All-Star Panel: Obama administration looking for another Russian 'reset'?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 1, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would like to present you with a little gift which represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying, and that is, we want to reset our relationship.


CLINTON: So we will do it together.

LAVROV: Thank you very much.

CLINTON: You're very welcome. We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?

LAVROV: You got it wrong.

CLINTON: I got it wrong.

LAVROV: It should say (INAUDIBLE). And this says (INAUDIBLE) which means "overcharged."


CLINTON: Well, we won't let do you that to us, I promise.


ED HENRY, GUEST HOST: That laugh and that mistake some six years ago. Let's bring in our panel, David Drucker, senior Congressional correspondent for The Washington Examiner, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Happy New Year all, first of all.

But that was the first attempt at a Russian reset. As you can see didn't quite go off well symbolically, and then substantively it clearly went off the rails. Bloomberg News is now reporting that the administration is taking another attempt, perhaps, at a Russian reset.  What do you make of this, David?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I don't make anything of it. I don't understand this. Maybe we're a glutton for punishment. You know, if you're going to do a backchannel and try and sort of create a relationship where the person that you've been pursuing keeps spurning you and spurning you, I want to know what the objective is what we have to gain, because usually if they don't want you the best thing to do is walk away, maybe make life a little difficult for them, and maybe they will chase you for a change.

So I don't understand, but I think it's a part of the administration's sort of approach globally overall, which is basically if we make and if we say nice things and if we make the first move then everything is going to turn out OK. And nobody has ever tried that, so let's give it a shot.

HENRY: A.B., a road to nowhere? Or something else.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: It's interesting. This is Obama's pattern. I think he likes these headlines to leak out. I think he likes us to know he's trying to be nice. He's reached out secretly before to other countries. Vladimir Putin once gave him an off-ramp when he called for strikes on Syria and the American people said no and so did the Congress.

But this calling up of Henry Kissinger, who has disagreed with the Obama administration policy with regards to Russia this last year or so, is so --

HENRY: To serve as an intermediary.

STODDARD: Right, to kind of warm up Putin and be an intermediary, an envoy, is so strange. It's the kind of thing that smacks of desperation and would make Vladimir Putin sort of laugh.

Look, we have some leverage finally over the Russians. The economy is in trouble. It might get worse. Maybe we'll have more leverage. But it's the administration's job to not walk away from a moment where we have leverage. That would be irresponsible. They got to do something. But secretly sending notes and hoping that to get Henry Kissinger on the line I don't think is going to --

HENRY: Charles, I hear conservatives criticize the president frequently and say he won't get out of his comfort zone. He just relies on Valerie Jarrett and the same old advisers. What's wrong with reaching out to Henry Kissinger, a Republican, former secretary of state, in trying something new?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's a great idea. He should have started six years ago. He would have gotten excellent advice.  I think Kissinger is the best geopolitical strategic thinker we've had in two generations. It's a pity he hasn't been used over the decades. And he is a man who knows Putin. He knows a lot of the world's leaders. He knows everybody going all the way back to Charles de Gaulle.  And I think he has some relationship with Putin.

If you use him, though, you don't put it on the front page of the New York Times. And you use him in a way to say if the Russians have anything to offer we're willing to listen. But as we just heard, the Russians are the one in distress, the Russians are the one who depend entirely on an extraction economy, especially oil and gas. The price of oil has collapsed. It's half of what it was. They are in deep trouble economically. So we should wait.

But why Obama would be running after the other guy when he's in distress is simply incomprehensible. If the Russians want to offer a deal to get out of eastern Ukraine -- they're not going to get out of Crimea -- well, that's a serious offer. Anything short of that, why are we chasing him?

HENRY: But if you are saying Putin is on defense, his economy is potentially in ruins, the ruble has been losing strength for weeks, almost months now. Why not have an initiate because your opponent is dealing from the weakness, as you say, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: What you do is you don't relieve the pressure gratuitously. We keep our foot on the neck of the Russians, who have been extremely aggressive. We did the same thing with the Iranians. They were reeling from economic sanctions, suffering inflation that was rumbling among the merchant class industry. So what did we do? We chase after them, open these negotiations, relieve sanctions, and at the same time give them the right of enrichment, which has never been done for a nonnuclear power. Why repeat that with Russia?

HENRY: David, listen to this sound from a former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov who was talking today about the state of Russia on New Year's. Listen.


MIKHAIL KASYANOV, FORMER RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (via translator): The end is near. The country is at the brink of going down. I have these kinds of feelings. That's why I say people will take to the street demanding a change to the situation, and we will contribute to this.  That's why I think 2015 is a very important year. I would say it may be a historic year.


HENRY: On the brink of going down. Maybe he's exaggerating the situation, but is there a counter situation here that could play out in 2015 where the economy in Russia gets so desperate that Putin acts even more rashly? Rather than trying to come to the table he actually does more desperate measures?

DRUCKER: I don't think Putin has proven anything other than he's going to do what we think is irrational. And I think every time Americans and the administration think that they are giving Putin a very rational, logical, profitable off-ramp, the reason he says no and essentially flips us the bird because that's not what he's interested in. It's not the way he thinks. In Putin's head he has us right where he wants us. We're chasing him even though his economy is going into the tank, and he keeps feigning invasion to try and distract a Russian public that isn't happy.  And I don't think he's going to stop acting like that if and until it either gets so bad that he knows his days are literally numbered in single digits, or he somehow has a lobotomy and he changes the way he thinks.  This is who he is. He has never proven any different. And I think that's what's so strange to me about the "Bloomberg" story.

HENRY: And A.B., he has not pulled out of eastern Ukraine. The sanctions have hurt his economy but have not changed his mind.

STODDARD: The offer that Charles is talking about is reportedly with what Kerry offered Lavrov, which is -- the foreign minister -- which is if we will not talk about Crimea but if you stop supporting the rebels and their activity in eastern Ukraine we can ease some sanctions that -- the Crimea sanctions would remain, but we could talk about easing some other sanctions.

And David is right. He's laughing off that idea. So, there has to be another moment where his power base is actually threatened and the oligarchs around him are furious. And that moment hasn't come.

KRAUTHAMMER: Obama is living in a fantasy world because he doesn't understand that Putin is a Russia nationalist. There's nothing irrational about nationalism. In Obama's mind it is because he believes in international norms. So he can't understand this man with whom he has no relationship.

So I think he ought to wait for something that's offered rather than chase after the Russians.

HENRY: Talk about trying to decide what Vladimir Putin is thinking.

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