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Obama to Meet with Russian Opposition Leaders:

Like Cathy Young, I worry that President Obama might be overly solicitous of the interests of Russia's authoritarian regime. In this respect, he could potentially repeat the mistakes of President Bush, who - until relatively late in his presidency - tried very hard to develop a close relationship Russia's ex-KGB ruler Vladimir Putin (including ending US criticism of Russian atrocities in Chechnya, signing a nuclear arms limitation pact on terms favoring Russia, and waxing eloquent about how he had looked into Putin's eyes and saw an "trustworthy" partner with a wonderful "soul"), while getting few concessions from the Russians in return.

President Obama's decision to meet with Russian opposition leaders during his trip to Moscow is, however, a small hopeful sign:

President Barack Obama has invited several prominent members of the Russian opposition, including United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, for a meeting in Moscow. Boris Nemtsov, a chair of the Solidarity opposition movement, has also been invited to the meeting, set to take place on July 7th at the Ritz Carlton hotel. The format of the event was still unclear.

"Of course, this will be interesting," Kasparov said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station. "The previous American administration didn't dare to do this...."

Obama will travel to Moscow on July 6th for meetings with the Kremlin as well as business and civil society leaders. A meeting with Russia's leading human rights advocates has been scheduled at the Metropol hotel, the location of a consultation between representatives from NGOs in the US and Russia.

Earlier, Boris Nemtsov argued that it was essential for Obama to meet with opposition forces in Russia. "If the White House agrees to Putin's suggestion to speak only with pro-Putin organizations… this will mean that Putin has won, but not only that: Putin will become be assured that Obama is weak," he said.

Falling oil prices and the financial crisis have reduced Putin's popularity and weakened his regime's grip on power. Now more than ever, it is important for the US to avoid putting all of our eggs in the Putin basket and encourage pro-Western liberal opposition forces in Russia.

That doesn't mean we should never cooperate with Putin on issues of common interest. For example, if Putin suddenly shows a willingness to work with the US on Iran, North Korea, and other issues, Obama should pursue any such opportunities that might arise. Effective foreign policy sometimes requires cooperation with unsavory regimes. While the current Russian government is odious, it isn't nearly as bad as its communist predecessors, or as repressive as the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and several other US allies.

So far, however, the Putin regime has done virtually nothing to reciprocate either Bush's many overtures or Obama's more recent efforts to press the "reset button" on US-Russian relations. As opposition leader Boris Nemtsov suggested in the passage quoted above, perhaps Putin will be in a more cooperative mood if we avoid looking weak and demonstrate that we have other options. Even if he doesn't, we have little to lose by working to foster liberal forces in Russia. And if the current regime's popularity continues to decline, we have a lot to gain from working to promote liberal alternatives to the strongly anti-Western communists and ultra-nationalists who are the other main alternative to the status quo in Russia. Obama's meeting with the Russian opposition leaders is a small but symbolically valuable step in the right direction.

kietharch (mail):
You do not mention the expansion of NATO to some eastern European countries and, of course, the missile defense installations. These could reasonably be expected to irritate even a liberal Russian administration.

I agree with your comments generally.
7.3.2009 5:52pm
Cornellian (mail):
United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov

Hint to Obama, don't suggest a friendly game of chess when you meet this guy.
7.3.2009 5:58pm
Ilya Somin:
You do not mention the expansion of NATO to some eastern European countries and, of course, the missile defense installations. These could reasonably be expected to irritate even a liberal Russian administration.

The small-scale missile defenses the US plans to build in Eastern Europe couldn't possibly do anything against Russia's massive nuclear arsenal. Russian military leaders know this.

As for NATO expansion, Bush did little or nothing on this front during his first several years in office, yet he still didn't get much in the way of cooperation from Putin. In any event, having these countries join NATO poses no threat to Russia unless it plans to attack them. There is no conceivable scenario in which NATO would actually attack Russia. The US has no reason to do so, and in any event the alliance cannot act without the support of the European allies, who are even more opposed to anything that risks war with Russia than the US is.
7.3.2009 6:15pm
wm13:
I'm all in favor of meeting with the Russian opposition, but doesn't this contradict last quarter's vows to press the "overcharge" button (joke!) and have better relations with Russia than that insane warmonger Bushitler did? I sort of feel that our foreign policy is being run by total amateurs who have absolutely no clue what they are doing. That would explain why it changes so wildly month to month.

