After failing to sell Congress or the public on military strikes against Syria, President Obama has placed his faith in a negotiated “Russian option” to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons.
But Obama’s encounters with Russia have tended to leave the White House the worse for wear.
1. The Nuclear Arms Non-Starter.
One of the big foreign policy successes of Obama’s first term was the passing of a new Start treaty with Russia to reduce both countries’ strategic nuclear stockpiles. This summer, eager for another success and to build his anti-nuclear legacy (which got him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009), Obama announced grandiose plans for the U.S. and Russia to further reduce their nuclear arsenals by a third. But the Kremlin brusquely dismissed the plan, with a deputy prime minister saying Moscow could not “take seriously” the proposal.
2. The Reset Button That Wasn’t.
With U.S.-Russia relations at their lowest ebb in a generation, Obama tried to get them back on track with a friendly “reset” policy announced in 2009. But when Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with a comically large red “reset” button, it turned out that the word was missing a prefix and actually translated as “overload.”
We DARE you to try to watch this 59 seconds of pure awkward.
3. The Spy Who Came Home From The Costume Department.
In May, the Russian secret services staged the highly public arrest of Ryan Fogle, a third secretary at the U.S. Embassy whom they claimed was a CIA agent secretly trying to recruit turncoats among Russian officers. Among the gear he was caught with was a letter in Russian to an alleged target. Addressed “Dear Friend,” it lacked even basic awareness of good security practices and instructed the officer to go through the extra security step of opening a Gmail account in an internet café.
5. The State Department Bake Sale.
Surprised by the emergence of a protest movement against his return to the presidency in late 2011, Putin, long convinced the U.S. would love to see him go, blamed it on the all-seeing hand of Hillary Clinton. A documentary on Russian state TV claiming that protesters were lured into the streets with State Department cookies drew laughs, but it wasn’t all fun for U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul, who faced an unprecedented harassment campaign, or the NGOs that received funding from USAID, which Russia expelled late last year.
6. Ed Snowden’s Unpleasant Adventure.
U.S. officials thought they would soon get their hands on Edward Snowden once he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong. But Russia was always the most likely to deny U.S. requests and refuse to hand over the NSA whistleblower. Once the U.S. cancelled his passport, Snowden was essentially stuck in the airport. He recently received temporary refugee status in Russia and is currently living somewhere outside Moscow.
7. The Offshore Orphanage.
When Congress passed a bill normalizing trade relations with Russia late last year, it did so in conjunction with another bill punishing officials linked to the prison death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 — they were barred from entering the U.S. and keeping bank accounts there. Russia responded in kind, but soon realized that U.S. officials weren’t exactly scrambling to vacation in Russia or open accounts in Sberbank, so they went one step further and banned all Americans from adopting Russian orphans. A months-long campaign on state-run TV claimed that the U.S. was full of evil foster parents bent on hating Russia and its children.
8. The “Putin Proposal” On Syria.
The administration spent years blaming the Kremlin for holding up international action to solve the Syria crisis: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Russia was “holding the Security Council hostage” just a week ago. But embracing a proposal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons – which the U.S. long knew Russia had up its sleeve – that the White House had rubbished hours earlier made Putin look like a tactical genius.
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