Herman Cain explained how he'll answer tricky foreign policy questions: "When they ask me who's the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm gonna say, 'You know, I don't know, do you know?' And then I'm gonna say, 'How's that gonna create more jobs?' I wanna focus on the top priorities of this country. That's what leaders do."
Although it is still a year to the US presidential election, the fight for the White House is in full swing. In this fight, everything goes, and the Republicans are determined to take away every chance of Obama winning. As he has done rather better in international affairs than in the economy, and the Reset in relations with Russia is among the brightest feathers in his cap, it clearly has to be compromised at all costs, even if the US own interests may suffer in consequence.
One would have thought that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has little time to waste. Congress is fiercely debating the impending dramatic budget cuts, attempts to reduce unemployment, and lessen the national debt that is nearing the astronomical $15 trillion, i.e. over 100 percent of GDP. The Occupy Wall Street protest movement is on the rise, and several cities have already seen serious clashes with the police.
The latest opinion poll shows that Congress's popularity rating has dropped to nine percent, and none other than US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly stated: "I think one of the great national security threats is the dysfunctionality of the Congress and its inability to confront the issues we face."
All of that notwithstanding, Boehner drops his pressing agenda and goes to the Heritage Foundation, to announce to the wide world that the Reset is a total failure and benefits Russia alone. I suspect that Boehner's appearance at that session was due not least to the exceedingly active Georgian lobby, whose members were spotted among the audience. Besides, the theme of "Russian aggression" against Georgia recurred not just in the speaker's piece, but in most of the other, fairly numerous, speeches. The leitmotif of all those speeches - no dissenting voices detected among them -- could be summed up as follows: the Reset is doing harm both to the economy and to US security, and so has to be instantly discontinued.
Logic is best forgotten at this point. Every single US company trading with Russia - and there are hundreds of those, including some of the top numbers in the Forbes 500 list - believe precisely the opposite: the Reset is good for them. They also resolutely back Russia's accession to WTO and advocate the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, as they believe that this would be both in their corporate interests and in the interests of the country as a whole.
As for security, the mere instance of Russia providing corridors for delivery of military and other supplies to the troops of the United States and NATO along the Northern route to Afghanistan makes the Reset indispensable. It is a known fact that taking those supplies along the Southern route via the territory of the US so-called ally, Pakistan, has frequently ended in transport convoys blown up and even occasionally casualties among US servicemen. It is hardly a secret that, although the strikes were delivered by the Taliban, they acted with direct support from Pakistani secret services.
Or you take the problem of Iran. None other than State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, as well as other officials of the Obama Administration, said repeatedly that Russia's stand on the Iran issue was most productive.
Michael McFaul, the new US ambassador to the Russian Federation, likewise said in no uncertain terms at the Senate hearings that the Reset was based strictly on those positions that benefit America, and that the Obama Administration had never made gifts to Russia, nor did it intend to. I appreciate this honesty, as normally diplomats resort to a florid style that merely clouds issues, while here it is all perfectly straightforward. En claire, so to speak
So who is more concerned about US interests here, supporters or opponents of the Reset? Even in the Republican Party itself opinion is divided. There are some who flatly refuse to sacrifice the country's interests to momentary gains in the presidential race, or to please foreign lobbyists trying to channel US policies toward Russia to suit their own interests, and to hell with those of the United States. The reference here is not just to Georgian or East European lobbyists, but oddly enough, also to Russian ones. One of such lobbyists is Garri Kasparov, who was also invited to speak at the said conference as "a Russian opposition leader."
Honestly, I am not sure that many other members of that opposition would accept the definition. For one thing, Kasparov's popularity ratings at home (actually, one is not even sure where his real home is; New York, most likely) are less than a percentage point. For another, quite a few people see him as hardly more responsible or mentally stable than the fickle ex-chess champion Bobby Fischer. Actually, to have an opponent of the Kasparov caliber is good news for the Reset, as he has notoriously bungled every project he has ever been involved in. In view of this, his efforts to torpedo the Reset are quite likely to do that policy a world of good.
However, this is not so much about Kasparov, or even Boehner. There are enough sober-minded people in the United States, including Republicans, who agree with McFaul that the Reset, that is, a constructive Russia policy, helps improve the US national security and benefits its economy. So, who is for or against Reset, raise your hands, please.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.