Remember when we had a Russia specialist who spoke Russian as secretary of state? Those were the days.
7.3.2009 6:20pm
M (mail):
Bush didn't much criticize Russia on Chechnya. But in that aspect he was mostly keeping up the shameful practice of Clinton during the Yeltsin years. Clinton referred to Yeltsin as a "Russian Abraham Lincoln" for his brutal and pointless war in Chechnya, both of which were started primarily to improve Yeltsin's political position. (The second one, I believe, being a horrible mistake in which Putin managed to out-wit Yeltsin and Berazovsky.) So, on that score, while Bush deserves blame, he was mostly continuing the shameful path put in place by Clinton.
7.3.2009 6:22pm
gab:

I sort of feel that our foreign policy is being run by total amateurs who have absolutely no clue what they are doing. That would explain why it changes so wildly month to month


But it took that consummate professional George Bush to
"...wax ... eloquent about how he had looked into Putin's eyes and saw a "trustworthy" partner with a wonderful "soul" ...
7.3.2009 6:42pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The small-scale missile defenses the US plans to build in Eastern Europe couldn't possibly do anything against Russia's massive nuclear arsenal. Russian military leaders know this.

Yeah, but the slippery slope implications are huge.

Further, it isn't as though we are completely honest about our intentions with respect to these installations. The countries that we say we are directing ballistic missile defense against for the most part don't even really have workable ballistic missile systems. (Note that Theater Missle Defense, i.e., the Patriot Missile, is a different issue.)

In other words, US policymakers probably are deploying these things in part in the hope they can establish a beachhead against Russia in the hope of eventually neutralizing their nukes. And Russia not only has every right to oppose that, but it would practically be an act of treason against the Russian people for a Russian government not to oppose it.
7.3.2009 6:54pm
John Moore (www):
I suspect that Bush avoided the Chechnyan issue because it would have impeded cooperation against Islamist terrorism. The US and Russia have mutual (although not always congruent) interests in that area.

Dilan Esper gets it wrong again:
Yeah, but the slippery slope implications are huge.


What slippery slope? That we are going to deploy 10,000 of these very expensive systems stealthily? Furthermore, the systems are too close to Russia to protect the US.

The only way that these systems hinder the Russians is that they put a US strategic asset in countries that the Russians might want to attack - presenting a nuclear deterrent threat (attacking an ABM site is a strategic attack). However, that is certainly not a primary goal.

Further, it isn't as though we are completely honest about our intentions with respect to these installations. The countries that we say we are directing ballistic missile defense against for the most part don't even really have workable ballistic missile systems. (Note that Theater Missle Defense, i.e., the Patriot Missile, is a different issue.)

Nonsense on stilts! Do you really propose we wait until we are under the gun before we start deploying defenses? That would be idiotic (even if it is the Democrat position).

It takes a long time to get these systems working and installed. Waiting until Iran has ICBM's already loaded and ready to hit us would be very much the wrong time to build a missile defense:

US to Eastern European Country: "We'd like to build a missile defense facility in your country, and will give you $500,000,000 fot the privilege."

Iran to EEC: "Let them do that and we'll nuke you before you start"

Iran to US: "If you get close to making that system operational, we'll nuke you. Yeah, we know you will kill 50% of our people in a counterstrike. But... that will bring out the 11th Imam. Even if he doesn't choose to appear, there will be over 1 billion Muslims left to continue the fight."

In other words, US policymakers probably are deploying these things in part in the hope they can establish a beachhead against Russia in the hope of eventually neutralizing their nukes. And Russia not only has every right to oppose that, but it would practically be an act of treason against the Russian people for a Russian government not to oppose it.

