Clinton promises military cooperation with Russia - sort of

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, addresses students of MGU (Moscow State University) on  October 14, 2009 (AFP Photo / Getty Images)
During U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's five-day European tour, she promised Russia a greater level of cooperation in the military sphere, but promises, the saying goes, are sometimes meant to be broken

Clinton's whirlwind European tour, which included meetings in London, Dublin, Belfast, Moscow and a wrap-up visit to Kazan, Russia's Muslim city, touched on a variety of subjects. But for Russian audiences, the main question on everybody's mind seemed to be: What's next for relations between the United States and Russia?

This question rose to the surface following a speech that Clinton delivered at the Moscow State University (MGU).

Evgenia, a second-year student of MGU, asked the U.S. Secretary of State: “Regarding the aspects of Russia-American partnership, which of them, in your opinion, is presently the top priority: economic financial crisis or military?”

“The two issues you mentioned," Clinton responded, "military and economic, are very important. But that’s not the only way we want to define our relationship. I think in the past, it’s been too narrowly defined. And I think that’s been a loss for both of our countries.”

So far, so good. Clinton has demonstrated her desire to move beyond the traditional iron matrix of U.S.-Russian relations, which has been largely defined by economic and military considerations.

The problem, however, is that Clinton ignores her own advice of going beyond the “narrowly defined” parameters of the bilateral relationship and chooses to focus attention solely on the military side of U.S.-Russian relations, specifically America’s much-touted missile defense shield.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

“You know this debate we had about missile defense,” Clinton said. “And I want to explain this to you as an illustration of how the Obama Administration is approaching this issue differently. Missile defense is an effort to protect people from the real threats that exist in the world. We do not see a threat between the United States and Russia. There are disagreements from time to time, but we do not see a threat.”

Clinton stressing the military side of the U.S.-Russian partnership comes across as rather ironic, especially when we consider the next part of her answer, which argues that government officials from the United States and Russia are guilty of “still living in the past.”

“We have people in our government, and you have people in your government, who are still living in the past,” Clinton lectured. “They do not believe that the United States and Russia can cooperate to this extent. They do not trust each other and we have to prove them wrong.”

Admittedly, there are many Americans and Russians, many of them in positions of power, who cannot shake off the brutal hangover of the Cold War days. This goes without saying. But with that said, instead of Hillary Clinton placing emphasis on a subject other than the sphere of (American) military interests, she remains stubbornly in the trenches, rhetorical bayonet slashing the air.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton holds flowers after she addressed students of MGU (Moscow State University) on October 14, 2009. U.S (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

“And it would be, in my view,” Clinton said, “a very positive outcome if someday in the future you see the United States and Russia announcing a joint plan on missile defense, that we have sensors and radars and whatever other technology is needed in way to protect what we hold dear…”

And here comes the real kicker, the meaty part of the bone that America believes will someday seal the deal with their Russian counterparts:

“We are open to transparency and to cooperation when it comes to missile defense,” Clinton explained. “When it comes to arms reduction treaties or missile defense – we have invited your top military experts and scientists to come to our command and control centers to ask every question that they have, and we would like to do the same because we want there to be a common understanding.”

Beautiful words, but how can the United States honestly consider it acceptable to the Russians that "cooperation on missile defense" be limited to Russian observers merely visiting these planned military installations and forwarding some questions about the cool technology?

Is Clinton serious? The Russians, Clinton rationalizes, would have the freedom to "come to our command and control centers to ask every question they have," scribble some notes and scratch their beards. But beyond that cheap thrill there would nothing left for the Russians to do except return home and hope and pray that the Americans do not break their promises on missile defense in the future.

This may very well be the single instance when "transparency" and "cooperation" provides absolutely zero peace of mind, especially when we consider that it requires just minutes to recalibrate such missile defense systems to other functions or directions.

Is Hillary arguing from a past perspective?

The other ironical aspect of Clinton’s speech is that it echoed almost to a word Vice President Joe Biden’s previous utterances concerning the state of Russia.

“The reality is the Russians are where they are,” Biden told The Wall Street Journal just weeks after Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met in Moscow for upbeat talks. “They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

So was Hillary Clinton, by uttering nearly the same thing in Moscow, attempting to show that there really is some sort of balance and coordination in the Obama administration’s foreign policy, or was she merely “clinging to something in the past,” in this case, to the inexplicable logic of Joe Biden (who, incidentally, will pay a visit to Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic from Oct. 20-24)?

It may seem a bit disrespectful, especially when we consider that Barack Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize (while fighting wars on two fronts, we should add, certainly no mean feat) to entertain any sort of apprehension or mistrust about the foreign policy goals of the United States. But Russia knows perhaps better than anybody that no country ever properly defended their borders by placing excessive faith in the prattling of either friend or foe.

Moreover, although the United States is no longer under the unique leadership skills of George W. Bush and his motley crew of neoconservatives, there is nothing to say they will not be back in Washington sometime in the new future. At that point, the next dream team in the White House may opt to take the old missile defense shield back off the dusty shelf. After all, the least offensive thing that could be said about the U.S. neoconservatives is that they are an unpredictable bunch.

America's political system is no party

American politics, Russia is beginning to understand, is a lot like a professional tennis match: There are only two sides in the game, the top players rarely change, and only a few individuals, mostly corporations, can afford tickets to the contest.

This is the reality of the American political game, and it is a spectacle that Russia, not to mention the American voters, are stuck with every four years: Today the Democrats are the Masters of the Universe, tomorrow it will be the Republicans.

Without a legitimate third party to shake up America's stagnating political scene, it will continue to be politics as usual in the so-called Land of Liberty, and fear and loathing about the true nature of American foreign policy intentions in Russia.

Robert Bridge, RT

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