Russophobia in the Obama Era Foreign Policy Discourse (2009-2017)

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Anti-Russian sentiment - what some call “Russophobia” - is subtle, but visible in the American foreign policy discourse since the end of the Cold War. Most recently, it can be found in the Obama-era discourse about Russia, despite the positive bump in relations after the so-called “reset” of 2009. This paper contends that, among the many irritants in Russia - U.S. relations, anti-Russian sentiment among the American foreign policy leadership is an understudied phenomenon. Russophobia matters because it is present even at times of promise in the relationship; it impedes striking a “normal” relationship with Russia, and it influences policy decisions. This paper conceptualizes Russophobia, considers the source of its persistence in the American foreign policy discourse, and identifies examples of anti-Russian sentiment among key members of Barack Obama’s foreign policy team through an examination of memoirs and personal reflections about Russia. The paper asserts that anti-Russian attitudes in the American foreign policy discourse throughout the post-Cold War era must be identified and understood in order to gain a better understanding of why forging stronger, mutually beneficial relations with Russia continues to evade American policy makers. Anti-Russian sentiment undermined the Obama - Medvedev reset and, while it is certainly not alone responsible for deteriorating relations with Russia, it helped to perpetuate the downturn in relations and must be identified and better understood. The arguments made in this paper and in the selected citations herein, are based upon non-partisan scholarly inquiry and are not a consequence of the author’s personal or political views.

About the authors

Kari Roberts

Mount Royal University

Associate Professor and Department Chair, the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies Calgary, Canada


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Copyright (c) 2020 Roberts K.

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