Again, nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. They are not in the right place to neutralize Russian nukes. Furthermore, neutralizing Russian nukes is such a huge undertaking that these sites are utterly irrelevant in comparison. Finally, how about Russian SLBM's?

It constantly amazes me how the US left finds ways to rationalize its opposition to nuclear defense. Over the decades we have heard and continue to hear:

1-It is destabilizing [on the contrary, missile defense is highly stabilizing because it greatly increases attacker uncertainty in a counter-force strike].

2-It will never work [then why are the Russians, and previously the USSR, so upset about it?].

3-It will work so well that the current small deployment starts us down the slippery slope to neutralizing the Russian nukes [err, you said it wouldn't work].
7.3.2009 7:13pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):

Nonsense on stilts! Do you really propose we wait until we are under the gun before we start deploying defenses? That would be idiotic (even if it is the Democrat position).


Defenses to nuclear deterrents are a bad idea, because they encourage first strikes.

The best scenario for the US is to have checks on our power. Missile defenses are an attempt to eliminate a check on our power, and are therefore a very bad idea.

Missile defenses also tend to encourage our adversaries to increase their arsenals to defeat the defenses. They thus start an arms race.

They also cost a ton of money and don't work, but, of course, those facts never killed a weapons system.
7.3.2009 7:17pm
MLS:
I must wonder what would be our view of Mr. Putin visiting the US and hosting a meeting with members of the "opposition part(y)/(ies)"?

Of course, I cannot dismiss the possibility of his wanting to meet with Kasparov to engage in a friendly game of chess.
7.3.2009 7:42pm
Desiderius:
"President Obama's decision to meet with Russian opposition leaders during his trip to Moscow is, however, a small hopeful sign"

Small? After Iran and Honduras, this rates somewhere beyond small, and likely was intended to be perceived as such, given the Kasparov quote.

Intended not only by the Obama administration. If Russia seeks to be perceived as a normally functioning democracy, what better way? It's not as if meeting with an American President will win Kasparov many domestic brownie points.

"I must wonder what would be our view of Mr. Putin visiting the US and hosting a meeting with members of the "opposition part(y)/(ies)"?"

Not much good for said parties.
7.3.2009 8:06pm
The Unbeliever:
This raises the obvious question: when will Obama meet with the opposition leaders in Iran? Maybe he'll get Tehran to host the meeting in their capital as well.
7.3.2009 8:39pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Check out Anatol Lieven on Kasparov &co in Russia's Limousine Liberals.
7.3.2009 8:48pm
John Moore (www):
Dilan writes:

Defenses to nuclear deterrents are a bad idea, because they encourage first strikes.

Yes, but we are not building a defense to a Russian deterrence.

Furthermore, it is not possible to build a defense against a Russian deterrence. A "leakage" rate of 1% in the shield would be enough to cause disaster.

On the other hand, defending one's deterrent force against a first strike counter-force attack increases stability. Even a low success rate is enough to ensure that enough deterrent remains to devastate the attacker.


The best scenario for the US is to have checks on our power. Missile defenses are an attempt to eliminate a check on our power, and are therefore a very bad idea.

Spoken like a true trans-national progressive. How in the world can you arrive at that conclusion? The goal is indeed to prevent the Iranians from being able to check out power - by threatening to or actually nuking us.

Most people would consider that a pretty good goal.


Missile defenses also tend to encourage our adversaries to increase their arsenals to defeat the defenses. They thus start an arms race.

Obviously you have been recycling leftie talking points from the 80's "debate." They are no more true now than in the past, because they are based on false assumptions.


They also cost a ton of money and don't work, but, of course, those facts never killed a weapons system.

Do you even read what you post? First you explain all the reasons missile defense is bad, based on it working. Then you mention that it doesn't work.

I suspect you are have a severe case of PDP!
7.3.2009 11:33pm
Hadur:

Yeah, but the slippery slope implications are huge.


Boy, you sure picked the wrong blog to make that comment on!
7.3.2009 11:51pm
John Moore (www):

Boy, you sure picked the wrong blog to make that comment on!

Heh - except I think Oren is on leave.
7.4.2009 12:54am
interruptus:

Boy, you sure picked the wrong blog to make that comment on!

