Obama Meets the Bear
Text by Ben Shaps
Photos provided by the Ritz-Carlton, Moscow
As Samuel Huntington – an esteemed political scientist and author of the seminal text: “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” – would argue, core states of two different civilizations, in this case the West and the Orthodox world, will never be able to cooperate within a liberal democracy. This could well be true regarding the world’s two former superpowers.
Recently the world’s media has had one central focal point: President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated diplomatic visit to the Kremlin. Following the widespread criticism of his soft handling of Iran’s rigged elections, the pressure was very much on Barack Obama to demonstrate assertiveness whilst maintaining his cool façade. The world expected a new-era of bilateral trade agreements and armscontrol treaties. These expectations were duly met. But does anyone truly believe that these two intrinsically different nations will honour their promises? All this talk of arms-reduction is strangely reminiscent of the START treaties of the 1980s when pledges to cut the number of arms fell by the wayside.
Behind all the rhetoric exercised at various stunning locations including the Kremlin and the Russian School of Economics, Russia and the United States will always have conflicting interests. The United States would very much like Russia to adopt its version of a free-market economy, along with other common traits of Western societies such as certain human rights standards, whilst Russia will continue to reject the US universalism. These two nations will always be vying for geopolitical dominance, one an economic powerhouse, the other, an energy superpower with increasing clout in Europe. This threatens the United States who has fought two World Wars in order to safeguard its norms and values in the region, first against Imperial Germany, then against Nazi Germany.
Obama and Medvedev’s negotiations have allowed us a fleeting glimpse of what rapprochement could be like; however, they have barely scratched the surface of the wider malaise that lies beneath. Indeed, history cannot simply be “reset”, as Obama claims. George Orwell famously observed that to control the future, one must have control of the past. Not even Obama can lay claim to this attribute.