It seems as though decades have passed since the heydays of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s ascendancy; back before critics were braying for his resignation over a few human rights snafus, back when this titan of American power strode across the international arena with great aplomb. Nowadays, just a little over two years since his resignation on the day before the elections (which shifted control of the House and Senate back to the Democrats), Rumsfeld, and the Bush administration for that matter, seem like a distant memory. But many underestimate the important legacy left behind by Rumsfeld. Though arguably damaging, the man contributed to a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Europe, driven mostly by his diplomatic tactics to achieve support for the war in Iraq. Needless to say, Moscow experienced a generous increase in its influence during the Rumsfeld era, and benefited from a variety of poor foreign policy decisions during the two Bush administrations.
For one, we have Rumsfeld to thank in part for the maintenance of Russia’s swing position on Iran – a practically permanent item of leverage in every negotiation with Washington, whereby they can constantly help make the nuclear proliferation problem worse, and then offer their cooperation in exchange for other quid pro quo. (I should note that this should be regarded as rather common realpolitik, rather than some kind of outrage.)I have previously written that the Ayatollahs of Tehran probably have glorious portraits of Rumsfeld hanging on their office walls, grateful to him for doing so much to grant them disproportionate influence in the region. The Russians, while certainly enjoying these same benefits of Washington’s soft power debt caused by Mid-East misadventures, also owe another debt of gratitude to Rummy: he was the original master artist of disaggregation – a man who saw and skillfully exploited the very fissures of the contemporary European Union which today threaten its purpose and continued existence as an alliance of nations.For the Kremlin, Rumsfeld was nothing short of inspirational.Leaving aside for just a moment the nearly unimaginable moments of cooperation between Russia and the United States in the wake of Sept. 11, as well as the cold shoulder treatment Moscow felt it received afterward with regard to airbases and flyover rights, or even Rumsfeld’s decision to pull out of key arms treaties, there are some reasons to believe that hardliners in the Kremlin believed that Rumsfeld was good for Russia at the end of the day.One of the principle assets bequeathed to the Russians was an opening to speak with Europe, both on bilateral terms and as a Union of member states at moment in which many governments had soured on their ties with the United States. This opening led to many opportunities to develop relationships in key countries such as Germany and Italy. One could even argue that it was the public disgust over the war in Iraq that made it possible for Gerhard Schroeder to leap so successfully into Russia’s arms (indeed, the SPD is in big trouble now that McCain lost the election.)We can first begin to notice the disaggregation attempts within the political and energy spheres. A very good report (or “power audit” as they call it) was published about one year ago by the European Council on Foreign Relations, which argued that Russia’s clear attempt to exploit and exacerbate divisions within the European Union represent a significant challenge to the integrity and success of the political alliance. In the intro to the report, Mark Leonard and Nico Popescu write:
Russia has emerged as the most divisive issue in the European Union since Donald Rumsfeld split the European club into ‘new’ and ‘old’ member states. In the 1990s, EU members found it easy to agree on a common approach to Moscow. They coalesced around a strategy of democratising and westernising a weak and indebted Russia. That strategy is now in tatters. Soaring oil and gas prices have made Russia more powerful, less cooperative and above all less interested in joining the west.Although the EU has failed to change Russia during the Putin era, Russia has had a big impact on the EU. On energy, it is picking off individual EU member states and signing long-term deals which undermine the core principles of the EU’s common strategy. On Kosovo, it is blocking progress at the United Nations. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Russian efforts have effectively shut the EU out of an area where it wanted to promote political reform, resolve conflicts and forge energy partnerships. And in Ukraine and Moldova, Moscow has worked hard, with some success, to blunt the appeal of the European system.
And this week, the Rumsfeldian conception of “old and new Europe” is making a comeback in the debate over how to handle Moscow’s threat to put missiles in Kaliningrad. Jacek Pawlicki at Gazeta Wyborcza today accuses Russia of attempting to pull the “old” Europe members into their orbit to oppose Washington’s plans to install the missile shield, creating some divisions with “new” EU members such as the Eastern and Baltic states who see this as a sacrifice of their security and the concession to Russia of a former Soviet sphere of influence.Pawlicki thinks that Obama had better make up his mind soon:
That is why the president-elect should cut the Russian intrigue short as soon as possible by saying out loud what he intends to do with the shield. Mr Obama’s silence is making the Kremlin’s game easier. And it may so happen that when a couple of months from now he says that the shield has to wait because, for instance, of the financial crisis, Moscow will triumphantly tell the world it has stopped America, and its old-Europe allies will applaud with admiration.