President Obama’s efforts to improve relations with Russia were motivated by the best of intentions. But without a willing partner, the effort was doomed from the start. President Obama needs to recognize Putin for what he is: a despot who views the United States as an adversary.
This isn’t to say that we should cut off relations with Russia. Given its size, history, and influence in the world, this would be impractical and inadvisable. And with regard to its behavior on the international stage, Putin’s Russia is not a pariah that must be isolated along the lines of Iran and North Korea (though it could be argued that domestically, Putin’s regime is not much better).
But as we work with Putin, we must do so with the knowledge that he wants to thwart the United States and prop up authoritarian regimes that he sympathizes with. This will put our negotiations on a firmer footing, and improve the results of our diplomatic overtures.
President George W. Bush famously told the world in 2001 that he trusted Mr. Putin because he had looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul. But in 2008, after Russia’s invasion of Georgia and other acts of aggression and intransigence, President Bush admitted he had been wrong. President Obama should do the same.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.