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TheKremlinReallyBelievesThatHillaryWantstoStarta

WarWithRussia

September7,2016

IfHillaryClintoniselectedpresident,theworldwillrememberAug.25asthedayshebegantheSecond
ColdWar.

InaspeechlastmonthnominallyaboutDonaldTrump,ClintoncalledRussianPresidentVladimirPutinthe
godfatherofrightwing,extremenationalism.ToKremlinwatchers,thosewerenotrandomepithets.Two
yearsearlier,inthemostfamousaddressofhiscareer,PutinaccusedtheWestofbackinganarmedseizure
ofpowerinUkrainebyextremists,nationalists,andrightwingers.ClintonhadnotmerelyinsultedRussias
president:Shehaddonesoinhisownwords.

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Worse,theywerewordsoriginallydirectedatneoNazis.InMoscow,thiswasseenasarepriseofClintons
commentscomparingPutintoHitler.Itinjectedanelementofpersonalanimusintoanalreadystrained
relationshipbut,moreimportantly,itsetupPutinastherepresentativeofanideologythatis
fundamentallyopposedtotheUnitedStates.

EvenasrelationsbetweenRussiaandtheWesthavesunktonewlowsinthewakeof2014srevolutionin
Ukraine,theKremlinhaslongcontendedthataColdWarIIisimpossible.Thatsbecause,whiletheremay
bedifferencesover,say,thefateofDonetsk,thereisnolongerafundamentalideologicalstruggledividing
EastandWest.ToRussianears,Clintonseemeddeterminedinherspeechtoprovidethismissing
ingredientforbipolarenmity,paintingMoscowasthevanguardforracism,intolerance,andmisogyny
aroundtheglobe.

ThenationClintondescribedwasunrecognizabletoitscitizens.Antiwoman?Putinsgovernmentprovides
workingmotherswiththreeyearsofsubsidizedfamilyleave.Intolerant?Thepresidentpersonallyattended
theopeningofMoscowsgreatmosque.Racist?PutinoftentoutsRussiasethnicdiversity.ToRussians,it
appearedthatClintonwasstrainingtofabricatearationaleforhostilities.

IhavebeenhardpressedtoofferamorecomfortingexplanationforClintonsbehaviorataskthathas
fallentomeasthesoleWesternresearcherattheRussianForeignMinistrysMoscowStateInstituteof
InternationalRelations.Betterknownbyitsnativeacronym,MGIMO,theinstituteisthecrownjewelof
Russiasnationalsecuritybraintrust,whichHenryKissingerdubbedtheHarvardofRussia.

Inpractice,theinstituteismorelikeahybridofWestPointandGeorgetownsSchoolofForeignService:
MGIMOpreparestheeliteofRussiasdiplomaticcorpsandhousesthecountrysmostinfluentialthinktanks.
ThereisnobettervantagepointtogaugeMoscowsperceptionsofapotentialHillaryClintonadministration.

Letsnotmincewords:Moscowperceivestheformersecretaryofstateasanexistentialthreat.

Letsnotmincewords:Moscowperceivestheformersecretaryofstateasanexistentialthreat.TheRussian
foreignpolicyexpertsIconsulteddidnotharborevengrudgingrespectforClinton.Themostdamaging
chapterofhertenurewastheNATOinterventioninLibya,whichRussiacouldhavepreventedwithitsvetoin
theU.N.SecurityCouncil.MoscowallowedthemissiontogoforwardonlybecauseClintonhadpromised
thatanoflyzonewouldnotbeusedascoverforregimechange.

Russiasleaderswereunderstandablyfuriouswhen,notonlywasformerLibyanPresidentMuammaral
Qaddafiousted,butacellphonerecordingofhislastmomentsshowedU.S.backedrebelssodomizinghim
withabayonet.TheywereevenmoreenragedbyClintonsvideotapedresponsetothesamenews:We
came,wesaw,hedied,thesecretaryofstatequippedbeforeburstingintolaughter,cementingher
reputationinMoscowasaduplicitouswarmonger.

