In an interview published in January, the FT’s Geoff Dyer notes, President Barack Obama downplayed the legendary American diplomat who was the architect of the Cold War policy towards the Soviet Union known as “containment”. “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now,” he told the New Yorker.
But his administration is now “retrofitting for a new age the approach to Moscow that was first set out by the diplomat George F. Kennan in 1947 and that dominated American strategy through the fall of the Soviet Union,” Peter Baker writes for The New York Times. He reports that President Obama plans to revise his Russia policy into “an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment.”
“However, the problem for the administration if it starts to map out a long-term approach towards Russia is that the world is very different from 1947, when Mr Kennan first raised the idea of containment. The global economy is much more interlinked and political power more dispersed, making it harder to think about marginalizing an important country such as Russia,” notes Dyer.
“Tough sanctions will have some impact on Russia, but the idea of long-term global isolation is unrealistic,” says Tom Wright, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “If the administration tries to do that, it is unlikely to succeed in holding together an international coalition.”
The Obama administration believes that even the modest sanctions announced so far have had a broader impact on the Russian economy, including capital flight and currency weakness, and that over time Mr Putin’s actions will discourage investment in the country.
“A Russian government that does not respect territorial sovereignty could be one that does not respect other basic principles, such as contracts and rule of law,” says a senior administration official.
Nor are such ‘realist’ postures as engaging autocrats likely to deter ideologically-driven bad actors, says a leading commentator.
There was no reason to expect that the Ayatollah Khamenei would take Obama’s “extended hand,” but every reason to expect that he would crack down barbarically on stirrings of democracy in his society, Leon Wieseltier writes for The New Republic:
There was no reason to expect that Assad would go because he “must go,” but every reason to expect him to savage his country and thereby create an ethnic-religious war and a headquarters for jihadist anti-Western terrorists. There was no reason to expect Putin to surrender his profound historical bitterness at the reduced post-Soviet realities of Russia and leave its “near abroad” alone. There was no reason to expect that the Taliban in Afghanistan would behave as anything but a murderous theocratic conspiracy aspiring to a return to power. And so on. Who, really, has been the realist here? And what sort of idealism is it that speaks of justice and democracy but denies consequential assistance (which the White House outrageously conflates with ground troops) to individuals and movements who courageously work to achieve those ideals?
Putin’s march into Ukraine had two rationales, notes FT analyst Philip Stephens:
The first, a consequence of Moscow’s failure to coerce Kiev into a Eurasian union, was rooted in the 19th-century concept that Russian security depends on command of its near-abroad. The second was a calculation that European disunity and Mr Obama’s aversion to confrontation would blunt the international response….I am not suggesting that the US and its European allies should be reaching for their guns. But Washington could have assembled (and should still do so) a much stronger set of economic measures, including financial sanctions, as a demonstration of its determination to defend basic international norms of behaviour.