It's been a mixed bag for Obama, but the situation isn't completely bleak. Obama's major goal, of course, was the inking of a new agreement to cut nuclear arsenals; in this he was successful. But it's a move that leaves me wondering about his goals for American foreign policy toward Russia -- indeed, it leaves me wondering if he has anything more than a vaguely cobbled-together cluster of ideas. Writing in the Telegraph, Nile Gardiner wondered aloud whether Obama was the "most naïve president in American history," going on to bemoan the possibility of "odious quid pro quo deal[s] Washington will have to sign up to in order move the agreement forward" and a strengthened Russian hand in its own near-abroad.
This may be a bit much, but it is clear that for Obama, cutting nukes is a goal in itself -- a strange repudiation of the historical trend. Generally, agreeing to cut nukes is a strategy toward building cooperation on other, harder issues. The US would have to strike some deals, but presumably we get something in return. It is unclear what that something may be.
It is now clear what that something won't be, however: an agreement on further sanctions on Iran. Despite hopes otherwise on the American side, Russia yesterday made clear that it will not push tougher sanctions on Iran. Perhaps even more worrisome is this:
A Kremlin source told Reuters that the exchange of remarks over START and Iran did not indicate any change in the overall atmosphere of Russia-U.S. contacts.
"It was nothing more than an exchange of remarks over a specific suggestion," the source said.
Nor has the trip calmed overall belligerence, with Russia test-launching two missiles from a submarine in the Arctic, leaving the Russian media to crow, "the Americans were unable to detect the arrival of two strategic submarines before the launch." Russia is also digging in its heels in Ukraine, refusing to leave its Sevastopol base.
However, the president has made some important gains. One of the real victories of his visit seems to be a settling of the Georgia issue. Dispatching the USS Stout on a training mission and Vice President Biden on a visit that will also include Ukraine, the chances of renewed fighting there seem slimmer now. Indeed, even Saakashvilli has recently given a speech to that effect:
And today I want to say it boldly, that all their aggressive plans for the nearest perspective are foiled and there will be no war, as they imagined it, any more.
Further, as a US mission including an Undersecretary of State pushes for a renewed improvement of ties with Uzbeistan, the Uzbeks are pushing against a proposed Russian base in Kyrgyzstan. That's mostly simple wrangling between local competitors, but this quote is helpful:
Uzbek Senator Surayo Odilhodjaeva told RFE/RL that the proposed new base -- reportedly near the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh -- would not contribute to the security of Central Asia.
"I think the less military bases we have in the region, the better," she said.