February 11, 2009
By Helle C. Dale
The annual Munich Security Conference, which took place last
weekend, usually yields one or two memorable speeches, which help
set the international stage for the year or years to come. In 2007,
Russian President Putin set a tone of confrontation by
belligerently attacking the United States for its overbearing
foreign policy, primarily in Iraq. And in the early days of the
George W. Bush presidency, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made
history -- and many enemies in Europe - by referring to Germany and
France as "old Europe." (By implication, that made the East and
Central Europeans "new Europe," a role they have much relished.)
What is said at Munich is often a good indicator of things to
This year, Vice President Joe Biden provided a highly memorable
moment, delivering a particularly mealy-mouthed exposition of U.S.
foreign policy, the most memorable phrase of which related to the
U.S.-Russian relationship. About the country that only last summer
invaded a sovereign nation in its neighborhood, Georgia, and which
repeatedly threatens its neighbors with cutting off their energy
supplies and other more aggressive measures, Mr. Biden said, "The
last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between
Russia and the members of our Alliance - it is time to reset the
button and revisit the many areas where we can and should work
Now, Mr. Biden is famous for his - shall we say - colorful off
the cuff remarks, but this was a prepared speech delivered on
behalf of the new administration in Washington. So this bizarre
statement was likely not a slip of the tongue, at least not
entirely. Mr. Biden probably did not mean "reset the button," which
makes little sense, but "hit the reset button," which would mean
wiping the slate clean in computereese. Doing so would in effect
grant Russia its ill-gotten gains in Georgia. He also invited
Russia to integrate more closely into NATO structures. In his press
conference Monday night, President Obama himself invited Russia to
work with the United States to pressure Iran to come to the
negotiating table, a statement that would be funny were it not so
Equally troubling in Mr. Biden's speech was the absence of
commitment to missile defense in Europe, the so-called "third site"
for which a radar is to be installed in the Czech Republic and 10
interceptors in Poland. It appears that the Obama administration is
ready to do a deal with the Russian government on nuclear arms
reduction, possibly in exchange for abandoning U.S. missile
defense, all of which is deeply troubling.
In all, Mr. Biden spoke as though peace had broken out, a
favorite illusion of Europeans. Russian aggressiveness was swept
under the rug. Iran was offered an out-stretched hand to enter into
negotiations over their nuclear program in a new spirit of "mutual
respect" that would offer the Iranian mullahs incentives whenever
they are ready to talk about giving up their nuclear weapons. Well,
now that sweetness and light have broken out, the Iranian regime
will surely put away their nuclear plans, right?
And despite the fact that the Obama administration is talking
tough on Afghanistan, which Mr. Biden called its top foreign policy
issue, the global war on terror does seem to be over from the U.S.
perspective. The struggle against Islamist radicals and terrorists
is no longer central to U.S. foreign policy. Instead Mr. Biden
invited U.S. allies in Europe and the Muslim world to work with the
United States against "a small number of extremists." This is a
radical departure from the monumental efforts made by the Bush
administration to keep Americans safe from terrorist attacks, and
will no doubt be greeted joyfully in Al Qaeda circles.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Biden effectively offered to hit the
reset button of U.S. foreign policy on a great range of
international issues. In many respects, the speech signaled a
complete break with the Bush era and did so to the great delight of
the European audience. Things had gotten off to a rocky start
between European leaders and the Obama administration as the "buy
America" provisions of the trillion dollar economic stimulus
package affronted Europeans as a violation of international trade
agreements. Mr. Biden's mandate was to get the Europeans to simmer
down, and by the end of his platitudinous oration, he had them
eating out of his hand. Unfortunately.
Helle Dale is
director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in the Washington Times
The annual Munich Security Conference, which took place last weekend, usually yields one or two memorable speeches, which help set the international stage for the year or years to come. In 2007, Russian President Putin set a tone of confrontation by belligerently attacking the United States for its overbearing foreign policy, primarily in Iraq. And in the early days of the George W. Bush presidency, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made history - and many enemies in Europe - by referring to Germany and France as "old Europe." (By implication, that made the East and Central Europeans "new Europe," a role they have much relished.) What is said at Munich is often a good indicator of things to come.
Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
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