Obama, Romney, And The Reset

Latest contribution to the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on the question of which US Presidential candidate is best able to meet the challenges ahead:

When predicting election outcomes, I prefer to listen to those who put their money where their mouths are. As of the time of writing, the Intrade predictions market gives a 66% implied probability of an Obama win. The major betting websites are even more optimistic about Obama’s chances, with most of them giving him implied odds of about 80%. He is even considered more likely than not to win the popular vote, though because of the peculiarities of the US electoral system, it is also quite possible for him to lose the popular vote but still win the Presidency (about a 25% chance of this, according to Intrade). I will now most likely lose the symbolic $10 I placed on a Republican candidate win back in May 2010, when a sharp but unsustainable spike in favor of Obama accruing from Osama bin Laden’s assassination created very good odds for the contrarian gambler. Still, I don’t regret the investment. Always bet against your preferred candidate – that way, you will never be wholly disappointed.

We know that Obama is phlegmatic on the ill-thought out Magnitsky Act, and is likewise lukewarm about missile defense in East-Central Europe – to the extent that he pledged “more flexibility” on this issue to Medvedev in an unfortunate open mic moment that the Republicans later spun for all it was worth. (The Poles seem to have come to terms with this, and are now preparing to spend $4 billion of their own money to modernize their AA systems in the next decade). This is probably driven not so much by a desire to enlist Russia as an ally, as to give the US room to deal with the more pressing issues that will dominate Obama’s second term: The withdrawal from Afghanistan; the military pivot to Asia; a sluggish economy plagued by chronically high budget deficits; the accelerating climate crisis. Another alternative is that Obama’s people take seriously the CIA/Stratfor theory, hinted at by Biden in 2009, that Russia’s “shrinking population base” will nullify it as a Great Power in a couple of decades; hence, it is no longer worth aggressively confronting it as natural trends will doom it to eventual irrelevance anyway. But whatever the true motivations, we can reasonably expect the Reset to survive under a new Obama Presidency.

The GOP position is rather less compromising:

… we urge the leaders of their [Russia] to reconsider the path they have been following: suppression of opposition parties, the press, and institutions of civil society; unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Georgia, alignment with tyrants in the Middle East; and bullying their neighbors while protecting the last Stalinist regime in Belarus. The Russian people deserve better, as we look to their full participation in the ranks of modern democracies.

Needless to say, the only part of “the Russian people” who would look on these urgings with sympathy are the small gaggle of pro-Western liberals like Lilia Shevtsova (who brought this to my attention). They slavishly side with America against their own country on every issue they disagree on, so long as it helps undermine Putin. While she is right that such policies would “send a strong signal of support to Russian liberals that America does care about the values and principles it preaches”, it would also likewise alienate not only the Russian government but ordinary Russians too (41% of whom prefer Obama to 8% for Romney in a recent Levada poll). Coupled with his equally confrontational attitudes to China, and the aggressive neocon foreign policy advisers he has surrounded himself with, Romney would appear to be dead-set on provoking into existence that nightmare of Cold War planners – a Russian-Chinese alliance. This would be first and foremost a disaster for America itself.

Then again, as many have already pointed out, Romney is a flip flopper, and his bellicose rhetoric may well dissipate should he somehow find himself in the White House. Though Romney might describe Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe”, that did not prevent his son Matt from recently flying to the evil empire to promote his real-estate company and purportedly assure influential Kremlin advisers that his dad does want good relations between their two countries. If money and the practical exigencies of Presidential office trump his campaign rhetoric, there is good reason to hope that the Reset can survive even under a Romney Presidency.


  1. therussiawatch says:

    Reblogged this on The Russia Watch and commented:
    Can the reset survive under Romney?

  2. I’m slightly more optimistic about Romney’s eventual behavior in case he wins, mainly because of the factors mentioned in your last paragraph. He appears to be a person without deep political convictions, which could turn out to be a good thing. The bigger problem is all the neocons in his camp.

