Failure to Reset

Tough talk on Russia from candidates Obama and Biden did not translate to policy


The Obama-Biden campaign has repeatedly attacked its opponent, Governor Mitt Romney, for recklessness over his comment that Russia should be considered America’s primary “geo-political threat.”

But a cursory look into President Barack Obama’s and Vice President Joe Biden’s past remarks show candidates who were not terribly far off from the same mindset while initially running for office. When asked about Russian actions in the October 7, 2008 presidential debate, then-Sen. Barack Obama said, “I think they’ve engaged in an evil behavior and I think that it is important that we understand they’re not the old Soviet Union but they still have nationalist impulses that I think are very dangerous.”

Biden, meanwhile, in remarks at the April 2007 Democratic presidential debate, echoed Romney’s sentiment by including Vladimir Putin’s Russia as one of the three countries (other than Iraq at the time) that were most threatening to America. “The biggest threat to the United States is right now is North Korea; Iran, not as big a threat, but a long-term threat; and quite frankly, the tendency of Putin to move in a totalitarian direction, which would unhinge all that’s going on positively in Europe,” Biden said.

Despite such aggressive campaign rhetoric, after assuming office in 2009 the Obama-Biden administration’s official Russia policy, dubbed “Reset,” would see the U.S. backtrack from such tough talk and begin to capitulate to Russian demands in an attempt to warm relations between the two nations. Unfortunately, these compromises have only been greeted with increased hostility from the Kremlin and saddled the U.S. with setback after setback and failure after failure.

One example of Reset’s failure came in March of this year, when U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told Voice of America, “It has been surprising that there was so much anti-Americanism, because we thought we were building a different kind of relationship, and it makes some people nervous that it could so quickly and reflexively go back to—in terms of rhetoric—an era that we thought was behind us.”