Ukraine and the Malevolent Legacy of the Obama-Biden Administration

During the current Ukrainian war, the media has created a mythology that the Left was tough on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And thus, now it simply continues its hard-nosed efforts in Ukraine. 

But nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from Biden’s original panic of evacuating American diplomatic personnel from Kyiv, offering a ride out of Ukraine for the Zelenskyy government that would have effectively collapsed his nation’s resistance, and hesitation in selling Ukraine offensive weapons, there is also a prior legacy that had done a great deal of harm.

Indeed, many of America’s current difficulties in Ukraine originate from the Obama-Biden Administration’s former disastrous policies toward Russia birthed between 2009-2016. 

Remembering the Reset Disaster

Remember the initial premise of Russian “Reset”—the idea and the term were first used by Vice President Joe Biden (“It’s time to press the reset button”)—was based on the myth that the “cowboy” George W. Bush had been too tough on Putin after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. To Biden and Obama, Bush had unduly sanctioned Vladimir Putin following his opportunistic absorption of South Ossetia in 2008 and attack on Georgia. And thus, the Russian dictator would easily then be wowed by Obama’s legendary charisma and charm from needless hostility to accommodation.

Accordingly, the reformist hope-and-change Obama Administration would rebuild a friendly relationship with Russia. Thereby they would win strategic help from Russia with Obama’s new ambitious agendas for Iran and Syria in remaking a more “equitable” Middle East. Translated that meant “balancing” the region. Thus, by weakening our former overdog allies in the Gulf and Israel while empowering our former underdog terrorist-sponsoring enemies in Tehran and Damascus, Obama sought to create strategic tension.

What followed was an utter disaster. Hillary Clinton in March 2009 at the comical “reset” ceremony in Geneva with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov greenlighted outright Russian aggression. In response Moscow’s policy was soon to be against whatever the United States was for. In the Russian mind, the more an appeasing Obama looked the other way at Putin’s cyberattacks or later the dual invasions in 2014 of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the more Washington compensated for its impotence by shrill sermons and empty lectures on Russian human-rights violations. 

For Putin, nothing was emptier than the loud moralistic harangues of the Obama-Biden Administration that was also carrying a mere twig. During those eight years, Russia, after a near half-century hiatus, was invited back into the Middle East as a “guarantor” that its client Syria’s WMD stockpile would be destroyed (it was not). Russia instead became a formable promoter of the Iranian, Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and Hamas axis, an obstacle to Israeli responses to cross-border terrorism, and a deterrent to any Western notion of preemptively destroying Tehran’s nuclear potential.

The Trump Hiatus

The irony is that while Trump was later smeared by the Obama-Biden Left as a “Russian asset” —in the words of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who himself had confessed to lying under oath to Congress—he managed to overturn the reset in comprehensive fashion. 

Trump vacated an asymmetrical and calcified anti-missile treaty with Russia. He upped sanctions on Russian oligarchs. He ordered lethal retaliation against Russian mercenaries in Syria. He flooded global markets with cheap U.S. oil and gas at Russia’s expense. He eventually sent deterrent offensive weapons to Ukraine—once canceled by the Obama Administration. Trump upped the Pentagon budget and controversially jawboned NATO members to increase their defense expenditures. That effort in part explains why the alliance had more confidence and resources in 2022 to oppose Russian aggression than it would have at anemic 2016 funding levels. 

In contrast, it was Hillary Clinton—and the American FBI—who hired Russian informants like Igor Danchenko and their conduit Christopher Steele to spread dirt during the 2016 election. The Russians likely feared the unpredictable “America First” Trump and were only too eager to see the Left lap up its concocted, seedy “Kompromat” on him. 

Recall that the projectionist Secretary of State Clinton had earlier further appeased Russia when her State Department approved the sale of the North American company Uranium One’s uranium holdings to the Russian-government-controlled company Rosatom—the same company that recently stole the Ukrainian-owned nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear generator. It was also about this same time when Hillary Clinton greenlighted the deal that Bill Clinton received a preposterous quid pro quo $500,000 speaking fee in Moscow from a Russian bank, while millions of dollars from Moscow-affiliated companies suddenly flowed into the Clinton Foundation coffers. 

The New York Times headline succinctly summed up the Clinton-Russian trifecta of reset, appeasement, and aggrandizement as “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” 

How strange then that we now totter on the brink of a full-throttled war with nuclear Russia over Putin’s latest aggressions in Ukraine. All the while we apparently forget that the Trump Administration never colluded with Russia, was tough in action rather than verbiage with Putin, and thus remained the only one of the last four administrations during which Vladimir Putin did not invade a former Russian republic.

The Obama Russian Quid Pro Quo

Obama himself inadvertently outlined some of the parameters of the disastrous reset relationship in his infamous March 2012 hot-mic concessions to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a summit in Seoul, South Korea:

Obama: ‘This is my last election . . . After my election I have more flexibility.’

Medvedev: ‘I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.’  

Obama: ‘On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.’ 

Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you . . .”

 Obama: ‘This is my last election . . . After my election I have more flexibility.’ 

Medvedev: ‘I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.’

The implications of that exchange were never fully appreciated, although then presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed at the time that the diminution of U.S. national security for Obama’s own 2012 political reelection interests should have disqualified his reelection effort. Mortgaging U.S. security interests to help a reelection campaign was certainly far more an impeachable offense than the Trump phone call.  