    My highly liberal sister lives in MA, and according to her, Romney was a rather pragmatic and moderate governor. He had to be, given the realities of that state. Maybe he’d do the same as president.

    • Jennifer Hor says:

      Dear Scowspi,

      My impression of the US Presidency is that the position has become less powerful since Bill Clinton occupied it and whoever occupies the role is dominated by the US Secretary of State and the State Department. When George W Bush was president, I thought sometimes that he didn’t always agree with some of his government’s foreign policy decisions but couldn’t override whatever Condoleezza Rice or Rumsfeld & Co said. Then again, the situation between President and US State Dept may have always been one where the President does what he’s told: one looks at the decisions Jimmy Carter made as President (1976 – 1980), including the decision to fund mujaheddin in Afghanistan in July or August 1979 at Zbigniew Brzezinski’s instigation to drag the Soviet Union into a long war there, and what he’s been doing and saying since, and one can hardly believe Carter as President and Carter now are the same man.

      I think if Romney becomes President, he’ll find himself in the same position as Bush did, more or less taking orders from the State Department and having to make decisions he doesn’t necessarily agree with.

      Am I the only one who thinks this way or are there others who’ve come to the same conclusion? (And I don’t even live in the US!)

  3. There is no chance of the reset surviving Romney. If Romney is elected President then US Russian relations will further worsen even despite the fact that Romney’s own son is apparently trying to make money in Russia. This is not so much because of Romney himself but more because of the demands of Romney’s circle and of his political base.

    My own view of Obama is rather more generous than most people’s. I get the sense that as a black American and as someone who until he won the Democrat nomination was something of a political outsider Obama came to US Russian relations with fewer of the anti Russian hang ups that so many American politicians have. As a highly intelligent and educated man I suspect that Obama also senses much of the absurdity of what is said in the US about Russia and I would like to believe that his lawyer’s training also helps him to see through a lot of the nonsense that is written and said about Russia (though the same should apply to Hillary Clinton but obviously doesn’t). I am not saying that Obama wholeheartedly rejects the standard US view of Russia. What I mean is that I sense that he treats this view with more skepticism than do most members of the US political class and that he thinks about Russia in a less obsessively hostile and antagonistic way than they do.

    If this is correct then the reset was a genuine attempt to restore some degree of politeness and rationality to relations with Russia That is my view. If it was not intended sincerely then it is difficult to understand why Obama bothered with it in the first place. This fits in also with something else I have heard, which is that of all the world leaders Obama has had to deal with the one with whom he felt most comfortable and with whom he was most at ease was Medvedev. The fact that the two were lawyers with academic backgrounds would of course have given them something in common.

    The trouble is that even if this is true (and this opinion is pure impression) it is quite obvious that Obama’s political position has been far too weak to enable him to impose his policy and to achieve a breakthrough. Thus he has been forced to bolster his position in the Democratic Party by appointing his erstwhile rival Hillary Clinton to the Secretaryship of State and to appoint another Democratic Party establishment figure, Joe Biden, as his Vice President. Clinton’s and Biden’s views of Russia are the contentional ones of the US political class. Since they control the State Department (the great majority of whose workers share their views) it is their view rather than Obama’s which has prevailed. The result is that the conduct of the reset has been in the hands of people who do not believe in it. Thus the appointment of people like Susan Rice, Nuland and McFaul, thus “democracy promotion” exactly as before, thus the anti Russian and anti Putin propaganda war exactly as before and thus notwithstanding the cancellation of Bush’s anti missile plans continuing proposals to set up anti missile bases in eastern Europe in a way that the Russians can only see as a betrayal of the promises Obama made to them.