Heh - except I think Oren is on leave.


Eugene Volokh is still here though, and he's got quite a bit to say about it.
7.4.2009 3:41am
John Moore (www):
Oops... got the two guys mixed up.

Oh well.
7.4.2009 4:05am
Mikhail Koulikov (mail):
Ilya,

Kasparov, Nemtsov, "Russian opposition"...a couple of names that NYT readers occasionally recognize, and maybe five percent of Moscow's population *do not* an actual valid opposition make. Putin, the Russian government, and the vast majority of Russian people don't care - and don't need to care - for the U.S., and anything Obama, or any other U.S. government official - does will ever change that.

(And for all that's worth, the only direction that Obama's step is in is the direction of being hopelessly out of touch with who actually *matters* in Russian politics.)
7.4.2009 6:30am
The Cabbage (mail):
If anyone is interested in a rather different perspective on US-Russian relations, I recommend Daniel Larison's blog.

I can't say I agree with him all the time, but he's got a keen eye and has spent a lot of time thinking about this sort of stuff.
7.4.2009 8:19am
rosetta's stones:
Hillary practically broke her arm over Obama's head getting him to sit up and pay attention to what was happening in Iran, and respond appropriately.

And looks like Frau Merkel slapped Obama upside his thick skull and set him straight re Russia, much like a Maggie Thatcher of a previous era lectured other presidents. This may not have been what Obama had in mind when he was yammering about "reaching out" during his World Apology Tour 2009, but it's good that he's now learning and actually listening to allies and associates, rather than just acting unilaterally and coddling totalitarians.

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows diplomacy is never a good idea. Never. Meeting with Kasparov is symbolic for sure, but it's important symbology.
7.4.2009 10:11am
The River Temoc (mail):
I think it is quite naive for people to think that the U.S. has much influence in determining the course of Russian politics.

During the Cold War, Western politicians would lionize the dissident movement, but what was far more important was the dissatisfaction of ordinary people with the quality of life under communism.

Today if a genuine liberal opposition movement ever re-emerges in Russia, Garry Kasparov will not be driving it -- although admittedly Nemtsov might be.
7.4.2009 11:39am
Bill Johnson (mail):
And suppose, given Putin's possibly gangsterish governmental style, that Obama's visit will be ... detrimental to the health of the visited? Darker still - is that intentional? I wanted to use the kiss of Judas allusion, but don't want to be deifying anyone here...
7.4.2009 11:52am
sputnik (mail):
i know Kasparov.
Great chess player.
Total political clown.
7.4.2009 4:25pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
John:

Simply put, if the aim is to shoot down missiles, ballistic missile defenses don't work.

But if the aim is to destabilize US-Russian relations and tempt US policymakers into using military force too often, they work fine.

And you may call this "transnational progressive", but transnational progressives have a great record recently-- we sure were right about Iraq, for instance, whereas your crowd basically endorsed murder, lies, and counterproductive policy.
7.4.2009 7:49pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
They also cost a ton of money and don't work, but, of course, those facts never killed a weapons system.
The food is terrible, and such small portions, too.

Sorry, Dilan, but you can't have it both ways. If they "don't work," then they're not "destabilizing" in the slightest, but utterly irrelevant. Unless, of course, the Russians and Americans both actually believe that they do work, which would call into question why Dilan thinks he knows more than them.

The notion that BMD has the slightest thing to do with Russia is loony; even if it does work, it isn't going to work against a missile force the size of Russia's, especially given Russia's submarine force. But it doesn't need to defeat thousands of missiles to work against Iran, which won't have thousands of missiles.
7.4.2009 11:38pm
John Moore (www):
Dilan,

I'm an engineer. Don't lecture me about ballistic missile systems and whether they work or not. They work now and will work better later - depending on what your specification of "work" is.

D Nieporent makes the proper points otherwise.

You are simply emitting the pap that was spread around in the '80s by Soviet agents and their unwitting dupes in the western left. If you did any thinking of your own about the subject, you would realize how absurd the statements on. You would at least defend them with logic, rather than continuing to repeat the nonsense.

