07/19/2013 08:54 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Diplomacy Where It Is Needed Most


We talk to our close friends for pleasure. We talk to our opponents to settle differences.

Diplomacy is "handling of international relations" and "statesmanship," says the dictionary. We use diplomacy in our dealings with Great Britain and France and Italy and Sweden. But that's not very difficult. We generally see things eye to eye. Real diplomacy is required in the tough cases. Let's say China and... Russia.

We currently have differences with Russia over Syria, Iran, missile defense, and, to some degree, arms reduction. There is also that pesky leaker, Snowden, hiding out in the transit section of the Moscow airport.

Some say, because of these differences, President Obama should not meet with President Putin in Moscow following the September meeting of the G-20, basically Europe plus Russia, in St. Petersburg. One opposition party Senator has even said that President Obama should not go to the G-20 meeting unless it's moved out of Russia. So much for diplomacy... and statesmanship.

The excessive anti-Russian sentiment within U.S. foreign policy circles remains a mystery. Left over Cold War resentments, more than 20 years later? Old grievances even before the Cold War? Failure of Russia to do what we want it to? Who knows. No one is saying.

We have more interests in common with Russia, by far, than we have differences. That should be clear even to those who focus only on the differences. Terrorism from radical fundamentalists; arms control and reduction; management of weapons of mass destruction; energy security; management of the emerging Arctic Circle maritime lanes; and the list goes on.

We do not resolve the differences by refusing to discuss them. The idea that a nation of Russia's scope and history will fall in line with our demands simply to curry our favor is nonsense on stilts. The time will come, and it may be sooner rather than later, when having Russia on our side will become crucial. We cannot continue to poke the Russian bear in the eye and then, overnight, get its support when we need it badly.

For those who viscerally hate the Russians, there will always be reasons, however obscure, to justify their resentment. But Edward Snowden hardly provides the justification. President Putin has stated that Russia will not offer sanctuary to Snowden if he continues to damage the United States. That should tell us something.

Further, recent discussion with senior Russian government officials, in which I participated, revealed no interest in letting Snowden interfere with serious U.S.-Russian relations. Indeed, to a person they voluntarily hoped that Snowden would move on.

For those who find it necessary for the great United States to have an enemy, look elsewhere than to Russia. It is in our interest that we do so.