    What this means is that unless and until there is a fundamental change in the opinion of the US political class towards Russia any attempt to achieve a sustained improvement in US Russian relations like Obama’s reset or Nixon’s detente before it is in then going to run into the sand.
    In a sense politicians like Obama and Nixon present Russia with a special problem. I remember seeing an interview on RT with Sergei Ivanov shortly after Obama was elected and just after the reset was announced. Though Sergei Ivanov could not say it simply, the point he was basically making was that the main effect of the reset policy was to put pressure on Russia to make concessions that it might not otherwise want to make. If Russia did not make these concessions, for example on cutbacks in missile arsenals or on transit routes to Afghanistan, it would find itself accused of being intransigent and obstructive whilst Obama, who might be genuinely trying to improve relations, would be undermined. If Russia did make these concessions it had no guarantee that Obama would be able to deliver what he promised in return or that his policy line would be continued by whichever US President succeeded him in which case Russia might make concessions in return for nothing.

    • My #1 fear regarding Romney is that he will launch a war against Iran. My #2 fear is that he will worsen relations with Russia. In both cases, the problem is not so much him as the people around him.

      For these reasons, if you put a gun to my head and ordered me to vote for one or the other establishment candidate, I’d go with Obama. But I live in Illinois, Obama’s home state, which is a lock for him. So I’m voting for the Libertarian, Gary Johnson, as a protest vote. In any case, I am approaching this election with a total lack of enthusiasm.

      • I tend to agree. Romney himself probably doesn’t care much. But the people who surround him are that odious clique of ex-Trotskyist born again democratist crusaders, who we called neocons and had hoped would be gone for good after 2008.

        Incidentally, I also agree with your electoral preferences. Living in California (likewise a firmly blue state), I will also vote for Gary Johnson. Well, if I had citizenship… I don’t so I just blog about it.

    • That is an excellent comment Alex. It is one of those comments where I agree with everything and really have nothing to add, but have to write something to acknowledge my appreciation of it.

      Ah, okay, one thing I would add. In his second term, Obama would no longer have to care about re-election. Old constraints will ease off. This is why I’m hoping (against hope?) that he uses it well on the international stage to achieve just and lasting settlements on a range of issues: With Russia; on a global climate treaty; maybe even on Iran.

      Obama’s next term is likely to be the last in which the US is truly the world’s undisputed premier superpower. By 2016, it will have to accept a duopoly with China. The next four years then will be critical as to what general direction international relations will develop for decades to come.

  4. Someone I know closely, knows someone who knows Romney personally, and considers him to be one of the most decent people he has ever met. A lot of the demonization of him is the media, and his not being a natural politician (liar) good at projecting image. That being said, Romney seems to be really into fixing things and taking on projects. He is not himself a neoconservative – foreign policy is an afterthought for him, and unfortunately he’s basically delegated it to some very disreputable types. Hopefully his intelligence and decency would prevent a calamity such as the Iraq war from happening under his watch, but his presidency would certainly be riskier than an Obama one from the perspective of foreign policy.

    • AP, I appreciate that might well be the case, it would not surprise me if it were true, but I don’t believe your conclusions necessarily follow.

      There is no contradiction whatsoever between (1) being a really decent man toward’s one family, friends, and fellows; and (2) having compassion for outsiders, such as laid off American workers, The 47%, Palestinians, and any other number of completely random groups. 😉

  5. I don’t know if Intrade and the other betting sites should be believed. It’s important for a candidate to seem like a winner, to seem to have momentum. Why wouldn’t people unofficially associated with the campaigns buy Intrade shares to affect media perceptions? It would be kind of negligent of the campaigns not to do this. The amounts of money would be tiny compared to what’s being spent on TV ads.

    I would guess that the vote will be challenged in some states. I’ve read that McCain decided not to go forward with legal challenges four years ago. It seems that he believed in the whole civil rights/ history-being-made narrative. To him a series of protracted lawsuits would have probably seemed like arguing with a cripple or a woman about who was first in line, i.e. ungentlemanly and immoral. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that Romney thinks about Obama in those terms. So if he sees an opportunity for a legal challenge, he’d probably go for it. Same for Obama. And how could there not be many such opportunities in such a huge, decentralized, heterogeneous (in regards to the citizenry’s level of respect for law and for fair play, among other things) country?