Get this clearly: your arguments are completely out of context and are also self contradictory. Try to apply a bit of reason to them, because it's genuinely embarrassing to watch what you are doing.
7.5.2009 2:09am
rosetta's stones:
Further, it doesn't even matter whether they work or not right now, because even if they don't, we are obligated to find a way to make them work.

If somebody lights off a nuke 250 miles over your head right now, setting off an EMP, you can likely kiss your ass goodbye, and almost everybody within a 500 mile radius of you. Think medieval.

Obama knows this, and he isn't tracking that NoKo ship for his health, or because it's in line with the precepts of his World Apology Tour 2009. He's tracking it because it is in the interests of our national security, and he's publishing the tracking because he knows this threat is now potentially becoming a reality, and he and we need everybody to wake up and recognize it. The anti-ABM fools are comatose, and may never wake up, but the rest of us sure better.
7.5.2009 10:30am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
rosetta:

The best deterrent against nukes is other nukes.

David and John:

You two aren't half as clever as you think. Balistic missile defense doesn't work, i.e., it doesn't actually protect us. But it is destabilizing because one of the reasons it doesn't work is because it can be ovewhelmed with countermeasures, decoys, and real warheads. In other words, it simultaneously doesn't work and is destabilizing. It's the dumbest type of weapon imaginable-- but then, anything Ronald Reagan endorsed is almost guaranteed to be dumb and simplistic.
7.5.2009 9:32pm
John Moore (www):
Dilan,

it is destabilizing because one of the reasons it doesn't work is because it can be ovewhelmed with countermeasures, decoys, and real warheads


That is the purest load of illogical donkey dung I have seen in a long time! It makes no sense whatsoever. None.

Do you think the North Koreans or Iranians can overload our ABM's with countermeasures and decoys? Do you think they will build more nukes just because we have ABM's?

Do you know anything about remote sensing? Do you know the specs of our sensors? Do you know how decoy discrimination works?

Do you know anything about physics or engineering? More than the folks who have been working on the program for a long time?

No - you are spouting talking points, and stitching them together in embarrassingly absurd ways.

You totally ignore the difference between a terror strike, a strategic counter-force first strike, and retaliatory strikes - each of which has different context.

You also, still, continue to fail to answer the question from way back in the '80s - if missile defense didn't work, why were the Soviets so adamantly against it?

The total expense on BMD over 25 years has been less that 1/12th of Obama's worthless porculus program and 1/12th of his carbon tax cap-and-trade political pork program.

Give it up, dude. You are seriously outmatched.
7.5.2009 10:02pm
rosetta's stones:
"The best deterrent against nukes is other nukes."

No, nuclear deterrent and MAD held some effect during the Cold War, but will have none against a nuke triggered EMP attack, which will undoubtedly not be coming from a nation state, but rather from a terrorist group, or an outlaw state such as North Korea.

Or perhaps you intended to incinerate North Korea, or 1/2 of a continent somewhere, because a couple kooks there managed to score a nuke and a working ICBM?

No, you're living in another era, and that day is past. MAD won't deter the next terrorist attack. Only ballistic missile defense can ward off such attacks.

Again, think medieval. Think having to fight for your next drink of water, and kill for it. One nuke does that, no arsenal needed. Only one necessary. And the day is coming closer that the wrong nuts will score that one nuke.
7.5.2009 10:12pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
John:

They have not had a successful test, ONCE, of a ballistic missile defense system against actual decoys. Every single test has been rigged or has featured unrealistic decoys.

And you are missing the broader picture, which is the countermeasures are part of the arms race. If North Korea thinks it needs to build 4 times as many weapons to penetrate a missile defense, it will do so, and you've just increased the arms race.
7.6.2009 11:47am
John Moore (www):
Dilan,
First of all, you do not know how our anti-decoy system works or how well. Second, they have tested with decoys, although they have complained that the decoys were not good enough (a problem the Norks might have also). Finally, engineering involves lots of testing and refitting and testing - especially with cutting edge stuff. Most engineers have the luxury of doing that without skeptics leaning over their shoulder calling every imperfection a proof that the whole thing can't work. The BMD people have no such luck.

