Wladimir Putin (left) and his former american counterpart Barack Obama in 2016 Bild: AFP
Memo to Obama partisans: look at your own legacy before you cast that first stone.
At last September’s G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China, Barack Obama put the fear of God into Vladimir Putin. Or at least he tried. Two months earlier, American intelligence officials informed the President they had “high confidence” it was Russian hackers who had broken into computer servers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and transmitted some 20,000 stolen emails to WikiLeaks, which posted the messages on its website. The internal correspondence, revealing institutional favoritism for the party’s eventual presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her insurgent challenger Bernie Sanders, and released on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, threw the Democrats into disarray, swiftly leading to the resignation of party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz amid accusations that the nominating process was “rigged.” And they were seized upon by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who days later said he hoped Russia was “able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing” from Clinton’s private server.
Frustrated that Russian meddling might throw the presidential election to Trump and thus put his legacy in jeopardy, Obama confronted Putin at the sidelines of the conclave. “Cut it out,” the American President told his counterpart, or face “serious consequences.” It was not reported what, if anything, Putin said in response. But we can gauge the seriousness with which he regarded the titular leader of the free world’s threats by the actions his government took just weeks later, when WikiLeaks dumped a trove of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, also pilfered by Russian hackers.
As his critics never tire of pointing out, Donald Trump indeed won the American presidency with the open connivance of a hostile foreign power. This is a ghastly thing to contemplate, particularly as the Russians are now employing similar means of subterfuge to influence critical elections across the West, most importantly in France and Germany. Equally worth considering, however, is a question the new President’s detractors, stricken with a case of highly selective amnesia regarding Obama’s eight years in office, are too blinded by partisanship to ask: What was it about the last President’s foreign policies and general approach to the world that led Vladimir Putin to believe he could get away with his shenanigans, even after a direct threat from Obama himself?
Obama's first major diplomatic initiative was the Russian reset
This obliviousness towards the role that Obama’s peculiar approach to leadership and power politics—the essence of which is captured in such well-known phrases as “leading from behind” and “the long game”—might have played in last year’s events manifests itself most blatantly in the anguished handwringing over the state of the “liberal world order”—the global architecture of alliances, treaties, norms, and institutions that America and its allies established after World War II to ensure free trade, the nonviolent settlement of interstate conflict, and the prevention of great power war.
Lamenting the fate of this international system—which has indeed ensured unprecedented global peace and prosperity under American hegemony—has become a key element in the talking points of Obama staffers as they make their way outside the corridors of power. “The new phase we’re in is that the Russians have moved into an offensive posture that threatens the very international order,” former Obama Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told the New Yorker. “Putin regime seeks disintegration of the EU, NATO and 70 years of [international] order,” he later tweeted. “GOP cannot look away from hard truth.” In her first public address as a private citizen, former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power warned of how Putin is “taking steps that are weakening the rules-based order that we have benefitted from for seven decades.”
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