    Isn’t it weird that Romney has been so lacking in scruples and principles in his business and political careers, yet so principled in his private life? I wonder how conscious this divide is with him. Most guys with that kind of money would have traded in their first wives long ago, few would have donated so much to charity. Yet in the world beyond his family and his church he seems perfectly amoral. And he’s 65 now, so that’s not going to change.

    As for policy, I’m closer to the Republicans on domestic policy, closer to the Dems on foreign policy. So I’m not wildly enthusiastic about either of these guys.

    • Why wouldn’t people unofficially associated with the campaigns buy Intrade shares to affect media perceptions? It would be kind of negligent of the campaigns not to do this. The amounts of money would be tiny compared to what’s being spent on TV ads.

      I actually suspect something like this *was* done on Intrade, because there Obama’s chances were significantly lower than on the the other predictions market, IEM, and the betting sites (even accounting for their house advantage). This made it possible for those of us who noticed it to clean up a good chunk of money from irrational Romney supporters / his campaign finance department via arbitrage! 😉

  6. Dear Anatoly,

    In your Guardian comment you predicted that Obama would get 303 votes in the Electoral College. As of this morning that looks like exactly the number he got. May I be the first to congratulate you. Perhaps the Guardian will take you seriously as a commentator from now on….

    • Thanks Alex, but your congratulations are, regrettably, wasted. I got it wrong, the actual number is 332 (thanks to Florida). Nate Silver was the guy who got it 100% right. 🙂 (Granted Obama is only ahead by 50,000 in Florida so it was a tossup in any case, but still…)

    • That said my popular vote prediction appears to have been very accurate.

      Obama 50.20%, Romney 48.34% so far. I predicted Obama 50.39%, Romney 48.21%.

  7. Do you think America’s changing demographic situation helped contribute to the election victory of Barack Obama as ethnic minorities tend to vote Democrat?

    I was going to post this in the open thread but the recent US elections highlighed the point of ethnic identity has in society, economics and politics/geo-politics something that Putin does not seem to understand and is setting up Russia for a disastrous situation that will contribute to its future disintegration and possible civil war like Yugoslavia due to his immigration policy.

    Is there a full English subtitle version of the show as I see Peter Lavelle was in the panel? It would be good to hear his thoughts about mass immigration into Russia

    • Well the white establishment was always in the minority. Whites in general have always formed a majority and still do by the way, but the white establishment is generally the upper class. I don’t know of very many (if any) places where the upper class ever outnumbers the lower classes. That’s why classes in society can often be represented by pyramids.

    • “Do you think America’s changing demographic situation helped contribute to the election victory of Barack Obama as ethnic minorities tend to vote Democrat?”

      That is the most obvious lesson to take from this election. It has a serio-comic aspect, since I’ve been hearing for ages that Hispanics and Asians are “natural conservatives” and are going to become Republicans any day now. This talk usually comes from Republican blowhard spokesmen of the Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich type.

      In fact, Republicans have committed the grave error of mistaking the combination of machismo and fervent Christianity characteristic of Latin American societies as somehow equivalent to the Anglo-American variant of conservatism based on limited government. All polls I’ve seen show that Hispanics like big government and the welfare state, so naturally they vote Democratic. With Asians, Republicans think that since they value education and do well economically, this must make them conservative. Yet Asian-Americans just went overwhelmingly for Obama. I also heard some talk about how Obama’s support for gay marriage was going to diminish his support among blacks. Well it didn’t.

      In short, the Republican analysis of these groups and their political sympathies is facile, superficial and obtuse. If it remains that way, the Republican Party will soon be history.

      • Interestingly, the guy who runs the practice where I work some days is a gay Latino who votes only Republican; he has a business to run, after all.

