Romney's blustering and blundering, Russia edition
September 14, 2012By Dick Polman
Amidst the plethora of new polls - all of which break bad for Mitt Romney - one particular finding, in crucial Ohio, jolts me the most.
The latest bipartisan NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll reports that President Obama has opened up a seven-point lead in the Buckeye State - which is a red flag for Romney, because no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio - but what really struck me was the response to the question, "Which candidate will do a better job handling foreign policy?" Obama, 52 percent; Romney, 39 percent.
Which brings me to the topic of Romney and Russia. And the stuff he keeps saying at America's expense.
It's startling to see traditionally Republican-leaning Ohioans dissing a GOP candidate by double digits on the foreign policy trust issue (his summer mishaps in Britain and Israel probably did the trick) - and this poll was conducted immediately before he bulldozed his way into the Libya crisis, politicizing it for partisan purposes and falsely accusing Obama of sympathizing with terrorists.
And it's lucky for Romney that Ohioans hadn't yet heard about the latest episode concerning his blustering behavior toward Russia.
You may not have heard about it, either. In a busy news week, this episode has been largely overlooked. But it's enough to make one wish (yet again) that this guy would just confine himself to domestic issues, lest he do more damage to America on the world stage.
What you may remember is that, back in March, Romney went on CNN and announced that Russia is "without question, our number one geopolitical foe" - an assessment best suited for the Cold War, which ended two decades ago. It's true, of course, that Russia jockeys with us in many global hot spots, but Romney's remark (inspired, most likely, by the various neoconservatives and Cold War retreads that populate his foreign policy team) was woefully lacking in nuance.
Yes, Russia can be a pain in the butt, especially in Syria. But President Putin supports the strong western sanctions against Iran (which in turn benefits Israel), and he has aided our war in Afghanistan by allowing the U.S. and NATO to transport military materiel on his rail lines. Moreover, Russia continues to be a major supplier of crude oil to America.
So when you bluster in ignorance at an important semi-ally, and when you then double down by blustering anew in a radio interview (as Romney did earlier this week), you risk screwing things up for the nation you aspire to lead. Here's how:
NATO, led by America, is engaged in a sensitive minuet with Russia over NATO's plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. We've told Russia repeatedly that the shield is intended to deter Iran, not Russia. But Russia is wary of the project, in part because the most hawkish factions within the government oppose it - suspecting that it's American trick to put a cap on Russian power.
So here comes Romney, again, pounding away about how Russia is public enemy number one ...and guess what: his rhetoric has strengthened Russia's resolve to oppose the missile shield.
President Putin told reporters this week: "I'm grateful to (Romney) for formulating his stance so clearly, because he has once again proven the correctness of our approach to missile defense problems. The most important thing for us is that even if he doesn't win now, he or a person with similar views may come to power in four years. We must take that into consideration while dealing with security issues for a long perspective."
And the hawkish faction in Russia is citing Romney's remarks as confirmation of its deepest suspicions about a belligerent America. (That's a stereotype, of course, but Romney has played right into it.)
Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's international affairs commission, told reporters that Romney's bluster "is exactly what our generals have been telling us all along, that all these American strategic moves is really aimed against us. Romney has opened our eyes to the intrigues of American hawks, including the Pentagon and others. Maybe he intends it as election rhetoric, but isn't he expressing what the voters want to hear? If this is what half of American voters think, then how are we to plan our strategy for years ahead? Romney really has helped us by clearing the fog away from our eyes."
Gee thanks, Mitt! Could you please zip it for just 53 more days?
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