Asacandidate,ClintonhasgivenMoscowdjvubyonceagaindemandingahumanitariannoflyzonein
theMiddleEastthistimeinSyria.Russiananalystsuniversallybelievethatthisisanotherpretextfor
regimechange.PutinisdeterminedtopreventSyrianPresidentBasharalAssadfrommeetingthesame
fateasQaddafiwhichiswhyhehasdeployedRussiasairforce,navy,andspecialoperationsforcesto
eliminatetheantiAssadinsurgents,manyofwhomhavereceivedU.S.trainingandequipment.

GiventheongoingRussianoperations,anoflyzoneisapoliteeuphemismforshootingdownRussias
planesunlessitagreestogroundthem.Clintonisawareofthisfact.Whenaskedinadebatewhethershe
wouldshootdownRussianplanes,sheresponded,Idonotthinkitwouldcometothat.Inotherwords,if
shebacksPutinintoacorner,sheisconfidenthewillflinchbeforetheUnitedStatesstartsashootingwar
withRussia.

ThatisadubiousassumptionthestakesaremuchhigherforMoscowthantheyarefortheWhiteHouse.
SyriahaslongbeenRussiasstrongestallyintheMiddleEast,hostingitsonlymilitaryinstallationoutsidethe
formerSovietUnion.AsrelationswithTurkeyfray,thenavalgarrisonatTartusisofmorestrategicvalue
thanever,becauseitenablesRussiasBlackSeaFleettooperateintheMediterraneanwithouttransitingthe
TurkishStraits.

Twoweeksago,PutinredoubledhiscommitmenttoSyriabyconductingairstrikeswithstrategicbombers
fromabaseinnorthwestIranaprivilegeforwhichRussiapaidsignificantdiplomaticcapital.Havingcome
thisfar,thereisnoconceivablescenarioinwhichMoscowrollsoverandallowsantiAssadforcestotake
DamascuswhichitviewsasWashingtonsultimategoal,basedinpartonpubliclyaccessibleintelligence
reports.

ClintonhasjustifiedherthreatenedattackonRussiasairforce,sayingthatitgivesussomeleverageinour
conversationswithRussia.Thissoundssuspiciouslylikethemadmantheoryofdeterrencesubscribedto
byformerPresidentRichardNixon,whotriedtomaximizehisleveragebyconvincingtheSovietshewas
crazyenoughtostartaworldwar.NixonsbluffwasafailureevenwhenheinvadedCambodia,Moscow
neverquestionedhissanity.Today,RussiananalystsdonotretainthesameconfidenceinHillaryClintons
soundnessofmind.

HertemperbecamelegendaryinMoscowwhenshebreacheddiplomaticprotocolbystormingoutofa
meetingwithForeignMinisterSergeiLavrovjustmomentsafterexchangingpleasantries.Andthe
perceptionthatsheisunstablewasexacerbatedbyreportsthatClintondrankheavilywhileactingas
Americastopdiplomataccusationsthatcarryspecialweightinacountrythatfaultsalcoholismformany
ofBorisYeltsinsfailures.

Culturaldifferencesindecorumhavemadethesituationworse.InRussia,whereitisconsideredasignof
mentalillnesstosomuchassmileatastrangeronthestreet,leadersareexpectedtoprojectanimageof
sterncalm.Throughthatprism,Clintonhasshownwhatlookslikedisturbingbehavioronthecampaigntrail:
barkinglikeadog,bobbingherhead,andmakingexaggeratedfaces.(Tobeclear,mypointisnotthatthese
arerealsignsofcognitivedecay,butthatmanyperceivethemthatwayinMoscow.)

