Last week, President Obama was caught on an open microphone pandering to Dmitri Medvedev, telling him that after the U.S. Presidential election is over, he will have more flexibility to deal with missile defense issues, the message being that he would prefer to be more lenient and give more to Russia than the public would like. After the election, when the issue can no longer be used to impeach his foreign policy credentials and affect the voting, presumably Obama intends to acquiesce to major portions of Russia’s position.
After the incident, Mitt Romney went on the offensive, calling Russia our “number one geopolitical foe.” Vice President Biden then criticized Romney, stating “This is not 1956… [w]e have disagreements with Russia, but they’re united with us on Iran. One of only two ways we’re getting material into Afghanistan to our troops is through Russia … if there is an oil shutdown in any way in the Gulf, they’ll consider increasing oil supplies to Europe.” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated “I think it’s somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don’t agree.”
Biden and Clinton are undoubtedly correct that our relationship with Russia is vastly different the it was with the Soviet Union, and we should approach it differently. However, it is the Obama administration, not Romney, that is mired in a Cold War frame of mind with respect to Russia. Actually, it might be fairer to say that the administration is schizophrenic. When it comes to public platitudes, photo ops, trade and energy policy the Obama administration has taken the position that Russia is a relatively innocuous country with a leadership that can be actively engaged and reasoned with to find common ground. However, when it comes to nuclear policy, the administration’s policy is calcified in the Cold War, as is clearly evidenced by its stance on nuclear and missile defense issues.
The nuclear issue could not be more clear. President Obama, in his 2009 speech in Prague, stated: “To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. (Applause.) President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold. And this will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.” Just last month, Obama in a speech said: “We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”
Obama’s statements are irreconcilable with those of Clinton and Biden. According to Obama, we had too many nuclear weapons in 2009, and we still do in 2012. Yet, despite this allegation, the Obama administration did not unilaterally cut the U.S. nuclear stockpile. If we are no longer in the Cold War, and Russia is not a strategic threat in the same vein as the Soviet Union, then logically there is no reason not to unilaterally cut unnecessary and costly nuclear weapons from our stockpile. What did the Obama administration do instead? It entered into the bilateral New START talks with Russia, an action that is both inconsistent and illogical if you believe Clinton & Biden.
The only reason to have entered into the New START talks, and to ratify the treaty was if you had a Cold War mentality that Russia and the Soviet Union were, for purposes of nuclear discussions, essentially the same. Every other nuclear power was left out of the discussion, just as would have occurred during the Cold War.
Similarly, when dealing with missile defense, this administration has demonstrated a Cold War mentality. Much of our missile defense debate is absorbed by what the Russians will think and do. We talk about negotiating with them, about sharing information with them and even, perhaps, sharing our system with them as a way of buying their acquiescence. Time and time again Putin has objected to some aspect of U.S. missile defense and, time and time again, we go to negotiate with Russia, as if they should have some input into our missile defense posture. The reason the administration has done this is clearly the result of a Cold War mentality, where we don’t want to push Russia/the Soviet Union too far. If our foreign policy establishment and the administration did not have this attitude, then every time the Russians objected, we would simply tell them, nicely, to go pound sand. We don’t. Instead, we bargain with them, bilaterally, in the same manner as we would have with the Soviet Union.
All of that said, Romney is still right to view Russia as a threat and Clinton/Biden are wrong in their assessment of Russia’s friendliness. There never was a “reset.” Russia, under Putin’s leadership, is fundamentally opposed to the United States. At every turn, Russia takes the opportunity to stand in the way of U.S. interests, whether it is Iraq, Iran, missile defense, Libya, human rights, etc. The Russian administration is corrupt and fundamentally opposed to U.S. power and U.S. interests. Despite the myriad instances of Russia working against the United States, the foreign policy arm of the Obama administration adheres to the fantasy that Russia can be a strategic ally of the United States.
To that end, it applies a see no evil/hear no evil approach, purposefully failing to acknowledge the ways in which Russia has opposed U.S. strategic interests. Biden’s comment about Russia “consider[ing] increasing oil supplies to Europe” in the event of an Iranian problem is a perfect example of this willful blindness. Just a few years ago, Russia was using the threat of withholding energy from our allies in Europe as a way to undermine U.S. influence in the region. Now, the Vice President is claiming Russia will work with the United States to increase energy supplies should a shortage arise. This is foolish speculation; history indicates that the opposite is likely to occur. If Iran spirals downward and energy prices increase a result, this will only give Russia a greater ability to use energy as a weapon in Europe, and more of an incentive to do so. If Biden and other members of the foreign policy establishment fail to understand that dynamic, they are fools. If they do understand the dynamic, but have chosen not to mention it for diplomacy’s sake so that they can pretend Russia is a legitimate partner, then they are doing a disservice to the American people.
It is debatable that Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe – there are many contenders – but it is certainly near the top. Calling out Russia’s corrupt leadership, its dirty policies and its record of undermining U.S. interests does not show Romney to be stuck in a Cold War mentality – he does not allege that Russia is special. Rather, it shows that he understands Russia, like many other countries, such as China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan is a threat to U.S. interests. Contrast that with the Obama administration which, through its actions, has treated Russia as a special case, agreeing to treaties and entering into negotiations as if it carries both the power and intent of the Soviet Union.