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Obama’s Letter to Medvedev – A New Diplomacy in Action

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the russian bear likes a good bargain.

the russian bear likes a good bargain.

President Obama’s not so secret letter to his counterpart in Russia, President Medvedev, seems like a strong beginning to a new, more robust and directed diplomacy. Applying an unspoken quid pro quo that the serious application of pressure by Russia on Iran to stem Tehran’s nuclear ambitions could mean the removal of the US nuclear shield in Eastern Europe draws a big lesson from history. During the missile crisis, Khruschev seriously overreached when he planted missiles in Cuba. Kennedy didn’t back down, but instead offered to give up some obsolete missiles in Turkey in order to save the world from Armageddon.

Okay, we’re not quite on the edge of the nuclear abyss just yet, but Obama’s clearly done his homework on dealing with the Russians. He shrewdly realizes how important ‘saving face’ is to in the machismo world of Moscow foreign policy, rightly regards the missile shield as an expensive boondoggle, and understands why Moscow is less than enamoured of Bush’s feeble remonstrations that the shield was primarily in place to protect against Iranian missiles headed for the US or Europe (about a thousand times less likely than a briefcase bomb which would bypass the shield altogether). Add to that the very strong likelihood that the shield won’t work even if challenged and the prospect of canning it isn’t exactly a stretch.

The President is also fully aware that America’s decision to remove the planned shield from Poland and the Czech Republic will play very well on the Russian Street, allowing the Kremlin to do its little nationalistic strut to ameliorate the lament that the motherland’s sphere of influence is shrinking fast. In short, Obama’s giving away nothing and getting in return an assurance that Russia will do what’s in its interests anyway, which is to prevent a potentially hostile nuclear power from developing on its Southern border.

This notion is a good example of a neo-liberal response to a diplomatic issue. Neo-liberalism is about America gaining influence by showing largesse where possible. It looks like we’re taking the hit here, but actually Obama’s letter sets up a win-win for the US. First, we get a very good reason to bargain away the useless missile shield, and divert the freed-up resources into solving America’s most challenging problems at home. Second, we build a new and more honest relationship with Russia, based not on Bush “I see into his soul” nonsense, but on a strong and negotiated diplomatic basis, just like in the good old days. Putin and Medvedev want two things. To make Russia look good, and to get a good deal. A positive response to Obama’s diplomatic foray gets them both.

But the core of the diplomatic move is dealing with the seemingly intractable issue of Iran. All this may come to nothing and the collision course with Tehran that we appear to be on may yet become critical, but Washington is taking a much more proactive and frankly intelligent approach, searching for serious alternatives to military confrontation either by the US or by Israel seeking to remove Iran’s nuclear weapons as an existential threat. Obama is asking Moscow to rethink its frankly reckless stance on helping Iran build its nuclear infrastructure with a solid diplomatic overture. Both sides get to put the heat on Iran, increasing the chance that China will be the only Permanent Member of the Security Council abstaining or voting against meaningful United Nations-driven sanctions against Iran, if and when the time comes for a resistant Iran to face the music. And finally, as the pressure on Tehran grows, the US gets more traction for its peace offensive with the world’s most noisy theocracy. US overtures to Syria further increase pressure on Iran to negotiate.

As of early this morning, Moscow has yet to respond to the American overtures. That is a very good sign. If they didn’t like it, they would have got back to us by now. And the response wouldn’t even have feighned secrecy. It would have been very, very public indeed.

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Written by coolrebel

March 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm

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