AnotherfactorthatdisturbsRussiananalystsisthefactthat,unlikepriorhawkssuchasJohnMcCain,
ClintonisaDemocrat.ThishasallowedhertomutetheWestsnormalantiinterventionistvoices,evenas
IraqwararchitectRobertKaganboaststhatClintonwillpursueaneoconforeignpolicybyanothername.
Currently,theonlyvoiceforrapprochementwithRussiaisClintonsopponent,DonaldTrump.Ifshe
vanquisheshim,shewillhaveafreehandtotaketheaggressiveactionagainstRussiathatRepublican
hawkshavetraditionallyfavored.
MoscowprefersTrumpnotbecauseitseeshimaseasilymanipulated,butbecausehisAmericaFirst
agendacoincideswithitsviewofinternationalrelations.Russiaseeksareturntoclassicalinternationallaw,
inwhichstatesnegotiatewithoneanotherbasedonmutuallyunderstoodselfinterestsuntaintedby
ideology.ToMoscow,onlythepredictabilityofrealpolitikcanprovidethecoherenceandstabilitynecessary
foradurablepeace.

Forexample,thesituationonthegrounddemonstratesthatCrimeahas,infact,becomepartofRussia.
Offeringtoofficiallyrecognizethatfactisthemostpowerfulbargainingchipthenextpresidentcanplayin
futurenegotiationswithRussia.YetClintonhascastigatedTrumpforsomuchasputtingtheoptiononthe
table.Forideologicalreasons,shepreferstopretendthatCrimeawillsomedaybereturnedtoUkraine
evenasMoscowbuildsa$4billionbridgeconnectingthepeninsulatotheRussianmainland.

MoscowbelievesthatCrimeaandothermajorpointsofbipolartensionwillevaporateifAmericasimply
electsaleaderwhowillpursuethenationsbestinterest,fromsupportingAssadagainsttheIslamicStateto
shrinkingNATObyejectingfreeriders.RussiarespectsTrumpfortakingtheserealistpositionsonhisown
initiative,eventhoughtheywerenotpoliticallyexpedient.

InClinton,itseesthepolaroppositeaprogressiveideologuewhowillstubbornlyadheretomoral
posturesregardlessoftheirconsequences.

InClinton,itseesthepolaroppositeaprogressiveideologuewhowillstubbornlyadheretomoral
posturesregardlessoftheirconsequences.ClintonalsohasfinancialtiestoGeorgeSoros,whoseOpen
SocietyFoundationsareconsideredtheforemostthreattoRussiasinternalstability,basedontheiralleged
involvementinEasternEuropespriorColorRevolutions.

RussiassecurityapparatusiscertainthatSorosaspirestooverthrowPutinsgovernmentusingthesame
methodsthatfelledPresidentViktorYanukovychinUkraine:covertlyorchestratedmassprotestsconcealing
armedprovocateurs.TheKremlinsonlyquestioniswhetherClintonisrecklessenoughtobackthoseplans.

PutincondemnedtheUnitedStatesforflirtingwithsuchanoperationin2011,whenthenSecretaryClinton
spokeoutinfavorofmassprotestsagainsthispartysvictoryinparliamentaryelections.Herrecent
explosiverhetorichasgivenhimnoreasontobelievethatshehasabandonedthedreamofaMaidanon
RedSquare.

ThatfearwasheightenedwhenClintonsurrogateHarryReid,theSenateminorityleader,recentlyaccused
PutinofattemptingtorigtheU.S.electionthroughcyberattacks.Thatisagraveallegationtheverykind
ofthingaPresidentClintonmightrepeattojustifywarwithRussia.

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September6,2016
PresidentBarackObamastriptoAsiathisweekmarksthefinallapinhisacclaimedpivotorrebalanceto
Asia.Thenarrativeofthispolicy,astrumpetedbycurrentandformeradministrationofficials,ispredictably
positiveexpoundingtheboldbutcarefulexecutionofastrategyfromDayOneintheOvalOffice.
However,therealstorymaycastalessshimmeringglowacrossthePacific.Acombinationofinattention,
surprise,andmistakescharacterizedtheearlyyearsofAsiapolicyunderObama.Despitethisinauspicious
beginning,theadministrationreactedwelltoeachoftheseobstacles,andthesemidcourseadjustments
culminatedinthepivot.Thelegacyofthepolicy,however,mayultimatelybeoutofthepresidentscontrolas
itrestsinthehandsofCongressandthenextpresident.

