President Obama and other high-ranking members of his Administration never fail to remind us of all the things George Bush did that didn’t turn out so well, especially in the area of foreign affairs. Unfortunately, President Obama neglected to include 43’s naïve attempt to “reset” American/Russian relations in his litany of Bush’s failed policies. The reader may recall that when Secretary of State Clinton, greeted Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, she presented him with a red plastic button emblazoned with the English word “RESET” and the Russian word “peregruzka,” which she (incorrectly) thought meant the same thing. Thus, the Obama Administration promised to “press the RESET button” on our relations with Russia as if it was like pressing the ‘Easy” button in a Staples store. That lame bit of geo-political theater reminded us of Bush’s earlier “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Really?
So, let’s take stock of where all of this RESET button pushing has gotten us.
Against the wishes of Washington, and personal face‑to‑face appeals from Netanyahu to Putin, the Russians are in the process of supplying Syria with S‑300 Surface to Air Missiles. Last week there was a report (apparently erroneous) that the Russians canceled the missile sale, and it would be a good thing if it were true, but Israel says it isn’t true and continues to believe that the missile sale is going forward. Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia not to provide Syria with long-range surface to air missiles, saying it would jeopardize any attempt to hold peace talks.
These missiles are people‑killers and ship‑killers. They fly at 2.5 times the speed of sound, their range is 300 kilometers, and they are virtually undetectable. Russia has, for the first time in decades, moved a considerable number of warships, as many as 50, with destroyers, landing craft, troop carriers, nuclear submarines and other assorted support vessels of their Pacific Fleet to the Mediterranean. This certainly is not just a holiday cruise. This is for real. This is the Russian President telling Obama and Secretaries Kerry and Clinton to take a hike, that the RESET button is nothing like Obama and Ms. Clinton surmised (and Bush 43, for that matter), and that Russia’s RESET button has reset Russia’s dormant quest for renewed super-power status, and it is here where the Russians intend to make their play.
This is a particularly ominous development for Israel, given Russia’s historical disdain for Israel and Jews.
Keep in mind, that because of three massive natural gas finds in Israeli territorial waters, containing a combined conservative estimated volume of more than one trillion cubic meters, Israel has virtually, overnight, become one of Russia’s single largest energy competitors.
Also, if other exploration estimates are true, Israel in partnership with Canadian exploration companies, may have discovered as much as 250 billion barrels of shale oil in the Negev Desert, making Israel the third largest oil reserve country on the planet.
So after playing the RESET button game and the provocative behavior described above, the Russian President has accused the United States of living beyond its means “like a parasite” on the global world economy and said dollar dominance was a threat to the financial markets.
The Russians hold a large amount of U.S. bonds and treasuries. “If there is systemic malfunction, this will affect everyone,” Putin told the Russian people.
Then there was the RESET button President Obama pushed in the Middle East. In fact, it was the very first RESET button he pushed on his very first day in office, in his inaugural address, actually.
The RESET button doesn’t seem to have reset anything at all in that troubled part of the world. Our efforts could have been better spent working feverishly to determine with which of the factions fighting to overthrow Secretary of State Kerry’s recent confidante Bashar Assad, we might ally. Perhaps we could have armed those more sectarian rebels begging America for support, and made allies out of them. This war is very dangerous to the United States. Its spillover effect on Turkey is of extreme importance, both to Turkey and the U.S. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, recently said in an op‑ed piece in The Washington Post:
“Given such seismic activity, it is easy to overlook the most explosive development of all. For the Iranian regime, the situation in the Middle East is a convenient distraction. As world leaders deliberate whether and how to intervene in Syria, how to grapple with Iraq, how to shore up Jordan and Turkey, and how to engage the Russians, the Iranian nuclear program advances unchecked.
While the Middle East roils, the Iranians have amassed some 182 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level easily enhanced to weapons grade. This stockpile stops short of the red line drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Iranians are quietly preparing to cross it.”
The conference on Syria the United States and Russia are planning to convene is planned for early June. We doubt that it will take place, and have no doubt that if it does, it will fail. Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said that it is the United States’ hope to change Mr. Assad’s calculations about his ability to hold on to power, and to, thereby, end the conflict through negotiations. Is he really that naive?
