Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

President Obama’s ‘Cold War mentality’ cop out

Image Credit: White House Photographer Pete Souza, (Public Domain)

Image Credit: White House Photographer Pete Souza, (Public Domain)

It was good to see President Obama call out Vladimir Putin publicly last night regarding the Snowden affair. Today, cancelling the meeting with the Russian president was a sensible step. But comments like the following make it difficult to take the American president seriously: “There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. What I continually say to them and what I say to President Putin is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future.”

It’s the kind of barb — if that’s what it is — one expects to hear from Chinese Communist Party functionaries. Indeed it’s a favorite of the CCP:

  • “‘Military alliances are a product of history. We believe any strengthening and expansion of military alliances is an expression of a Cold War mentality,’ [Defense Ministry Spokesman] Geng said.”
  • “China on Thursday called on some US politicians to abandon their zero-sum game and cold war mentality when considering the development of bilateral relations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comment in response to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remarks on China.”
  • “The United States is exhibiting a Cold War mentality with its fears that Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei poses a security risk because of its ties to the Communist Party, China’s commerce minister said on Saturday.”

Making these kinds of accusations is a convenient and attractive way for Chinese leaders to avoid talking about actual issues in the US-China relationship in a serious way. Apparently, the same is true for the American president. Instead of simply asserting that Putin was stuck in the past, the president could have offered an actual explanation to the American people for Russia’s behavior. He could have explained that the United States and Russia have differing national interests, some widely divergent, which is why even though the Cold War is 20+ years in the past, US-Russian relations aren’t all peaches and cream.

To offer such an explanation would be to invite closer examination of Obama’s Russia policy and questioning of its effectiveness. On the other hand, if “slipping” back into a “Cold War mentality” is something that just happens from time to time in Moscow…well, the president can’t be held responsible for that.

It seems to me that the president of the United States should never come across sounding like he’s on the editorial board of The People’s Daily. But hey, maybe that’s just my Cold War mentality talking.

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