TheAsiathatObamaexpectedwhenhetookofficewasnottheAsiathathegot.Confrontedwithaglobal
financialcrisis,twowars,andpolicyprioritiesofclimatechangeandhealthcarereform,Americasfirst
presidentwithrootsinthePacificdidnotexactlyhavetheluxuryoflookingEast.TheprioritiesforAsiawere
notlaidoutinanyformalpivotdocumentlargelybecausethegoals,basedonmymanyconversationswith
ObamasAsiateam,weremodest:1)deeplyengageChina2)balancethiswithastrongalliancewith
Japan3)addresstheNorthKoreanproblemand4)reevaluatefreetradeagreements.Ineachcase,the
WhiteHousegotslappeddown.

Obamawantedtoimplementanewcooperativestrategythatofferedstrategicsecurityreassurancesto
BeijingasitencouragedthecountrytopartnerwiththeUnitedStatesinsolvingcommonglobalproblems.
TheconciliatorylanguageembeddedinObamasNovember2009speech(i.e.,thathedidnotseekto
containChinaandthatBeijingwascentraltoWashingtonsglobalagenda)ledjournaliststowriteofanew
G2strategy.Asevidence,theypointedtothefactthattheadministrationdidnotapprovearmssalesto
Taiwaninitsfirstyearinoffice,andthepresidentrefusedtomeetwiththeDalaiLama.

AnewG2relationshipwithChinahadtobebalancedbystrongalliancerelations,however,andsoObama
placedcontinuedfaithintheU.S.Japanalliance.Tostronglysignalthis,hesenthissecretaryofstateto
TokyoforherfirstforeignmissionandwelcomedtheJapaneseprimeministerasthefirstforeignheadof
statetotheWhiteHouse,allwithinoneweekinFebruary2009.Obamawantedtodealwithoneofthemost
vexingproblemsintheregionbyextendingtheunclenchedfisttoNorthKorea,penningapersonalmessage
throughSpecialRepresentativeforNorthKoreaPolicyStephenBosworth(thecontentsofwhicharestill
unknown)tomoveforwardwithhighlevel,bilateraldenuclearizationnegotiations.Finally,thepoliticsofhis
partycompelledthepresidenttocallatimeoutonalltradedeals,mostsignificantlyforAsia,puttingthe
KoreaU.S.FTA(KORUS)onhold,alongwithratificationoftwootherLatinAmericanagreements(Panama
andColombia).

Eventsinthefirst18monthsofObamaspresidencyunderminedeachoftheseobjectives.Inthecaseof
China,BeijingdisappointedAmericasG2policybynotdeliveringonclimatechangeatthe2009
Copenhagensummit(itwoulddobetterinParisin2015)moreover,itlaunchedwhatwouldbecomean
unprecedentedsetofterritorialclaimsintheEastandSouthChinaSeas.Thepresidentsdisillusionment
withthepolicywasevidentasearlyasNovember2009,ashisprincipalAsiaadvisor,JeffreyBader,later
recounted,whenObamawasreportedlyangeredbyBeijingshaughtyattitudeanditseffortstodisrupthis
onlineconversationswiththeChinesepeople.

MorethanChina,however,thebiggeststrategicsurpriseinAsiawasdomesticpoliticalchangeinJapan.

