two? Bill Clinton? The fact of the matter is that negotiation has been tried every time a Democrat is in the White House. It never works.

    As a matter of fact, I would suggest to you that Clinton attempting to negotiate with such, is precisely why we’re missing a couple of buildings in southern Manhattan right now.

  29. Dantheman says:

    Bithead,

    The equivalent to your mindreading would be the next time there is a Republican Administration, and it made similar noises like these, if someone would say “Well, they say they are going to talk, but what that really mean is that they are going to manipulate intelligence in order to launch a war on false pretenses to get several thousands of our soldiers killed.” I would no hesitation calling such person a loon. You clearly seem to think it is fine in the other direction.

  30. Bithead says:

    You DO have an active fantasy life, I’ll give you that much.

    Though, what the bleep that has to do with talking to the Iranians never causing peace previously, despite dseveral Dmeocrat tries, And a lack of sufficient military force involved upon the failure of negotiations, I’ve no idea.

    Avoid that central issue if you like; it’s a semi-free country for the moment. Just don’t figure on everyone not noticing.

  31. Dantheman says:

    “Though, what the bleep that has to do with talking to the Iranians never causing peace previously, despite dseveral Dmeocrat tries, And a lack of sufficient military force involved upon the failure of negotiations, I’ve no idea.”

    On the other hand, it has everything to do with you making up interpretations based upon a laughable reading of history and expecting the current Administration to act like your fantasy charactiture of prior ones of the same party. Since your argument comes down to putting words into Biden’s mouth based upon your one-bit mind (where the only bit of information which you seem to be able to process is “Democrats=TEH EVUL!”), then the person who needs to tone down the fantasy life is you.

  32. Bithead says:

    Since your argument comes down to putting words into Biden’s mouth based upon your one-bit mind (where the only bit of information which you seem to be able to process is “Democrats=TEH EVUL!”), then the person who needs to tone down the fantasy life is you.

    My reading comes both from his words and the history of his actions versus what he says, as well as a history of the Democrat party.

    The fact of the matter is, that this administration has, sadly, met all my expectations, and I thereby have no reason at all to think y reading on the matter is inaccurate.

    Of course, you’re welcome to make the attempt.

  33. Dantheman says:

    “My reading comes both from his words and the history of his actions versus what he says, as well as a history of the Democrat party.”

    This is laughable, as you’ve already had your butt handed to you on his actual words. All you have is your tortured view of history of past DemocratIC administrations, which neither Obama nor Biden were members of. Care to revise and extend your remarks?

  34. Bithead says:

    My butt handed me?
    As I say, you DO have an active fantasy life.

  35. Dantheman says:

    So when you said “”We want a diplomatic solution’ means they’ll accept none other and thereby, he’s saying it’s the solution.” above, you still think he actually said it? Even though I quoted what he actually said, which was the polar opposite of your interpretation. Yes, that’s having your butt handed to you.