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Republicans “Inconvenient Truth”: Why Romney Is Attacking Obama For Comments To Medvedev

Republicans and conservatives are determined to turn an unremarkable off the record comment by President Obama into a major campaign issue. Last week Obama was caught on an open mic telling Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after the November election. “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for [incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin] to give me space,” Obama told Medvedev.

Romney pounced. He immediately issued a statement complaining that Obama is going to cave to Russia on missile defense.” Later he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage and for this president to be looking for greater flexibility where he doesn’t have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia is very, very troubling, very alarming…. This is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” The Republican National Committee released a statement and video criticizing Obama’s comments to Medvedev as well.

Why is Romney making such a major issue out of such a minor gaffe? The conventional explanation is that he is pivoting towards attacking Obama on foreign policy. Romney is trailing Obama in matchup polls and watching the issue he has made the centerpiece of his campaign–the weak economy–disappearing as employment picks up. So he may be seeking a new campaign strategy. As The Washington Post reported “Advisers say Romney intends to deliver a major foreign policy address in April or May, depending on the status of the primary contest, and create what one adviser described as a series of ‘platforms’ to highlight the differences between the two candidates…. The political opportunity Romney sees in foreign policy was reflected this week when he seized on Obama’s open-mike conversation with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.”

To Democrats this might seem odd. Obama has ended the unpopular Iraq War, decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership and overseen the killings of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi. To a liberal, if Obama has made any mistakes in the foreign policy realm they would be ones of excessive rather than insufficient militarism.

But that is not the critique that Romney or any other Republican is making. Rather, they say that Obama shows weakness in negotiations with our adversaries. China, Iran and Venezuela are frequently invoked by Republican foreign policy figures such as John Bolton. Specific actions by Obama to bolster this sentiment can be hard to come by, so his comments to Medvedev provide a perfect opportunity. “Obama will have a good gut-check response with bin Laden, but there will be plenty to work with for a broader critique of the foreign policy of this administration,” says Republican consultant Soren Dayton regarding the political saliency of foreign policy attacks on Obama. “The Russia exchange could end up being a powerful example of how Obama offers concessions to enemies but pressures our allies, like Israel and Canada.”

This is good for stirring up the Republican base, but is unlikely to sway many swing voters. “It is a rare election that is decided on foreign policy,” says Dayton. “In all likelihood, instability in the Middle East will have an impact through things like the price of crude oil and gas at the pump.”

But perhaps the Republican political calculation is not about foreign policy. The average swing voter may not care much about U.S. policy on European missile defense but they often do care about the president’s character. “[Republicans] are just trying to neutralize the ‘etch-a-sketch’ criticisms that Democrats are lobbing at Romney,” says Darrell West, director of the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. “They want voters to see Obama as just another politician to delegitimize him. They’re playing to public cynicism: it’s easy to portray politicians as willing to say anything.”

Leonardo Alcivar, a national Republican political consultant with Hynes Communications, agrees. “Romney was right to criticize the President’s gaffe, for both tactical and strategic reasons,” says Alcivar. “The Romney team well understands the need to position the President as a typical Washington politician whose failed economic policy is compounded by a rudderless foreign policy. The open mike gaffe supports a widely held, and largely correct, view that the President has been campaigning, not leading.”

From Obama’s perspective, trying to improve relations with Russia is leading, or at least governing. Nation contributor and Russia expert Stephen F. Cohen writes that “the United States is farther from a partnership with Russia today than it was more than twenty years ago.” As Cohen explains, partnership with Russia is essential for U.S. objectives such as preventing nuclear proliferation and access to Russia’s vast natural resources. But, as Cohen notes, the Obama administration is “refusing to respond to Moscow’s concessions on Afghanistan and Iran with reciprocal agreements on Russia’s top priorities, NATO expansion and missile defense.” That is the crucial context for Obama’s remarks. Moscow sees us placing missile defense installations near Russia’s border as a provocation.

Election year politicking such as Romney’s can make relations between the U.S. and Russia even more fraught. As Vice-President Joe Biden pointed out on Sunday, Romney’s characterization of Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe” is outdated and unhelpful. “He acts like he thinks the Cold War is still on [and] Russia is still our major adversary,” said Biden to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I don’t know where he has been.” Back in February Cohen predicted that the election could exacerbate tensions with Russia, writing, “recent developments, including presidential campaigns and other political changes under way in both countries, may soon make relations even worse.” Obama was merely stating the truth when speaking to Medvedev. And nothing upsets Republicans like an inconvenient truth.

 

By: Ben Adler, The Nation, April 3, 2012

April 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Number One Geopolitical Foe”: Romney’s Comments On Russia ‘Are A Bit Puzzling’

GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney thought his mediocre campaign stumbled upon a game changer this week when President Obama was caught on an open mic telling Russian President Dimitry Medvedev that he’d be more “flexible” on issues like missile defense after the election. Romney called Obama’s comment “frightening” because Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” As evidence, Romney said “it is always Russia” that opposes the United States at the United Nations.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler looked into this claim and concluded that “Romney’s comments are a bit puzzling“:

But on the broader question of Iran and North Korea, Romney’s comments are a bit puzzling. Russia has repeatedly supported resolutions that have sought to limit Tehran’s and Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, such as the 2010 Security Council resolution that paved the way for increasingly tough sanctions on Iran.

As we wrote in our book on former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, some of the negotiations leading up to those resolutions were difficult and contentious, but it would be wrong to say Russia was “standing up” for those “bad actors.” Russia has cast no vetoes on resolutions concerning Iran and North Korea.

Indeed, Romney has been misrepresenting Obama’s record on Russia and Iran throughout the presidential campaign. “Had he gotten Russia to agree to impose tough, crippling sanctions on Iran, we could have put a lot more pressure on Iran,” Romney said back in September.

But as this blog noted at the time, the Obama administration spearheaded an effort to apply tougher sanctions on Iran in 2010. In June, Russia voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed a fourth round of tough sanctions on Iran because of it’s failure to comply with earlier resolutions demanding an end to nuclear enrichment. Last Spring, a U.N. experts panel on the sanctions concluded that the new measures “are constraining Iran’s procurement of items related to prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile activity and thus slowing development of these programs.”

Romney said this week that he does not think Obama “can recover” from the fallout of his comments to Medvedev. But it might turn out that it’s the former Massachusetts governor who will have some more explaining to do. Apart from being wrong on the substance of his attack on Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) basically told Romney to stop criticizing the president and even some of Romney’s supporters have said publicly that he’s wrong to say that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

 

By: Ben Armbruster, Think Progress, March 28, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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