MorethanChina,however,thebiggeststrategicsurpriseinAsiawasdomesticpoliticalchangeinJapan.
ThedisplacementofsixdecadesofproU.S.,conservativeLiberalDemocraticPartyrulewiththree
progressiveprimeministers(YukioHatoyama,NaotoKan,andYoshihikoNoda)notonlyundermined
implementationofexistingbaseagreementsbutalsohaltedongoingmilitarycooperationinAfghanistan.
Amidthisdomesticpoliticalchurn,thecountryrevertedinwardfollowingtheMarch2011tsunamiand
nuclearcrisisinFukushimaeffectivelycuttingJapanlooseastheU.S.strategicanchorallianceinAsia.
NorthKoreachallengedObamawithanApril2009ballisticmissilelaunchandMemorialDaynucleartestthe
followingmonth.EvenafterObamaspersonallettertotheNorthKoreanleaderattheendof2009,the
regimerespondedwithsubmarineandartilleryattacksonSouthKoreain2010andanucleartestontheeve
ofthepresidentsStateoftheUnionaddressin2013.AndwhileAsianleadersshoweredObamawith
nicetiesduringhisfirstpresidentialtriptoSingaporeforthe2009APECLeaderssummit,theSoutheast
Asians,NortheastAsians,Mexicans,Chinese,andRussiansallpeltedhimwithcriticismsaboutthelackofa
tradepolicy.

RollingWiththePunches
PresidenciesarerememberednotfortheirplanscomingintotheOvalOffice,butforhowtheyreacttothe
surprisesthrowntheirway.Inthisregard,Obamarespondedwithworthymidcourseadjustments.TheWhite
HousescriticalbutunseencoordinationwiththeJapanesegovernmentduringtheFukushimameltdown,
followedbythemorepublicOperationTomodachirecoveryprojectandthereturnoftheLDPtopowerunder
PrimeMinisterShinzoAbe,helpedtorestorethereservoiroftrustinthealliance.InNorthKorea,Obama
transitionedfromengagementtocontainment,helpingtoerectacomprehensivemultilateralsanctions
regime.AndwhileunsuccessfulwithPyongyang,hedemonstratedpositiveandhistoricdiplomaticadvances
withMyanmar,Vietnam,andLaos.

TheWhiteHouseelevatedrelationswithotherpartnerslikeSouthKoreaandAustralia,bothofwhomwere
willingtocontributeonsignatureObamaprojectslikeclimatechange,nuclearsecurity,andglobalhealth.On
trade,startingwiththeNationalExportInitiativeinthe2010StateoftheUnionspeech,Obamaengineered
anastoundingturnaroundontradethatlinkedthenationseconomicrecoveryandjobcreationtoexport
promotion,eventuallyleadingtothepassageofKORUSandthechampioningofthe12memberTrans
PacificPartnership(TPP).PerhapsmostimportantfromtheAsianperch,Obamajustgavemorefacetime
toAsia.HebrokethetraditionofoneannualtriptoAsiaaftertheUnitedStatesjoinedtheEastAsiaSummit
in2011,andwentbeyondthetypicalNortheastAsiacircuittoIndonesia,India,andAustraliaaspartofa
largerG20strategythatincorporatedAsia.Thecurrent(andlasttrip)toAsiaforObamawasthe11thofhis
presidency,thesameasBillClintons11andmorethanGeorgeW.Bushseight.Theseadjustmentswould
eventuallyaggregatetothepivotasannouncedinaspeechtotheAustralianParliamentin2011.

AsmuchastheadministrationwouldliketotakeavictorylapinAsia,thelegacyofthepivotisonlypartially
complete.AnditisontheChinaaccountwherethereremainsmuchwork.Ontheonehand,the
administrationrespondedwelltoitsinitialdisappointmentwithG2byreturningnormalcytoitsrelationswith
ChinainObamassecondyear.ThepresidentstoppedrefusingtomeetwiththeDalaiLama,anditresumed
authorizingarmssalestoTaiwan.Moregenerally,itimplementedanuancedstrategybalancingpocketsof
competitionandcooperationwithBeijingthatresultedinsignificantagreementsonclimatechangeinParis,
maritimeriskreductionprotocols,counterproliferation(IranandNorthKorea),andcybersecurity.

