February 26, 2015
While George W. Bush began his presidency seeing in Russian President Vladimir Putin a friend and a partner, by the end of Bush’s presidency, US-Russian relations were strained. The two governments verbally sparred over the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and the US invasion of Iraq the following year. Tensions continued as the United States and Russia played out a new Great Game among the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics where the United States had been seeking military bases in support of US-led forces in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the real breaking point in relations came, however, after Bush struck deals with both Poland and the Czech Republic—both former Warsaw Bloc members—to station components of an anti-ballistic missile system. Of course, tension did not simply occur in response to US actions. Putin increasingly cracked down on dissent, targeting dissidents at home and abroad. He undertook a massive military build-up, developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons and submarines, and began cheating on arms control treaties. Russia also grew increasingly aggressive, invading Georgia in 2008 and, as in Ukraine today, setting up thinly-disguised puppet states.
As documented in “Dancing with the Devil,” there is a tendency for new presidents to enter the Oval Office blaming their predecessors rather than American adversaries for downturns in relations. The new Obama administration held true to the pattern, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launching her “reset” initiative. Meanwhile, led by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, the Obama administration hid from Congress evidence of Russian cheating and pushed through a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), effectively reducing American military power while leaving Russian ambitions unchecked.
Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: Russia edition