Putin Had His Cake and Ate It Too, Thanks to Obama

Putin and Obama

When President Obama accuses President-elect Trump of not taking the Russian threat or our democratic allies seriously, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a very clever man, but he wasn’t internationally powerful until the United States gave him what he wanted during the Obama administration.

Obama and both of his Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry enabled and emboldened Russia, allowing Russia to bully eastern and central Europe, while harassing and threatening western Europe and NATO in ways that rival the Cold War, when Europe was divided into “spheres of influence.” Similarly in the Middle East, Russia achieved leverage and geopolitical advantage that it has not had in decades.

Let us count the ways Obama’s and Clinton’s policies benefitted Russia.

There was the “reset,” which offered weakened Russia influence and prestige. There was the unnecessarily generous START treaty, which Russia took as a sign that it could violate the terms of even that agreement with minimal consequences. There were our cuts in military spending and neglect of military modernization, which Russia savvily countered with increases in military spending and a robust military modernization program. There was our dismantling of missile defense plans in eastern Europe. We snubbed Ukraine, Georgia and other aspirants in their attempts to join NATO. There were our requests for Russia’s help in containing Iran’s nuclear program, which played right into Russian and Iranian hands.

Is it any wonder the Kremlin gloated about the gifts the benign Obama administration had bestowed? From Moscow, a reporter from The Daily Signal reported in September 2009, “A senior Russian official half-jokingly told me that the U.S. steps are ‘birthday presents for President Medvedev and President Putin’ … When I asked why President Obama needed to provide all these goodies while getting nothing in return, Lavrov and Putin said that they did not view US ‘reset’ measures as concessions. ‘They corrected mistakes that the Bush Administration made,’ said Lavrov.”

Indeed, Obama and Clinton treated democratic allies and organizations ungenerously, while treating enemies and oppressors generously. They offered to normalize relations with North Korea and Iran (and eventually Cuba). They sought a “strategic partnership” with China, and indicated willingness to overlook human rights for the sake of it. They reached out to the brutal dictator Syrian President Bashar Assad, going so far as to suggest he was a “reformer” and to recommend him as “intermediary” in the Middle East peace process. They responded with mute indifference to Assad’s unleashing of atrocities in response to a pro-democracy rebellion. That reclining position, combined with the precipitous withdrawal of forces from Iraq, created delicious opportunities for terrorists, Iran and Russia.

In Obama’s second term, he continued to cut defenses. The world’s worst dictators continued to be wooed. Traditional U.S. allies and partners continued to be marginalized. Russian aggression in Ukraine intensified. Especially telling were Kerry’s continuous “talks” with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov regarding Syria, which resulted in U.S. deferral to Russian “peace plans” that bought Assad time, often just when time was running out.

Most remember the plan Russia commandeered after Assad’s 2013 chemical weapons attack, which crossed Obama’s “red line.” Russia got the U.S. to refrain from striking Syria if its chemical weapons were removed and destroyed. This gave Obama the “out” he wanted and gave Assad another chance to annihilate the opposition. But there were many other U.S. and Russian plans, the worst being the most recent.

This September, the Obama administration astoundingly agreed to “cooperate militarily” with Russia “against ISIS” even though Russia and Syria routinely assaulted more mainstream rebels and civilians instead of the Islamic State, and Russia was clearly implicated in Assad’s atrocities.

This article was originally published at Washington Examiner on December 10, 2016. Read the full article here.