President Obama probably thought he was being clever. “The 1980’s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,: he chided Mitt Romney during their third and final debate in 2012. Explaining his joke, the President added “the Cold War’s been over for twenty years.”
We now know that while Obama publicly dismissed the notion that Russia was a “geopolitical foe,” his foreign policy advisers were growing increasingly concerned. Obama’s ambassador to Russia told The Wall Street Journal this week that as early as 2011, “You had people analytically, including myself first and foremost, saying let’s realize that we can’t aspire to what we were aspiring to before. Secretary Clinton, everybody, understood that to be true.”
Everybody except the commander-in-chief, apparently.
Given this administration’s stunning ineptitude, it is tempting to turn Obama’s myopic and condescending comments on Russia into a laugh line—and hey, we need some laughs these days. Unfortunately, America has been saddled with one bad decision after another because of Obama’s foreign policy.
Blame stretches well beyond the White House, though. As the institution vested with authority to ratify treaties, the U.S. Senate plays an important role as a check on misguided foreign policy. Heritage Action has been pressing the Senate to push back on the White House’s weak policies on Russia since our inception.
In 2010, Obama urged the Senate to approve the New START arms control treaty negotiated with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. As Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, then still a member of the U.S. Senate,recognized at the time, the treaty’s concessions represented “another Obama giveaway at the expense of U.S. citizens.”
Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans didn’t listen, and the treaty was approved. Before the vote, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.) criticized opponents, arguing, “We should not play partisan politics when it comes to nuclear weapons.”
Perhaps Shaheen confused “partisan politics” with foresight. New START—like the broader reset—is now in shambles. As Michaela Dodge of The Heritage Foundation writes, “Since New START entered into force, the Russians have announced the most massive nuclear weapons build-up since the end of the Cold War.”
Now, the very people who pushed New START during the reset are now pretending to be hard-liners on Russia. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D–La.) says, “Being sanctioned by President Putin is a badge of honor.” Sen. Mark Warner (D–Va.) claims to be “deeply concerned with Russia’s actions, which are in clear violation of existing treaties and agreements.” Perhaps most ironic is Shaheen, who now advocates sending “strong signal[s] to Russia that we do not accept their illegal disregard for international norms and agreements.”
All three voted in favor of New START, though, just as President Obama requested. Their tough talk in hindsight doesn’t do much to advance American foreign policy or keep Americans safe. It does, however, demonstrate why Americans are tired of Washington: politicians on both sides cover up weak action with bold talk.
At Heritage Action, we believe in accountability. Politicians may know how to say the right things at the most convenient times, but too few are willing to take the votes that matter or apologize for the mistakes they’ve made. It’s our job to draw attention to the inconsistency–and to remind Americans the next time some legislators try to push half-baked policies through Congress for the sake of bipartisan cooperation and progress.
Remember, when the other side is accusing you of playing politics on the most important issues, it may just be a sign that you’re the one with clearer vision.