AnyObamaofficialwillrecitethenumberofhoursthepresidentandNationalSecurityAdvisorSusanRice
havespentwithChinesePresidentXiJinpinginWashingtonSunnylands,CaliforniaBeijing,andelsewhere
tobuildthetypeofKissingerianrelationshipwiththeChinesethatcouldleadtosuchdeals.Yetthese
accomplishmentsarebookendedbycontinuedChineselandreclamationsandmilitaryinfrastructurebuilding
intheSouthChinaSea,andaggressivepatrollingintheEastChinaSeadespiteinternationalopprobrium
andU.S.freedomofnavigationoperations.ThuswhatAmericansseeasaprincipledstrategy,Beijing
associateswithanewmodelofgreatpowerrelationsthatassignsBeijingasphereofinfluenceandmilitary
advantageinAsiainreturnforChinesesupportofWashingtonskeyglobalissues.

ThePyongyangProblem
Moreover,NorthKorearemainsastainonthepivotlegacy.

UnderObama,NorthKoreahasconductedanunprecedentedthreenucleartestsand72majorkinetic
andmissileprovocations.

UnderObama,NorthKoreahasconductedanunprecedentedthreenucleartestsand72majorkineticand
missileprovocations.Bycomparison,therewasonenucleartestand19provocationsduringBushstwo
terms.NorthKoreasnuclearcapabilitieswillhaveevolvedduringthespanoftheObamapresidencyfroma
fledglingprogramtoastockpileofasmanyas35nuclearbombsandpotentiallyasurvivabledeterrent.
WhilethepivotsdefendersmightarguethatlittlemorecouldhavebeendonetostopChinaorNorthKorea,
historiansareoftenunkind,associatingarguablyunavoidableoutcomeswithnegligentpolicy.

Underresourcingthepivotremainsoneoftheoftencitedcriticismsofthepolicy,astheUnitedStates
operatesinaneraofbudgetsequestration.Thisextendsnotjusttobigticketmilitaryitemssuchasthe
Navys6040assetrebalancetoAsiaandthedeploymentofmorecapableweaponsplatformstothePacific,
butalsotoinexpensiveculturalandeducationalprograms.The100,000Strongprogram(toreachthat
numberofAmericansstudyinginChina)constitutesthepivotsencouragementforyoungAmericanstolearn
moreaboutAsia.However,whilerecentpollsshowthatover70percentofAmericansinthe18to24year
olddemographicseeAsiaasimportanttotheirfuture,theU.S.DepartmentofEducationinthelastgrant
cycle(20142017)cutinhalfthenumberofTitleVIfederalgrantstoAmericanuniversitiestoteachabout
Asia.

Yet,thepivotslegacyultimatelywillbedeterminedbyratificationoftheTPP.The12memberfreetrade
pact,thefirsttoincludetheworldssecondandthirdlargesteconomies,isnotjustimportantforbusiness.
Asahighstandardsagreementithasthepotentialtoaffectmorethanjusttariffs,reachingdeepinto
membercountriestocreateconformityonlabor,theenvironment,foodsafety,intellectualproperty,
cybersecurity,thedigitaleconomy,development,andotherstandards.IfChinaweretojointheTPP,
conformitywiththeseclauseswouldhaveatransformativestrategiceffectonthenatureoftheChinese
state.Thoughadistantoutcomeatthemoment,itisnotimplausible.

AtherGeorgetownspeechonthepivotonNov.20,2013,RiceinvitedChinatojoin.EvenBeijingsmild
interestintheTPPwouldgoalongwaytowardundercuttingtheoftstatedcriticismthatthepivotsprimary
accomplishmentsexemplifiedbytheNavys6040rebalancetoAsia,U.S.MarinesinDarwin,andmilitary
agreementswiththePhilippinesandVietnamamounttoathinlyveiledcontainmentstrategyagainst
China.

DuringObamasswingthroughAsiathisweek,hewillgetmorequestionsabouttheTPPthanhewillcareto
answer.Unfortunately,thefateofAsiasmostsignificantnewinstitutionisbeyondhiscontrolandnowinthe
handsofanuncooperativeCongressandtwopresidentialcandidateswhoopposethedeal.Historians
undeniablywillgiveObamacreditforthestrategicprioritieshispresidencygavetoAsia,butthepresident
mayindeedfindhimselfinanothercampaignasaprivatecitizentoratifytheTPP,andthuscompletehis
unfinishedlegacyinAsia.

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