President Obama’s Proverbial Reset Button

Jul 6, 2009 6:50am

The word is "perezagruzka," meaning "reset."

Not "peregruzka," meaning "overload." (As in: more than eight people on this elevator will create an overload.)

The former is the word the Obama administration often invokes when describing what they would like to do regarding U.S.-Russian relations.

"I think that there has been a time over the last several years where Russian-U.S. relations were not as strong as they should be," President Obama told ITAR-TASS/ROSSIYA TV. "What I said coming in is that I wanted to press the reset button on relations between the United States and Russia."

But it was the latter — "peregruzka," or "overload" — that ended up printed on a prop button that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in March.

"We worked hard to get the right Russian word," Clinton said. "Do you think we got it?"

"You got it wrong," Lavrov smiled. But he said he'd put the button on his desk.

Over the weekend, the state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta borrowed said button from the Foreign Ministry, and next to cardboard cutouts of President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev displayed the button at a stand in Moscow's Pushkin Square.


The term first appears to have been used publicly by the Obama campaign in June 2008, when campaign foreign policy adviser Dr. Susan Rice, currently the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for being unable to press that button.

"I don't know how you press the reset button with our allies and partners around the world when you are committing to intensifying the policies and approaches they have found so difficult to digest under President Bush," Rice said, "whether you are talking about staying indefinitely in Iraq or kicking Russia out of the G-8."

After his election, then-President-elect Obama told NBC that "I think that it's going to be important for us to reset U.S.-Russian relations."

On February 7, Vice President Biden told an international security conference in Munich, Germany, that, "It's time — to paraphrase President Obama — it's time to press the reset button. And to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia."

"We've had a good exchange between ourselves and the Russians," President Obama said in March. "I've said that we need to reset or reboot the relationship there."


But the term is now lending itself to dissection.

In March, the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum said that the enticing metaphor — "Press the reset button, watch your computer reboot, and presto! A nice, clean screen appears, and you start again from scratch" — is "a deeply misleading, even vapid, metaphor for diplomatic relations."

The problem, Applebaum wrote, is U.S.-Russia relations were not "frozen as a result of irrelevant technical complications" and the "profound differences in psychology, philosophy and policy that have been the central source of friction between the American and Russian governments for the past decade remain very much in place."

Her colleague David Ignatius over the weekend quoted a Russian analyst who mused, "What happens when you press the reset button on a computer? It goes dark, and then after a while the same screen comes back again." Ignatius says that since "neither side is ready to address the other's fundamental security concerns… this week's reset will mean more of the same — and perhaps even a new jolt of static."

And on NPR, Andrei Zolotov, the editor of Russia Profile magazine, recently wrote, "No matter how much you press the reset button, you're still dealing with the exact same hardware and some seriously outdated software."

That hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from using the metaphor as much as possible. "As we reset relations with the Russian government, we also want to reset relations with Russian society," said Michael McFaul, President Obama's chief adviser on Russia.

– jpt


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