So often it is also forgotten that the terms of the hot mic “deal” were eventually “solved” as Obama promised. The Russians did give “space” to candidate Barack Obama. And eight months later he was reelected—in part because of the perceived international quiet that the Obama appeasement policies had supposedly achieved.

Indeed, the Obama-Putin understanding may have postponed Russian invasions of Ukraine and Crimea until Obama was safely—and welcomely—reelected. As also promised, Obama did finalize his cancellations of missile defense by nixing the U.S., Polish, and Czech strategic initiatives. Note that lost network of anti-ballistic missile defense today might have been of value in offering Europe deterrence against Putin’s current nuclear bomb threats. 

Russian appeasement and the Iran Deal

Yet even as late as 2015, as Putin was escalating his open-ended cyber-attacks on U.S. domestic targets, Vice President Joe Biden was still wedded to appeasing him:

Once we pressed that reset button in 2009, between then and 2012, we achieved a great deal in cooperation with Russia to advance our mutual interests and I would argue the interests of Europe—the New START Treaty that reduced our strategic nuclear arsenal by one-third; a vital supply route for coalition troops in and out of Afghanistan; at the United Nations Security Council, resolutions that pressured North Korea and Iran and made possible serious nuclear discussions in Tehran, which continue as I speak.

All of us, we all invested in a type of Russia we hoped—and still hope—will emerge one day: a Russia integrated into the world economy; more prosperous, more invested in the international order.

 Had Biden not contributed to that fantasy of green-lighting Putin, he might not now be name calling the nuclear, wounded autocrat as a “killer” whom the president boasts should be removed—as he warns us that we are nearer to nuclear Armageddon than at any time in our history.

What explains the Obama-Biden serial denial of reality that their own appeasing of Russia was the height of folly? One reason is surely the crackpot notion that Russia had been seen as vital to the so-called Iran deal and related Middle East messes. Then as now, the Left believed that through Russian auspices it could massage Tehran into a nuclear deal and reset the entire Middle East in the bargain. 

The result is an Orwellian scenario in which Biden still begs Russia’s aid to ensure an Iran deal, while believing his invaluable broker is an abject murderer who should be yanked out of office.

Indeed, the Obama-Biden disastrous fixation with courting Iran has had lots of unfortunate ripples for years. And some of them continue in our current conundrum in Ukraine. 

In May 2014, remember, the Iranians with much braggadocio showed off a mockup of their reverse-engineered new RQ-170 drone. That once implausible feat was facilitated by the Iranians’ December 2011 downing of a U.S. Sentinel drone. At the time, a number of administration critics had blasted the Obama Administration for not immediately bombing all downed American drones to smithereens on Iranian soil to prevent Iranian reverse-engineering. 

And now? One of the greatest worries during the Ukrainian offensive has been the sudden emergence of Russian-purchased cheap Iranian suicide drones. Few imagined that the low-cost imports would exhibit such a deadly sophistication in stealth, range, and targeting—and well beyond either Iran’s indigenous research and development, or Russia’s own available drone fleet. The origins of these Iranian drones can also be traced directly back to the Obama-Biden appeasement of Iran. 

Don’t Underestimate Joe’s Ability to F–k Things Up.”

We are in a conundrum in Ukraine, all at once pursuing several mutually exclusive agendas: 

  1. cutting back our own energy production while beseeching illiberal third parties to up theirs to supply what we could but will not produce,
  2. worrying about protecting Europe from Russia while demanding it become more aggressive toward Putin,
  3. ensuring the EU has enough energy to survive the winter but doing so without relying on Russian gas or oil,
  4. green-lighting Ukraine to expel every last Russian—including raids into Russia proper and hits on Russian citizens—as we warn Putin that his nuclear threats to Ukraine will earn him a strong but still unspecified U.S. counter-response—even as the Biden Administration insidiously assumes complete responsibility for arming, sustaining, and protecting Ukraine from nuclear Russia and as Zelenskyy urges America to consider preemptive first nuclear strikes against Russia.
  5. ostracizing Russia from the international community while we beg it to be a good international citizen in helping us to reboot the Iran deal as it buys lethal American-fed Iranian drones.

The United States has few options in Ukraine not just because of the Biden Administration’s fiascos in Afghanistan that destroyed our deterrence or because of the Biden family syndicate’s years of corrupt money leveraging of Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese interests that make Joe Biden vulnerable to pressures from all the major interests in the Ukraine mess.

It is also not just because the woke politicization of the U.S. military has cast global doubt on American military readiness. And it is not even because Biden deliberately has cut back on U.S. gas and oil production at a time of surging global demand and reduced capacity, thus enriching Putin and strangling Western economies. 

Instead, we are shackled by a near decade of Russian reset and the aggression it invited on February 23, 2022. Obama and Biden long sought to placate Putin to help with their puerile Mideast agendas. They invited him into Syria. They made him the key player in their pursuit of the Iran deal. And they ignored his 2014 invasions of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. 

How ironic that we now find ourselves sending arms to protect Ukraine from reverse-engineered Iranian drones, beseeching in vain regimes to send us oil that we refuse to produce for ourselves, and having given up an Eastern European missile defense system to counter Putin’s nuclear threats—even as we coax both our enemies Tehran and Moscow into cementing a nuclear deal that will be as disastrous to our friends as it is to ourselves.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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