        Latinos are a varied bunch. I will now state some generalizations with many exceptions: Cubans are like diaspora Balts, Ukrainians or other Eastern Europeans: generally educated professionals, anti-communist and already Republican. My impression of most South Americans and Mexicans is that they are like the Italian peasants who came to the USA 100 years ago: very hardworkng, religious, socially conservative, not particularly educated. I’ve overheard South American immigrants working two jobs complaining about welfare parasites from other ethnic groups. But they wouldn’t vote for the party that wants to deport them or that supports harrassment of them by checking immigration documents at traffic stops. The Republican Party could, if it were smarter and dropped the nativism, bring these people into the fold. Their descendents would not be Palin-style redneck Anglo Republicans but those of the Giuliani kind, just darker skinned. Suburban Long Island, New Jersey, Staten Island, are full of such people.

        • I agree with most of this. One thing that becomes clear if you talk to Latinos is that they dislike being lumped together into one large group. Their country of origin or ancestry is a major part of their identity. How would British, Australians, Irish, Nigerians and Singaporeans feel about being thrown together into one large pot labelled “Anglos”?

          Both parties are clueless about this. The Repubs put forth Marco Rubio as some kind of draw for Hispanics, seemingly unaware that working-class mestizo Mexicans tend to dislike rich white Cubans like Rubio.

          • Dear AP,

            What you say makes me think of a lot of the immigrant communities in Britain. It always seemed to me that many of the immigrants in Britain especially those who came from places like the Indian Subcontinent with their religious piety, their small businesses and their family centred social groups were natural Conservatives who only voted Labour because of the hostility to them and the anti immigration rhetoric of many in the Conservative Party. It was only in the 1990s that the Conservative Party began to realise this and began to reach out to these people with some success. By contrast East European immigrants to Britain tend to be youngish, single and working class and are natural Labour supporters (the rich Russians of Londongrad obviously being the exception).

      • This is a dangerous and fundamental lesson that Putin and Americans do not seem to understand that vested interests (that I think are British) in Russia and the US use these ethnic minority groups as a proxy for their own agenda to pass laws under the cover of democratic representation who vote in blocks for their own ethnic interests and dependant on big government welfare schemes that is deliberately aimed at weakening the predominant ethnic majority and because not one ethnic majority has enough demographic sway it is impossible to have a truly independent and unified policy that is only kept in check in the US because of the dominance of the 2 party system.

        Writer E Michael Jones demonstrated in his book The Slaughter of Cities how resettlement of blacks in white communities in the post WW2 era aligned by private foundations linked to the government was used as a deliberate means of urban ethnic cleansing to break up catholic communities that were seen as the predominant ethnic religious and political group in post war America.


        In Russia they are using the homosexual/sex issue as one of their main devices to directly/indirectly attack the Russian Orthodox church that is rightfully seen as the ideological glue promoted by the state that protects Russian society from liberal interests, opposing ethnic/religious networks emerging and a true authentic Russian ethnic identity and history that it can project far from its borders.

        The exact same thing is happening in Serbia that is used as an experimental model for post Cold war occupation and what they want to implement in Russia.

        “Serbia’s homosexual parade was to coincide with an anti-Jesus “art” show in which Jesus and his Apostles are portrayed as homosexual transvestites and she-males.”


        Russia is importing tens of thousands of Central Asian Muslims into Russia to the point that by 2050 1/3 of Russia with be immigrant and officially 1 in 10 births in Moscow is to immigrant families that will fundamentally change the cultural, economic and ethnic character of Russia that already both inside and outside of Russia in the near abroad western and foreign aligned NGO’s/writers who are openly hostile to Russia are promoting ethnic hatred, resentment and separatism against Russia by promoting historical events in an exclusively anti-Russian narrative especially in regions where Russia has vital security and economic interests like the Crimea, Ukraine and North Caucasus.