Obama’s ‘go stand in the corner’ policy for Russia raises serious questions

Obama’s ‘go stand in the corner’ policy for Russia raises serious questions

Russian army parade / Photo: James Picht
Russian army parade / Photo: James Picht

HONOLULU, April 2, 2014 — Western efforts to further isolate and superpower shame Russia over annexation of Crimea took a surprising turn today when multiple news agencies reported that NASA would be severing space collaboration with Russia.

The Obama Administration’s “go stand in the corner” policy of graduated de-linking of U.S.-Russian partnerships raises serious questions about the last 20 years of foreign relations. Hardly anyone in the Beltway today doubts that Russia represents a peer threat to Western interests after Putin’s land grab of Crimea and assertive resistance to U.S. intervention in Syria, but Russia did not just become a problem overnight.

Putin has U.S. taxpayers to thank for financing Russia’s recovery

Few Americans are aware of the fact that at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, severe financial problems had left their infrastructure and military in a state of literal deterioration. Many Soviet facilities were made of cheaply constructed concrete that crumbled under prolonged exposure to harsh weather, other sites under construction were left incomplete and allowed to rot. The political breakup of the USSR also resulted in Moscow losing massive coverage in their early warning missile radar as former Soviet republics went their own way.

By Bill Clinton’s inauguration as President, Russia had effectively become the world’s most incompetent and impoverished country. Alcoholism and hazing were rampant in Russia’s military. The Russian space agency, strapped for cash, could barely afford to keep the lights on, let alone send supply flights to Mir, and U.S. companies even offered to finance Russian space activities in exchange for space advertising. Congress, with the cooperation of then-President Clinton, also responded to the former Soviet Union’s disarray by subsidizing its former nuclear enemy.

Throughout the 1990s, U.S. taxpayers paid to upgrade Russian nuclear facility security and to modernize or rebuild old, deteriorating infrastructure. When NASA began the International Space Station program, Russia as an ISS partner suffered from numerous, long delays in the construction of its component modules, but U.S. policymakers responded with grace. This is significant, considering the ISS as a cooperative global project was originally birthed from an exclusive U.S.-only space station project under President Reagan.

America repeatedly picked up the slack for Russia throughout the Yeltsin years, both financially and in various forms of cooperation. Most notably, during the much hyped Y2K rollover threat, President Clinton magnanimously allowed Russian officials to monitor U.S. radar from inside the super-secret NORAD facility.

The U.S., as a victor of the Cold War, graciously embraced the Russian Federation as a vital partner for the new millennium. Throughout modern history, other nations have used their position of power to ride over the heads of their vanquished foes, but America helped Russia back on her feet. Had it not been for Western assistance, Russia would have remained a handicapped and broken country. Nevertheless, Russia has never actually regarded the U.S. nor the West as an “ally,” nor has it met Western reforms with good faith. When Vladimir Putin rose to power, his restoration of Russia’s power stood on the shoulders of recovery assisted by U.S. taxpayers.

One can only wonder why the U.S. cooperated with Russia in the first place, if Russia now is intent on resuming its Cold War-era belligerence. Since 2006, Russian nuclear bombers have been testing U.S., European and Japanese airspaces. Throughout the George W. Bush Administration, America’s focus was predominantly fixated on fighting terrorism – a space which the Russians and Chinese used to buildup their strategic forces which are now threatening the U.S. and her allies.

As America disarmed, her traditional enemies rearmed. In 2002, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) memorandum explicitly stating “the Nuclear Posture Review puts the Cold War practices related to planning for strategic forces behind us.” Tell that to Putin, who since then has planned for exactly the kind of Russia vs. West war that America is now unable to fight. Today, America is building ISR drones, mine resistant police vehicles and new Army running shoes. Russia is building air dominance fighterplanes, new ICBMs and Borei-class submarines.

In spite of all this, the U.S. continues to show good faith towards Russia in the form of reducing its nuclear stockpiles and even reducing the number of warheads actively equipped on our land-based ICBMs. Russia, however, has ramped up nuclear deployments, modernized conventional forces and has postured attack submarines to patrol near U.S. waters.

U.S. taxpayers helped modernize and secure Russian nuclear arsenals in the 1990s, and now they are being used to target America.

U.S. taxpayers paid to keep the lights on for the Russian space agency, and now U.S. astronauts are dependent on Russia for rides into space, thanks to the cancellation of the Space Shuttle.

U.S. taxpayers paid to help Russia return as a world power. Will Vladimir Putin, now that the situation is reversed, subsidize America’s crumbling infrastructure and military as our own nation deteriorates? Will Putin help Americans regain their self-respect and purpose as U.S. presidents did for Russians during their lean season? Or will Putin use our weakness to consolidate and extend his power?

History and current events, sadly, have already answered that question.

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Danny de Gracia
Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs standing committees as well as a former minority caucus research analyst at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, he has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. He has two doctorates in theology and ministry, a postgraduate in strategic marketing, a master's in political science and a bachelor's in political science and public administration. Writing on comparative politics, modern culture, fashion and more, Danny is also the author of the new novel "American Kiss" available now from Amazon.com.