The recent orthodox progressive and Democratic view of Russia — until the appearance of Donald Trump — was largely what it had been throughout the Cold War: one of empathy for Russia and understanding of its dilemmas, and shame over supposed right-wing American paranoia over a bogus “Russian bear.”
Obama’s 2009 reset was birthed as a correction to George W. Bush’s modest sanctions against the Putin government for going into Ossetia. What then followed during the Obama administration was the embarrassing red reset-button rhetoric that was usually couched in anti-Bush-administration snark.
Or, as Hillary Clinton put it:
We believe that there are a lot of challenges and threats that we have inherited that we have to address. But there are also opportunities, and we are being extremely vigorous in our outreach. Because we’re testing waters, we’re determining what is possible. We’re turning new pages and resetting buttons.
Then we witnessed a “turning new pages” effort by the Obama administration to downplay Russian aggression and emphasize its own new creative outreach to Putin. They thought the Russian strongman would be charmed by humanitarian sanctimoniousness and the hope-and-change charisma of Barack Obama. Instead, Putin, true to character, saw weakness accompanied by pious sermonizing. That is always a fatal combination when dealing with a brute. And so, Putin proceeded to gather up his easy pickings.