The U.S. move to boost NATO forces in Eastern Europe is another black mark on President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy.  The decision to strengthen NATO’s bulwark against further Russian adventurism is sound in itself, but it further exposes the 2009 Russia Reset as a naive, amateurish blunder.  The cost for the mistake – a mistake many recognized and warned against at the time – is still being reckoned on battlefields in Eastern Ukraine.

President Obama entered office determined to distance himself from U.S. foreign policy that made no sense to his ideological view.  Among the anachronisms he identified was the tense U.S.-Russia relationship.  Relations with Russia degraded through President Bush’s second term, and than cratered when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and President Bush responded by deploying U.S. warships to the Black Sea and airlifting Georgian troops home from Afghanistan.

Two months after taking office, Obama dispatched his newly-appointed Secretary of State – Hillary Clinton – to reset relations with Russia.  In March, 2009, Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, and gave him a big, red, plastic button with the Russian word “peregruzka” on it.  Clinton thought it meant “reset;” it actually meant “overcharge.”

During those talks, Clinton conveyed the Obama Administration’s “flexibility” on President Bush’s plan to build missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe.  Poland and the Czech Republic were emblematic of New Europe’s move to the West, and Russia vehemently opposed their participation in U.S. and NATO missile defense as further eroding its sphere of influence.  Pushing NATO back and prying old dependents away from the U.S. remains a Russian priority.

So it was that, to cement the reset, the U.S. cancelled the planned missile defense deployment to Poland and the Czech Republic in August, 2009.  The Wall Street Journal warned Russia would demand and expect ever more:

next time, perhaps, the West can be seduced into trading away the pro-Western government of Georgia, or even Ukraine. . . [I]nclusion in NATO and EU was supposed to have [ended great power use of Eastern and Central Europe as bargaining chips], but Russia’s new assertiveness, including its willingness to cut off energy supplies in winter and invade Georgia last year, is reviving powerful fears.

Nile Gardiner and Sally McNamare of the Heritage Foundation added:

This shift in U.S. policy is intricately linked to a naïve deal struck between Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow last July, when the two leaders established a framework to reduce their countries’ respective nuclear stockpiles by a third over the next seven years. The deal, expected to be concluded in December, also significantly cuts both sides’ nuclear delivery systems, such as long-range bombers, thereby leveling the playing field for Russia (the U.S. currently has superiority in this area).

Russia favors the agreement as its strategic conventional weapons capability remains weak, and the technological ability to rejuvenate its nuclear weapons arsenal is limited.

Obama has made progress toward a “nuclear free world” a priority of his presidency and is clearly willing to sacrifice U.S. interests, as well as those of its allies in Europe, on the altar of political vanity. Moscow has made it abundantly clear that any steps toward nuclear disarmament have to involve the abandonment of missile defense installations in Central Europe–what Russia considers its own backyard–including former Soviet satellites that are now members of NATO and the European Union. Russia has, however, expressed interest in basing missile defense sites in Azerbaijan (Gabala radar station) and in the south of the Russian Federation, closer to the Iranian border.

Sacrificing Poland and the Czech Republic in the name of ephemeral Russian gratitude was an obvious blunder, appeasement of the worst kind.

Russian behavior has been predictably aggressive.  Military spending is up and last week a RAND Corporation report concluded a Russian move into the Baltics would quickly overwhelm NATO forces.  Russia has violated treaty obligations limiting missile and nuclear testing, literally murdered domestic dissent, and is bombing U.S. allies instead of ISIS in Syria.  More important, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and is still waging war in East Ukraine.

Seven years too late, President Obama has apparently realized that Russia needs to be countered, not coddled.  Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last week that the President is seeking to increase spending in Eastern Europe to $3.4 billion for a European Reassurance Initiative.  The name alone is revealing – America’s Eastern European allies need reassurance.

It also sends a powerful message about deterrence, deterring Russia from further aggression from what it started two years ago when it annexed Crimea.

– Lt. General Ben Hodges, the commanding General of U.S. Army Europe

 

Dov Zakheim at the National Interest wrote:

It has taken Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its invasion of Ukraine and its violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force Treaty; China’s aggressive policies in the East and South China Seas; the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its spread throughout the Muslim world, from North Africa, to Nigeria, to Southeast Asia, to force Obama and his close circle of advisors to concede that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the Department of Defense’s senior military officers have been justified in calling for a much more robust, and costly, American defense posture. Accordingly, the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, like Carter’s FY 1980 budget—the last to be fully under the control of the incumbent president—marks a significant reversal from its predecessors.

President Obama only needs to reassure allies now because he and Hillary Clinton abandoned them in 2009, and for too many it is too late.  Putin and other U.S. antagonists will no doubt note that the U.S. reengages only years after its allies are invaded, and only to prevent additional aggression.  Even now there is no substantive U.S. effort to help Ukraine defeat the Russian incursion, let alone retake Crimea.

And there is still no sense from the Administration that they realize the reset was a mistake from the outset, or recognition that these latest moves can only, at best, slow the bleeding.  Zakheim added:

The administration has backtracked on other aspects of its original budget-cutting plans. Not only has it redeployed forces to Iraq, and delayed its withdrawal of “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan, it has also deployed small numbers of special operators to Syria, with the likelihood of more to come. Special forces have even been reported to be operating in Libya, a marked change from the administration’s “lead from behind” policy that the White House articulated as it precipitated the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

This is Obama’s foreign policy legacy.  Ideologically-driven American retreat from the world stage, a surge in aggression by anti-American and anti-Western forces, alienated allies and empowered enemies.