Voice

Why is Russia freaking out more than China?

Let's consider and contrast American foreign policy towards Russia and China over the past few years.

With Russia, the Obama administration announced a much-ballyhooed "reset" with the goal of improving bilateral relations.  In an effort to advance that goal, the administration reworked missile defense system plans in eastern Europe, creating political headaches for governments in the region to make Moscow happy.  The administration took great pains to endorse a Russian proposal on Iran's nuclear program.  The administration signed a fresh new arms control treaty and then expended a decent amount of political capital to get NewSTART ratified.  Washington conducted some serious behind-the-scenes diplomacy to get Russia into into the WTO.  Most recently, the administration appointed a chief architect of the "reset" policy as ambassador to Russia.   

With China, the Obama administration (after some idle G-2 talk) has been far more aggressive.  The administration has "pivoted" it's foreign policy resources toward the Pacific Rim, with the not-so-subtle signal that China is the focus of this pivot.  Washington has poked its nose into the South China Sea dispute, and recently announced a decision to station troops in Australia.  It pushed forward a framework trade agreement that pointedly does not include China, while simultaneously calling on that country to let its currency appreciate.  The State Department has reached out to one of China's longstanding allies in an effort to coax the nascent democratization in that country into something more long-lasting.  This is simply part of a larger theme in which Washington is seemingly bear-hugging any significant country that is concerned about Beijing.  The U.S. ambassador to China, when not becoming an online sensation among ordinary Chinese, is busy criticizing Beijing's human rights record

So, to sum up:  the Obama administration has made it something of a priority to improve relations with Russia, while at the same time investing serious amounts of diplomatic capital into various frameworks and initiatives that hedge against a rising China. 

Now compare and contrast how Moscow and Beijing are thinking about Washington this week.  In Beijing

China and the United States should cooperate more closely to defuse international crises and ensure friction does not overwhelm shared interests, China's likely next president, Xi Jinping, said on Monday, setting an upbeat tone for his impending visit to Washington.

"No matter what changes affect the international situation, our commitment to developing the Sino-U.S. cooperative partnership should never waver in the face of passing developments," Vice President Xi told a meeting in Beijing.

"In dealing with major and sensitive issues that concern each side's core interests, we must certainly abide by a spirit of mutual respect and handle them prudently, and by no means can we let relations again suffer major interference and ructions."

Xi's mood-setting speech did not unveil new policies or give the precise date for his U.S. visit. But he stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations for his visit and his accession to running the world's second biggest economy after America's.

And now Moscow:

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warned Wednesday that outside encouragement of antigovernment uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could lead to “a very big war that will cause suffering not only to countries in the region, but also to states far beyond its boundaries.”

Mr. Lavrov’s annual news conference was largely devoted to a critique of Western policies in Iran and Syria, which he said could lead to a spiral of violence.

His remarks came on the heels of a report on state-controlled television that accused the American ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who has been in Moscow for less than a week, of working to provoke a revolution here. Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, at an impromptu meeting with prominent editors, also unleashed an attack on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, which he said was serving American interests.

Now, it's possible to find other news stories that suggest China might not be handling all aspects of the bilateral relationship with equal aplomb, and its possible that these Russian statements contain more bluster than bite.  Still, stepping back, the larger narrative does seem to be that Russia has adopted an angrier and more belligerent posture toward American foreign policy in recent months, while China has responded with more aplomb. 

Why?  I don't know if there's an easy and accurate explanation.  Some neoconservatives might proffer that authoritarians only respond positively to strength, and therefore Russia feels more emboldened than China.  I seriously doubt that this is about bandwagoning.  Similarly, it could be argued that Russia is more domestically insecure than China, what with the recent protests and all.  Again, I seriously doubt this, as it's not like China hasn't experienced some domestic hiccups as well this year.

There are two more compelling explanations, but I honestly don't know if they work either.  The first is that Russia and China have different diplomatic styles.  Russian diplomats are far more comfortable with being blunt in their assessments of American intentions and actions, whereas Chinese diplomats are more comfortable laying low and not making as much of a public fuss.  Furthermore, China has moved down the learning curve, recognizing that its 2009-10 policy of "pissing off as many countries as possible" didn't turn out so well.  It's possible that the substance of both countries' approaches toward the United States are not that different -- they just go about it in ways that play very differently in the media. 

The second, more realpolitik explanation is that China and Russia are looking into the future, and Beijing is far more sanguine than Moscow.  Russia is suffering from institutional dysfunction and demographic decay.  It's only great power assets are bountiful natural resources, a huge land mass, and nuclear weapons.  China will encounter difficulties in the future, but does not have nearly the same kind of structural stresses as Russia.  Beijing is therefore simply less anxious than Moscow about U.S. policy, because it has more hard and soft power resources. 

