E. Wayne Merry
Senior Fellow for Europe & Eurasia American Foreign Policy Council
I often criticized Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for their tendency to condescend to other countries in their public statements, and especially toward Russia, but Obama's press conference really takes the cake. He has learned nothing since his foolish remarks at the start of his presidency about Medvedev being a man of the future and Putin of the past. In addition to the crudeness of those remarks, he was proven entirely wrong in his assessment.
The cancellation of the summit was politically necessary and even justified, as there was nothing much on the table to justify it. Summits can make things worse, as the brief meeting of the two leaders at Belfast demonstrated. It is quite another thing to engage in personal insult in a public venue. No American president during the Cold War did this.
God knows, there is more than enough blame on the Russian side for the state of the relationship -- more, in my view, than on our side though we are scarcely blameless. However, the leader of a Great Power does not deliberately give personal offense to a counterpart unless preparing for actual armed conflict. If he can desist from saying offensive things about Saudi Arabia and China, he surely can toward Russia.
I can only construe from Obama's remarks that he 1) does not comprehend that Russia could not simply deliver Edward Snowden through a form of illegal rendition; 2) does not comprehend that his wish for another round of reductions in nuclear arsenals is a non-starter because Russia has cut as far as it will (see my January AFPC article in this regard); and 3) thinks Russia does not matter to US interests enough that he can effectively freeze the bilateral tie, and that Moscow has no asymmetrical means of response.
It was bad enough that the White House broke its word to the Kremlin about opposing the Magnitsky Act, but this ad hominem attack on Putin could pay negative dividends for years to come. Our man in the White House still does not understand that what is allowable -- though often deplorable -- for a senator is unacceptable statesmanship and stewardship of the public interest for a president.