COMMENTARY | When Condoleezza Rice, one of the smartest women ever to be in public life, became George W. Bush’s second secretary of state, some wondered why. Dr. Rice is, after all, a Soviet affairs expert, knowledge that was surely irrelevant in the modern age.
Fast forward through a little more than eight years and one could wish that Rice was still secretary of state, considering that Russia has become a problem again. Indeed her recent article in the Washington Post demonstrates a clear eyed perspective of what it going on and a sensible approach, combining diplomacy and economic sanctions, toward bringing Vladimir Putin to heel.
Rice also provides a service by relating what happened during Putin’s last military invasion, that of Georgia. That incident is being used by defenders of the current president to justify his somewhat limp response to the Rape of the Crimea. After all, no one could accuse Bush of being less than strong in foreign affairs and yet Putin still got away with snapping up some of Georgia’s territory. Rice explains why.
“After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the United States sent ships into the Black Sea, airlifted Georgian military forces from Iraq back to their home bases and sent humanitarian aid. Russia was denied its ultimate goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government, an admission made to me by the Russian foreign minister. The United States and Europe could agree on only a few actions to isolate Russia politically.
“But even those modest steps did not hold. Despite Russia’s continued occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the diplomatic isolation waned and then the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ led to an abrupt revision of plans to deploy missile defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland. Talk of Ukraine and Georgia’s future in NATO ceased. Moscow cheered.”
Rice is suggesting that had the Obama administration not decided to appease Russia, it would have continued to suffer consequences for its actions in Georgia and, even if it had not been compelled to cough up the land it had seized in 2008, would have been deterred from trying it again in the Ukraine.
The Obama administration would signal that it is serious about responding to Russian aggression and does not regard it as something that needs sweeping under the rug if it were to ask Rice to become a special envoy to deal with the crisis. Rice, unlike the current leadership at State, has the respect of players in the region. President Obama could do worse, as a way to reset the reset. Sadly it probably will.