To be honest, I'm not thrilled with either of these explanations. So, dear readers, I put it to you: why is Russia acting more bellicose toward an accommodating policy from the United States, whereas China is reacting calmly toward a more aggressive United States? 

Developing ...

Daniel W. Drezner

Did Andrew Sullivan eviscerate Obama's foreign policy critics?

Andrew Sullivan has a Newsweek cover story designed to best allocate Tina Brown's resources or to wave a big red flag at conservatives make the case that Obama's tortoise-like strategy of slow but steady, focusing on the long haul, has left his excitable hare-like critics on the left and the right launching fantasy-based and not reality-based critiques of his administration.  Or, as he puts it:  "The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong."

This has triggered the predictable reactions around the blogosphere, as well as Sullivan's responses.  One of the biggest perks of blogging at FP is that I rarely wade into those shark-infested waters anymore.  I have more than a passing interest in Obama's foreign policy, however, so I'm going to focus only on the foreign policy portions of Sullivan's take and see if they hold up to empirical scrutiny.  Here are the key excerpts on his pushback against the right: 

On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement. Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further. If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.

Obama’s foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s or George H.W. Bush’s, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage. It is forged by someone interested in advancing American interests—not asserting an ideology and enforcing it regardless of the consequences by force of arms. By hanging back a little, by “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere, Obama has made other countries actively seek America’s help and reappreciate our role. As an antidote to the bad feelings of the Iraq War, it has worked close to perfectly.

OK, so how did Sullivan do?

He has the facts on his side with respect to the BS about Obama apologizing for America.  This has been a standard line when the GOP candidates talk foreign policy and it's total horses**t.  Sullivan's comparison of Obama to George H.W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower on foreign policy also makes sense.  The emerging strategic narrative of this administration is a shift in foreign policy resources from the Middle East to the Pacific Rim, and realist-friendly presidents like Bush 41 and Eisenhower would approve. 

That said... arguing that George W. Bush "ignored" bin Laden seems like a gross exaggeration -- even if many of Bush's anti-terrorism policies were counterproductive.  More importantly, the notion that Libya somehow "counteracted" Iraq is a problematic formulation.  It's far from clear whether Obama has been "winning the broader propaganda war" in the Middle East.  Don't take my word for it, however -- here's PIPA's Steven Kull:   

The picture is mixed. With the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is weaker.  With revolutions in several Arab countries, frustrations with unpopular autocratic governments - a recruiting theme for terrorist groups - have been mitigated.  But one important contributing factor has not improved - widespread anger at America in the Muslim world.  While views have improved in Indonesia, throughout the Middle East and South Asia, hostility toward the United States persists unabated.

This does not read like a victory in the propaganda war. 

OK, what about Sullivan's foreign policy rebuttal to the left?  Here's the key excerpt

This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game.... He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets.

Hmmm.... I'll be honest, I have no idea what Sullivan is talking about with respect to Israel.  Ironically, Israel is one of the areas where the left and right agree that Obama has made a hash of things (albeit for different reasons).  First, it's not clear to me at all how Obama's policies have made it more likely that settlement construction will be halted on the West Bank.  Second, stepping back further, one could argue that Obama's greatest strategic miscalculation was his belief that the Israel/Palestinian issue was the fulcrum through which one can understand the problems of the region.  Third, Israel/Palestine is precisely the area where a long-term, slow-game approach carries the biggest risks.  Long-term demographic and political pressures make a two-state deal less likely over time. 

Iran is a counterfactual question.  Indeed, it's the favorite counterfactual question of the GOP 2012 presidential candidates.  It allows the candidates to portray Obama as weak, claim he botched things without any proof that the United States could have influenced the outcome, and promise that they would have handled it differently, which we'll never know in a non-multiverse world.  Still, while Obama has succeeded in applying more economic pressure on  Iran than is commonly appreciated, I don't see this regime going anywhere

So, how does Sullivan do?  He makes some valid points, but he proffers some serious whoppers as well.  This is far from a slam-dunk empirical refutation of Obama's critics.  As a George H.W. Bush kind of foreign policy guy, I wanted Sullivan to empirically and logically eviscerate the more hysterical foreign policy critics out there.  He didn't. 

Am I missing anything?  [UPDATE:  I did miss parallel blog posts by Andrew Exum and Kevin Drum that buttress the points made above. Go check them out.]