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The West and Russia: Why Obama's Legacy Hinges on Europe

An Analysis by Sebastian Fischer Barack Obama has labeled Russia a "regional po er" that is acting out o! eakness rather than strength" That may be so" But the #$ president's o n !oreign policy legacy depends hea%ily on &ladimir 'utin (( and Europe" Barack Obama is has a reputation for extreme rationality -- or for being coldly calculating, depending on the viewpoint. Self-control is paramount, and he rarely loses it. One can assume, then, that Obama's barbed comments on ussia, delivered at a !uesday press conference in !he "ague, were designed to provoke. !hey also show #ust how vexed the $S president is by ussian %resident &ladimir %utin's exploits in 'rimea. ussia, Obama said following the (uclear Security Summit in the (etherlands, is a )regional power) that is threatening its neighbors )not out of strength, but out of weakness.) *t is a comment that is sure to ruffle %utin's feathers+ the ussian president, after all, has shown a penchant for consulting the c,arist playbook it his attempt to boost his country's role on the global stage. But Obama wasn't done yet. !he $S too exerts influence over its neighbors, the president said. "owever- ).e generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them.) /nd- ) ussian actions are a problem. !hey don't pose the number one security threat to the $nited States.) *t would be difficult to prove the $S president wrong. ussian power is certainly not what it used to be and its expansionary tendencies are largely a reaction to the weak geopolitical position in which it finds itself. /nd it certainly does not represent a direct threat to the $S/n invasion of /laska seems unlikely and a nuclear attack is out of the 0uestion. But indirectly, ussia does present a grave danger -- to Obama himself. %utin is threatening Obama's credibility as the leader and guarantor of the .est. )ore Help 1rom the very beginning of his presidency, Obama has been more focused on consolidating $S forces rather than embarking on new international adventures. "e has significantly reduced /merica's military footprint overseas, vocally demanded more help from $S allies, emphasi,ed the need for multilateral conflict solutions and preferred to focus on domestic issues as much as possible. Obama's retrenchment largely reflects the desires of the /merican electorate after eight years of 2eorge .. Bush. .hat does it mean for the current crisis, though3 4oes his cautious approach to foreign policy automatically mean he is a weak president3 /nd was it a factor in %utin's decision to act in 'rimea3 (o matter how Obama views ussia, the $kraine crisis and how he chooses to confront %utin will be decisive for his foreign policy legacy. !hat he ended the wars in *ra0 and /fghanistan is certainly worthy of praise. But a triumph of his own making remains to be seen. )1or any president engaged in retrenchment, policy success is not measured simply by how well the $nited States extricates itself from old involvements,) Stephen Sestanovich, the renowned ussia expert and former advisor to $S Secretary of State 5adeleine /lbright, writes in his new book )5aximalist- /merica in the .orld from !ruman to Obama.) !he decisive 0uestion, he writes, is- )"ow well are new challenges handled3) !here are plenty of them- the conflict with *ran over its nuclear program, the civil war in Syria, a budding military dictatorship in 6gypt, 'hina's more aggressive stance toward $S allies in /sia -- and now %utin's ussia. !he limits to Obama's power are being tested across the globe. /nd almost all autocrats present /merica as the enemy as a way of stabili,ing their own power. )ission *ailed

epublican hawks have long since begun #oking about Obama's allegedly na7ve attempt to )reset) $S relations with ussia. 5ission failed. remains in force. %utin is a man of the past -. 6urope's path will have a decisive impact on the future foreign policy course charted by the world's last remaining superpower.ashington. on his current 6uropean whom Obama had sought to drag into the 8.est than he is in constructing an alternative to the . But Obama's mistake is that he underestimated the revanchist nature of %utin's foreign policy. !he ussian president is much less interested in cooperation with the . On the other hand..) he intoned. But it is a fateful one for both Obama and the future of $S foreign policy. is now being celebrated as a strong president. Obama's legacy hangs in the balance. and will inform the policies of those that come after him. a man who was driven by obsessions in much the same way that %utin century. Translated from the German by Charles Hawley .ing the selfevident to guard against misleading perceptions. will go down in history as a strong or a weak president.ill the 6$ and $S show unity and a willingness to accept potential economic burdens that may result from their response to ussia3 Or will the trans-/tlantic relationship suffer anew3 *n short. has relied on emphasi.est. )6very one of our (/!O allies has assurances that we will act in their defense against any threats. when he ensured 6astern 6uropean allies that (/!O's /rticle <. . the retrenchment president. Bush. !hat sounds good. which treats an attack on one member as an attack on the entire alliance. /s he did on !uesday. *t is telling how Obama. although he wasn't even able to apply sanctions comparable to the current ones in response to ussia's conflict with 2eorgia in 899:. if Obama had refrained from uttering such a reassurance. "is predecessor 2eorge . 5uch is dependent upon 'hancellor /ngela 5erkel and other 6$ leaders+ such appears to be the consensus in . But it is akin to the local fire department calling every day to ensure home owners that it would respond to a fire should the need arise. "ow he navigates it will determine whether he. how would it have been interpreted3 !he situation is a challenging one.