Mr. Kerry said he had raised the issue of Russian arms deliveries to Syria during his recent visit to Moscow, but he has, understandably, declined to provide details. “I think we made it crystal clear,” he said, “that we would prefer that Russia not supply assistance.” We’ll soon know just how persuasive those crystal clear preferences were.
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, “Russia is offering cover to a despotic ruler and defending a bankrupt regime.”
The long and the short of it is that Mr. Putin yearns for a return to the days of the Soviet Union. He seeks to dominate the Ukraine, he seeks to dominate Georgia, and he, no doubt, would like to restore the Soviet (now Russian) dominance over Poland and Czechoslovakia. As we mentioned above, Russia, notwithstanding the pushed RESET button, has continued its opposition to a U.S. missile shield in Europe, having proposed to former President George W. Bush a counterproposal of sharing the use of the Soviet‑era radar system in Azerbaijan rather than building a new system in the Czech Republic.
If we are to avoid the outbreak of a major war in the Middle East in which the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, and all of the other rejectionist sects are drawn in, we had better focus on our options to act before we find ourselves bereft of options.
Henry Kissinger once warned of the dangers the world would face when a new generation of leaders emerged who lacked historical memory when dealing with the wide array of issues and tensions that have deep historical roots. President Obama sometimes seems eager to make a prophet of Kissinger.
In April 2009 in Strasbourg France, Mr. Obama said: “There have been times where America has shown arrogance, and been dismissive, even derisive” to the rest of the world. He might have taken the opportunity during his various swoon soirees to Europe to mention that the fields and cities of France and other European countries have been bathed in American blood, not just once, but twice, to rescue the people of France and the rest of Europe from tyranny.
Then there was the April 2009 RESET when he spoke to the Turkish Parliament and compared the plight of the Palestinian people to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. And he extolled the great gifts and contributions Islam has made to the United States of America. Huh?
In June 2009, Mr. Obama pushed that really big RESET button at the University of Cairo, extolling the virtues of Islam to the Arab World, and how ready the people of Egypt were to seize the reins of Democracy. We all know how well that RESET worked out.
In September 2009, Mr. Obama cancelled the Defensive Missile Shield Treaty America had promised the Czech and Polish governments after they both stuck their necks out to agree to it, leaving them high and dry, because he wanted Hillary Clinton “to press that Russian/American RESET button.”
In the spring of 2011, Mr. Obama told Israel “that if there is ever going to be peace in the Middle East, Israel will have to return to its pre‑1967 borders with some minor “land swaps”. The problem is, there were no pre‑1967 borders. That was simply where the fighting stopped in 1949 following the Arab invasion to kill the new State of Israel. President Obama seemed ignorant of UN Resolution 242 that declared all the Demarcation Lines as “disputed boundaries” to be negotiated at a future date. The territory Israel held following the 1967 Six‑Day pre-emptive war would, by all normal conventions, remain with the victor until the disputed borders were resolved through peace negotiations, had the victor been any country other than the Jewish State of Israel.
Let us all remember that the Palestinians were once Jews as well as Arabs, and that when a country called Palestine was proposed by the UN to exist along side a country called Israel, the surrounding Arab nations totally rejected the idea. There previously had never been a country called Palestine. Even Yasser Arafat, the Father of the so‑called Palestinian people was, of all things, an Egyptian. And if one really wants to find so‑called Palestinians, look in Jordan (a nation created out of whole cloth by Britain), where about three quarters of the population, consider themselves to be Palestinian.
Whether by indecision, incompetence, or hubris, Obama’s management of developments in the Middle East has been woefully inept. And because of his and Hillary Clinton’s naive wishful thinking or gullibility when it comes to the Russians, the Obama Administration has produced a new Russian muscularity on the world stage.
If Bashar al‑Assad’s government survives, the Russian port base of Tartus will become a menacing Mediterranean stronghold for Russia’s ever-growing presence in the region. The very sad reality is that nothing, absolutely nothing, has been reset.