March 23, 2003

Who Lost Russia? Martin Indyk

Who Lost Russia?

Martin Indyk thinks Dubya did. He argues that failure to get Russia on board was the key variable that prevented the U.S. from getting a second UNSC resolution. (The latest "blame it on the bad diplomacy" argument, some earlier ones I addressed here.)

Indyk: "The failure lay not with the French but with the way we ignored the Russians. Remember Vladimir Putin? Up until last week, his alignment with the United States was the single greatest achievement of this president's personal diplomacy. Despite the Bush administration's trampling of Russian interests in abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Putin made a personal decision to forge a strategic partnership with the United States. On that basis, the Russian president was willing to abandon decades of Soviet and Russian support for Hussein. In the 1990s such an approach was inconceivable. The Yeltsin government, under the guidance of longtime Middle East hand Yevgeny Primakov, developed a strategic as well as commercial rationale for maintaining close ties with Baghdad. But after 9/11, Putin developed a very different strategic calculus -- that Russia's future lay in partnership with Washington, not Baghdad."

Indyk underestimates the continuing Primakov hangover effect on Iraq policy that colors the judgement of large swaths of the Russian foreign policy elite on matters related to Iraq. Putin, it is likely, communicated to Dubya that he would not be able to actively support a second resolution given a Soviet and then Russian policy that viewed Iraq as akin to a client state. All this said, however, particularly after the French dismissed the British bridging proposal out of hand, it is not inconceivable that the Russians would have abstained rather than vetoed a second resolution had it come to a vote. Regardless, however, this is less a failure of U.S. diplomacy than a reflection of special Russian realities that Putin had to navigate regarding Iraq policy.

Indyk goes on to write: "The Bush administration simply assumed that Putin was in the president's pocket and took him for granted. Even last week, when the president appeared to begin the effort to repair the damage in the Security Council, he chose to fete the president of Cameroon at a private White House dinner. Where was Putin? Left clamoring from the sidelines for the president's attention by personally criticizing our actions in Iraq."

Come again? From where does Indyk corroborate that Dubya assumed he had Putin in his pocket? The fact that the president of Cameroon had dinner at the White House has nothing to do with the conduct of our diplomacy with Russia over the past several months with the UNSC.

The most powerful argument regarding the shortcomings of American diplomacy since the entire U.N. process began on September 12th with Dubya's speech hasn't been widely aired yet. It is that we should have been more proactive about the potential for French trouble-making at the UNSC. In other words, we took Dominique de Villepin too much at his word that he would be willing to vote a second resolution if, per a good faith determination, a judgement were made that Saddam wasn't fully complying with 1441.

We should have, way back in December, for instance, devised highly specific targets that Saddam would have to meet and gotten the French to say on the record that, without Saddam meeting those requirements, Paris would support a second resolution calling for "serious consequences." In other words, rather than amorphous "material breach" language that the French could argue Saddam wasn't in violation of--we should have preemptively pinned Paris down on a specific series of actions Baghdad would have had to take by a time certain.

All this said, of course, hindsight is 20-20. Who could have expected that the French would have chosen this juncture to re-assert neo-Gaullist projects in contravention of matters of immense import to international security? But, aside from occasional heavy-handedness with allies like Turkey or Mexico or a dearth of what former Secretary of State George Schultz calls "gardening" (patient, routinized maintenance of alliance relationships), or a few Rumsfeldian excesses--I think the U.S. diplomatic effort was just fine, thank-you. The ultimate problem was that countries like Germany and France were (and are) still dwelling in a pre-9/11 modality--still not fully cognizant of the dangers presented by the intersection of WMD, transnational terror groups and rogue regimes. And, of course, Paris grabbed an opportunity to counter the hyperpuissance during a high-profile crisis to ratchet up their international profile a few notches--a short-sighted strategy that is bound to backfire.

Posted by Gregory at March 23, 2003 01:43 PM
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