Those Americans who’ve spent any significant time overseas know what’s it like to be embarrassed by their fellow innocents abroad. There’s not much worse than being accosted for spare change outside of Amsterdam’s Central Station by a fellow American in vagrant residence; or, a summer stroll down Salzburg’s Getreidegasse only to be confronted by an obese American wearing blindingly white shoes and a sweatshirt emblazoned with a sequined representation of Old Glory…using a walkie-talkie to loudly arrange a meeting at the McDonald’s.
And then there’s our Secretary of State, managing to take the cliche of Dumb-ugly American to new heights where the only solace is to place your head in your hands and weep.
After months of 8th grade love notes being passed across desks to Moscow, (Dear Dmitri, My friend is a good friend of Barack and she says that Barack might like U. I don’t mean just like. I mean that he might like like U. Do U like him too? He might ask U to the Spring Dance. Are U going?) the “Winds of Change” blew into Geneva bearing gifts to symbolize a new era in US-Russian relations.
The gag was trite and childish. Bread and salt would have been cliche, but better than wrapping an emergency stop button and presenting it in front of the cameras. But then it got worse. The full intellect of the Department of State and office of Madame Secretary was unable to correctly translate the word “reset”. And then it got worse again. Madame Secretary had just made a very big deal about how hard everyone had worked to get the translation just right. And then it got even worse. Mr Lavrov translated the word for Madame Secretary in front of the cameras.
And then they laughed.
Lavrov’s laugh started out as a chuckling smile. Clinton was much less restrained, but it was not the hearty belly laugh of a well-told joke. It was the hollow guffaw of nervous embarrassment. Lavrov laughed harder in response. Clinton upped the laughter ante. The problem is that Clinton laughed like Lavrov was laughing with her, while Lavrov laughed at her.
Worse, the DoS translation may reflect the actual intent of US foreign policy. On the same trip, Clinton spoke openly about keeping the door to NATO “wide open” for Ukraine and Georgia. How could either of those two nations joining NATO possibly be construed as “resetting” relations between Washington and Moscow? NATO enlargement is a much bigger issue for Russia than ABM systems. The latter makes for good shoe-on-lectern material, but Moscow must know that it can counter an unproven, half-finished system for much less than what the system will cost the US…a price which the US will be hard-pressed to scrape together anyhow. And if all else fails, Russia can simply station Iksanders in Kaliningrad.
NATO enlargement, however, has been a simmering concern since Madame Secretary’s husband decided to beat swords into more swords.
It is uncertain what kind of insider information Clinton has that would lead her to behave like she has the upper hand in negotiations with Russia. After Russia shot down the unmanned drone that George had given to the Georgians; after watching our proxy get its ass handed to it because it started a war it couldn’t win, even with US military aid and “advisers” on the ground (look it up, even the NY Times finally admitted it); and after getting Manas yanked out from underneath the Afghan plans, it would seem that the United States is not in a very good position to dictate terms to Russia. At this point, the administration is going to have to ask Russia, Iran, or both to help supply the Afghan effort and has only a few chips to put on the table.
“Wait, did I say ‘NATO enlargement’?”
“Let’s press that reset button one more time…”
Lord help us if our foreign policy has gone from dastardly and incompetent to merely incompetent. Change, yes, but not really worth believing in or supporting. Let’s just be thankful that Putin didn’t use all that oil money to build a functioning politico-economic system in Russia. If he had, then the Russians might be playing to win rather than merely trying to stake out an advantageous position in preparation for the fall of the US empire. (And turning the screws whenever the opportunity presents itself; any Russian would.)
We did get a nickname for the public face of US foreign policy out of the deal; unfortunately, “overcharge Clinton” will probably prove disturbingly apt.
Oddly, photos of the button show “reset” and “peregruzka” in transliteration. That the DoS decided to print the Russian in Latin characters might well indicate that the whole stunt was mostly for US consumption. Which means that if Secretary Clinton had not bragged about the translation, the snafu would, probably, have remained hidden…or at least not happened in front of television cameras.