Bush’s Strategic Framework for Russia

Just when I was getting set to declare that we’ve now entered into the “Case by Case Era” of global geopolitics, where strategic grand bargains will be set aside in favor of short memories, coalitions of the willing, and an atomized approach to crisis management, the IHT reports that Condoleeza Rice and Bob Gates are in Moscow to “dot the i’s” on a private letter sent to Vladimir Putin by President Bush laying out his vision for a new strategic framework between the U.S. and Russia. Now, that’s not just an 86-word, five-clause opening sentence. It’s also pretty good news.

Normally I wouldn’t be so keen on a lame-duck president locking in longterm American policy during his final year in office, and the contents of the letter have yet to be publicly released. But after seven years of unilateral initiatives that can best be described as provocative, the move is the Bush administration’s first gesture towards Moscow that suggests an element of respect. The fact that the mission is in the hands of Bob Gates and Condi Rice is also reassuring.

Say what you will about Vladimir Putin’s sabre-rattling tactics, his assault on the free press and democracy, and his ruthless approach to pipeline diplomacy, the fact is Russia has no fundamental reason to be antagonistic to America. There’s plenty of overlap in terms of vital interests, and most of the sticking points seem to have been avoidable. What’s more, Russia’s claims to superpower status may be somewhat rusty, but it’s no longer the failed state dependent on international handouts of 1991. So a little bit of mutual accomodation could go a long way.

The move also demonstrates the singular advantage that America enjoys vis à vis Europe. I’ve been flagging a trend towards tighter EU-Russian relations all week. (It since occurred to me that to a certain degree, in the aftermath of the Cold War, America has made the strategic decision to swap the NATO alliance for the Warsaw Pact, but I’ll save that for another post.) This effort, should it prove successful, shows that with skillful diplomacy, we can still leverage the weight of bi-lateral initiatives, whether intra-European (ie. New Europe vs. Old Europe) or extra-European (ie. Russia), to our tactical advantage.

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