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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maybe True, But Not Quite Diplomatic

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President Vladimir Putin's address to an international security conference in Munich on Saturday is drawing comparisons in Washington to Soviet criticisms of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. What made the address so notable, however, was not its content but who said it.

Putin did not offer much of anything new about U.S. foreign policy. The accusations that Washington is trying to impose its own economic, political, cultural and education policies on the rest of the world are a standard part of Russia's assessment of U.S. policy. Accusations that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has done more harm than good to global security or that Washington's anti-missile defense plans threaten global nuclear security have been made repeatedly by Russian officials in the past, including by Putin himself.

Moscow has not been the only source of this criticism, as it has come from many other world capitals. Indeed, one such capital has been Washington, where opponents of U.S. President George W. Bush's foreign policy have made essentially the same comments in the U.S. Congress.

Accurate or not, this assessment of U.S. foreign policy is one that enjoys significant currency worldwide.

What is different in Saturday's speech is the nature of the attack. Senior Russian officials have leveled some pretty scathing criticism at U.S. policy, just as members of the Bush administration have fired some serious salvoes at the Kremlin. But at the very top, Bush and Putin have traditionally opted for the soft sell.

Whether Saturday's appearance represents a new approach for Putin and whether that will lead Bush to follow suit remains to be seen. Russian officials say Putin was motivated by a desire for honesty and openness. Analysts saw no Cold War-style shift in Kremlin policy toward the United States.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire" in 1982 and Bush's application of the sobriquet "Axis of Evil" to Iran, Iraq and North Korea 20 years later did little to foster dialog. Likewise, Putin firing broadsides at U.S. policy is not being embraced by the United States as an invitation to talk. What Washington heard was Cold War rhetoric reaffirming the fears of some in Eastern Europe that Russia is striving to become a superpower bent on defending and expanding its zone of influence by any means possible.

This is a failure of diplomacy. Rather than venting frustrations in a public forum, a more diplomatic approach would be to try to engage the Bush administration in a direct dialog.