The Magazine

No Summit

Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook enjoyed what might charitably be called a warmhearted chuckle at the news that President Obama had abruptly canceled his planned “summit” meeting in Moscow with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Even the reliably turgid language of White House press secretary Jay Carney was unusually blunt in explaining the reasons why: “We have reached 

Summit

the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia summit in early September.” 

Now, if The Scrapbook were a standard newspaper editorial page, and if Barack Obama were, say, a Republican and not a Democratic president, we would immediately swing into anger/despair mode: In the nuclear age, we would explain, mutual understanding between the United States and Russia is of paramount importance. Or: The president’s unrealistic demands and expectations, coupled with his bellicose rhetoric, have poisoned the delicate atmosphere between Moscow and Washington. And finally: It will take years, and precious time we don’t have, to undo the damage done by this calculated insult to Russia. 

And on and on. 

But of course, far from deploring Obama’s decision, The Scrapbook is understanding—even sympathetic. For despite his stated intention of meeting with the Russian president in anticipation of a G20 summit next month in St. Petersburg, Obama really had no good reason to see Putin. Relations between the Kremlin and the White House are deeply antagonistic, the two countries disagree on a host of critical issues, and of course, Russia’s granting of political asylum to Edward Snowden was a calculated affront. Since it is our general view that summit meetings tend to cause more problems than they solve, we applaud Obama’s decision to restrain himself.

But how times change! And in that respect, The Scrapbook has an especially pertinent memory of Walter Mondale, the former vice president and 1984 Democratic presidential candidate, who thought it made sense politically to criticize Ronald Reagan for being too tough on the Soviet Union. Reagan, he complained on September 25, 1984, was “the first president since Hoover not to meet with his Soviet counterpart.” 

You see, boys and girls, in those days Democrats tended to believe that the fault for the Cold War lay largely with the West, and so it was incumbent on presidents to apologize for defending freedom against communism, and to seek reconciliation, wherever and whenever possible, with the rulers in the Kremlin. So not only did Mondale condemn Reagan for avoiding the company of Soviet dictators, he resurrected the image of Herbert Hoover’s presidency, a half-century in the past, to drive home his point. 

Well, it is true that President Hoover never met with Marshal Stalin—and equally true that, if he had, Stalin would have gone on being Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century. And to think that a Democratic candidate for national office would suggest that the Kremlin chieftain could fairly be described as the “counterpart” to the democratically elected American president!

Democrats, with all their talk of pushing the “reset” button with Russia, don’t believe that anymore, right?

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