Anne Applebaum examines the Russian case:
“Press the reset button.” Is there any phrase more enticing in the modern lexicon? We all know what it means: Press the reset button, watch your computer reboot, and presto! A nice, clean screen appears, and you start again from scratch.
Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, pressing that reset button. Unfortunately, it is also a deeply misleading, even vapid, metaphor for diplomatic relations. First deployed by the vice president — Joe Biden told a security conference in February it was time to “press the reset button” on U.S. relations with Russia — it was then repeated by the president, who spoke of the need to “reboot” the relationship as well. Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton even presented her counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with a red “reset button” to place on his desk. Despite an unfortunate mistranslation (the Russian word on the gift actually meant “overcharge,” not “reset”) they smiled and pressed the button together for the cameras.
It would be nice, of course, if U.S.-Russia relations really had been frozen as a result of irrelevant technical complications and could begin afresh. Unfortunately, while America may have a new president, Russia does not. And while America may want to make the past vanish — as a nation, we’ve never been all that keen on foreigners’ histories — alas, the past cannot be changed. The profound differences in psychology, philosophy and policy that have been the central source of friction between the American and Russian governments for the past decade remain very much in place. Sooner or later, the Obama administration will have to grapple with them.
…Any president can legitimately call for a fresh start in his relations with the world, and none more so than this president, who replaces an unpopular predecessor. Sooner or later, however, Barack Obama will also have to make hard decisions about regimes that oppose U.S. policy for reasons deeper than dislike of George W. Bush. If Russia persists in its occupation of Georgia, do we accept it? If Russia uses its energy policy to blackmail Europe, do we go along with that, too?
The rest of the world is no different. It’s a fine thing to open diplomatic relations with Iran or Syria — I’ve always thought it extremely stupid that we have no embassy, and thus no resident intelligence officer, in Tehran — as long as we remember that talking itself is not a solution: Sometimes more “dialogue” reveals deeper differences. It’s also a fine thing for the president to issue greetings on the occasion of the Persian new year, but that might not dampen the popularity of Iran’s nuclear program among both adherents and opponents of its current government. What then?
I do realize that these are early days. The traditional, deadly struggle between the State Department and the National Security Council for influence is only just getting underway, and the president has other things on his mind. But the gift of a “reset button,” however translated, was a not a good beginning. If this administration thinks it can transform America’s relationships with Russia or anyone else with the flick of a switch and a change of rhetoric, it is living in a virtual reality, not a real one.