The media and pundits alike have skewered the Clinton State Department for giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a prop “reset button” when Secretary Clinton met with him in Geneva earlier in the month. Obviously it is a bad idea to reset relations with Russia only weeks into a new presidential term, especially given the number of outstanding sensitive issues that the United States should maintain some level of leadership on, rather than ceding all ground to Russia. But this episode also demonstrated a clear lack of leadership at the State Department, as it was the second very embarrassing diplomatic “gift” since President Obama took office.
Secretary Clinton’s aides had been very careful to get the Russian word for reset correct. That’s not to say they spoke to any of their Russian translators or diplomatic officials, but it sounds like they googled it very carefully. The result was a plastic yellow and red toy button that was inscribed “Reset” on one side and “Peregruzka” on the other. The problem? Peregruzka means overcharged. It was also written in Latin script rather than the native Cyrillic.
Politico published the apology from longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines: ““Ultimotely [sic], this was my soul [sic] risponsibility [sic], nobody else’s in or out of the building. While the Russians laughed off the error and accepted the gift in the spirit of cooperation that it was meant, I’ve been sic [sic] about the mistake since, especially that I let down the Secretary and the fine professionals at the State Department.”
Honest mistakes are made, especially by inexperienced aides plucked from the campaign trail, but this follows a pattern which includes the horrific gift of a DVD set that President Obama gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that 1) could not play in European DVD players, and 2) did not account for the fact that the Prime Minister is blind in one eye and suffering from vision problems in the other.
The State Department didn’t necessarily apologize for that incredible mistake. Instead they told British press: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”
We hope before President Obama departs for his trip to the G20, and to have tea with the Queen of England, he gets a much needed education in international diplomacy. It would also be helpful if someone at the State Department explained to the inexperienced President that Great Britain is indeed our most special relationship, and Russia is in fact, not.