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March 11, 2009

The Dangerous Diplomacy of Pandering

Kevin E. Dayhoff

I recently had the delightful opportunity to go to Washington and have lunch with a member of the Estonian Parliament, Tõnis Kõiv.


Estonia, a small democratic republic nestled in northern Europe on the Baltic Sea next to Russia and Finland, has been in the news in recent months.


In the September 26, 2008, presidential debate, now-President Barack Obama remarked: “It is absolutely important that we have a unified alliance and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship.


“And we also have to affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region, you know, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, that we are, in fact, going to be supportive and in solidarity with them in their efforts.”


Meanwhile, my lunch with Mr. Kõiv took place before the recent meeting – on March 6 – between the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva, Switzerland.


It was at that meeting that Secretary Clinton presented Minister Lavrov with a gift-wrapped "reset" button, as a symbol of the much ballyhooed rhetoric from President Obama that his administration would like to “reset our relationship” with Russia.


However, both the meeting with Minister Lavrov and the placating overtures toward Russia (and Iran, Syria, Hamas, and the Taliban – for that matter) by the Obama Administration have been the topic of concern for much of the rest of the world that has endured a long and complicated relationship with Russia.


First of all, there was the little matter that the gift-wrapped “reset” button, meant to add a little levity, turned out to be a bit of a joke on Secretary Clinton, a novice in the byzantine world of international diplomacy.


The “gift” featured the Russian word “peregruzka,” which means “overcharged,” instead of the Russian word for “reset” – “perezagruzka.”


Several media accounts noted that the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant “put a prominent picture of the fake red button on its front page and declared, ‘Sergei Lavrov and Hillary Clinton pushed the wrong button.’”


Since this took place after my lunch with Mr. Kõiv, I am not aware of his take on this turn of events; however, for many who do not share the Obama Administration’s seemingly optimistic approach of appeasement toward the Russians, we are gripped by hope and fear.


Hope that a new, productive, and peaceful relationship with Russia may transpire. And fear that the long and difficult historic relationship with Russia will repeat itself and that our safety and national security – and that of the world – will be further imperiled by the humiliating and pandering naïveté of the Obama Administration.


Remember the unrewarding (disastrous) results of President George W. Bush’s initial wishful thinking with the Russians. If you will recall, in the first year of his first term, President Bush “looked into the soul of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin and found someone he could trust…”


For many countries in the world, with an up-close and personal relationship with Russia, there is very little humor available when it comes to “working with” or trying to appease the Russians.


In the case of Estonia, the 20th century has seen several significant events in its struggle with Russia, to become – and remain – a free nation.


From November 28, 1917, to February 2, 1920, Estonia fought a 15-month War for Independence that took the lives of about 3,600 Estonians and left about 14,000 wounded.


It remained free until 1940, when the Soviet Union took the small country over at the beginning of World War II; along with the Soviet invasion of Finland, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.


During WWII, the Germans overran the small country for a time. This was followed by the Soviets forcing the Germans out of the country and occupying it themselves.


By 1988, as the Soviet empire showed signs of cracking, the Estonians embarked upon a bloodless “Singing Revolution” – a cycle of singing mass demonstrations that eventually collected 300,000 Estonians (about one third of its population) in Tallinn to sing national songs.


On August 23, 1989, about two million people from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania stood on the Vilnius-Tallinn road, holding hands.


As events continued to unfold, on August 20, 1991, the Estonian Parliament proclaimed the restitution of the independent State of Estonia.


For once in its history, Estonia had achieved independence bloodlessly in sharp contrast to a horrific history of struggle to control its own destiny, often a great cost in lives and property.


Since 1993, Westminster and numerous municipalities from throughout Maryland have formalized “Sister City” relationships with various cities in Estonia.


Mr. Kõiv was the first Estonian official to visit Westminster – during the week of September 21, 2002.


Mr. Kõiv served as the mayor of Paide from 1996 – 2004. He became a member of the Estonian Parliament – the Riigikogu – as a representative of the Järva- ja Viljandimaa election district in April 2005.


A 39-year-old lawyer with three children, he is emblematic of much of the young leadership of Estonia. He has a quick smile and a wonderful dry sense of humor. He is bright, well educated, multi-lingual, well traveled, very knowledgeable about world affairs – and trustworthy.


It would be nice if President Obama would be true to his word and honor the commitment he made to our friends in that September 26 debate


Hopefully the Obama Administration’s attempts at placating and appeasing the Russians will not result in putting our safety in danger or abandoning our country’s real friends in the world.


The fear is that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are pushing all the wrong buttons.


In my meeting with Mr. Kõiv, there was no singing necessary. I took no chances on complicated gifts. I presented him with a Teddy Bear, for his children, with a sweater that said “USA.” It was the correct button to push with a good friend.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at


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