Oh, and don't forget the Aegis system. While the land based system gets all the press, the Aegis system is also highly capable (it shot down a satellite, for example), is mobile, and is relatively cheap.

As far as the Norks making more missiles with nuclear warheads, consider their problem: they don't have any money. We do. They are limited in how many they can build, and money spent building those is money not spent improving their nuclear weapons capability or buying the dear leader the support of his followers.

Furthermore, the Norks can not be considered rational actors, unlike the Russians. Hence, they may throw a nuke at us out of madness (or disorder). In that situation, would you rather have a defense system or not?

And again, in the bigger picture, if the defense doesn't work, then why would the Norks build more missiles anyway?

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

If you prefer to be defenseless, resting our security on the sane behavior of North Korea or an 11-th Imam seeking Iranian loon, then I'd rather you go find somewhere else to be defenseless, while we defend ourselves.
7.6.2009 12:57pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Trusting Putin was the One Great Mistake of George W. Bush's presidency, as it influenced his other foreign policy decisions going forward. He expected more UN support from Russia, more practical support in the ME, and more intelligence cooperation than he ended up getting. I write this as one who voted for Bush both times and believe his ME policy was generally correct.

So if Obama gets this right, it will be something of an advantage even though I believe theman's foreign policy instincts are frighteningly wrong. For Obama to also believe that he has made some headway with Putin, however, would be the worst of both worlds. Putin is less paranoid than the usual Russian leader, but he is more sociopathic.
7.6.2009 3:59pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
John, the ballistic missile defense tests were deliberately rigged, and many of them were still failures, i.e., they couldn't hit a missile without realistic decoys and knowing exactly where and when it was going to be fired.

They have not done a test that is close to battlefield conditions, i.e., full deployment of realistic decoys, no announcement as to timing or trajectory of target.
7.6.2009 4:06pm
John Moore (www):
Dilan, believe what you want to believe. I know that's the standard talking point. As an engineer, I call BS.

The tests were "rigged" in the sense that they were set up to test only certain parameters at a time - normal practice.

More recent tests have been better.

But even if they failed, they won't continue to do so.

You're like a man in 1900 arguing that man will never be able to fly in a heavier than air aircraft. Reasonably forseeable technological progress simply disagrees with you.

Oh, btw, if we wanted a 99% sure kill, we would do what the Russians do with their ABM's (you DO know that the Russians have a massive ABM system around Moscow, don't you?) - use ERW warheads. That's what we did with the earlier systems, until they became politically incorrect.

Note: As recently as 2002 "In recent years, the Russian public and press have been critical of the deployment of nuclear-armed interceptors so close to Moscow" - like Putin cares.
7.6.2009 7:34pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The tests were "rigged" in the sense that they were set up to test only certain parameters at a time - normal practice.

The tests were "rigged" in the sense that it was known that the system would not work in battlefield conditions, but there are both ideologues (missile defense is popular on the right because it is associated with Reagan) and defense contractors who want to keep the thing going.

This is the first major weapons system in years that has been deployed without a test in battlefield conditions.
7.6.2009 11:04pm
John Moore (www):
Dilan,

Is it your contention that missile defense is impossible?

If not, what are you saying?
7.7.2009 1:02am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
John Moore:

Define "impossible..."

What bothers me about missile defence is that the Bush-era multi-layered approach looks like it is just SDI 2.0, and that the goal seems to be to protect American first-strike (NOT retaliatory) capabilties.

I.e. missile defence works great if it is a shield to American aggression..... Note that one component (laser-armed 747's as launch-stage defence) would have to be in the air over launch sites, and these would be vulnerable to SAM's and other threats, so they would only make sense if we had air supremacy (i.e. the air war had already been one, i.e. we were striking first).
7.8.2009 1:47am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
BTW missile defence will work as such, but by my estimation it doesn't make us any safer because it pushes threats outside its envelope. For example, SLBM's, or even terrorist activities.
7.8.2009 1:49am

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