One of the great ironies of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record is the extent to which Washington started 2009 with designs on normalizing frosty relations with Russia and started 2015 with the worst US-Russo dynamic since the Cold War.
To be sure, not all of that was Washington’s fault - but most of it was.
Of course the international community probably should have curbed its enthusiasm early on, given that the entire effort got off to a rather inauspicious start when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Sergei Lavrov with a big red button that was supposed to say “reset” (a nod to the “resetting” of relations between Washington and Moscow) but which actually said “overcharged” in Russian.
Six years, one annexed Crimea, a raft of economic sanctions, and one Ukrainian civil war later, and we’re back to Soviet-era politics.
Part and parcel of Washington’s PR and foreign policy strategy over the last three or so years has been to perpetuate the idea that Vladimir Putin is “isolated” on the world stage. This, along with subtle reminders in the media and on the silver screen that America needs to preserve a healthy bit of Russophobia if it is to be safe, has worked domestically, but not internationally.
Russia has strengthened ties with China, kicked off the BRICs bank, cemented an alliance with Iran (another “isolated” state), and worked to de-dollarize everything from oil markets to cross-border financial transactions.
Moscow’s dramatic entry into the Syrian conflict and Russia's common sense approach to ending the years-long affair has resonated with the likes of France and everyone else who understands that the way to fight terror is to kill the terrorists, not arm them.
Indeed, The Kremlin’s successful attempt to wake the world up to the fact that Washington and its regional allies are actually exacerbating the war in Syria by arming rebel groups with questionable motives has gone a long way towards forcing the international community to rethink who the “good” superpower really is.
Now, in what may be the best evidence yet that the “Putin is isolated” meme is officially dead, none other than US ally Japan is ready to “bring Putin in from the cold.”
“Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is pressing for President Vladimir Putin to be brought in from the cold, saying Russian help is crucial to tackling multiple crises in the Middle East,” FT writes, adding that “Mr Abe said he was willing to go to Moscow as this year’s chair of the Group of Seven advanced economies, or to invite the Russian president to Tokyo.” Here’s more:
Pointing to tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the war in Syria, and the threat of radical Islamism, Mr Abe said: “We need the constructive engagement of Russia.”
The former G8 excluded Russia following its annexation of Crimea and military support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. But while Japan has joined in sweeping economic sanctions, Mr Abe made clear he wants to work with Mr Putin.
“As chair of the G7, I need to seek solutions regarding the stability of the region as well as the whole world,” he said, noting Japan’s ongoing territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands. “I believe appropriate dialogue with Russia, appropriate dialogue with president Putin is very important.”
As the only Asian nation in the club of rich democracies, Japan prizes its G7 membership, and Mr Abe is determined to make the most of the Ise-Shima summit he will host in May.
This is the kind of talk that will get you blacklisted in Washington and we wonder how long it will be before Abe gets a courtesy call from the Obama to remind Tokyo of the grave "threat" Putin poses to global peace and security.
Or maybe The White House will take a step back and ponder whether decades of foreign policy blunders combined with a misplaced (and highly off-putting) sense of exceptionalism have now left America as the "isolated" superpower.