Defense & National Security

Romney advisers: Why not call Russia our foe?

Romney advisers: Why not call Russia our foe?

The tone for a policy clash on Russia between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was set early in the race, and somewhat by accident.

In late March, an accidental “hot mic” caught Obama apparently asking then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev for time until after Obama’s election so he could be more flexible to negotiate with Medvedev’s successor Vladimir Putin on missile defense issues.

Responding to the ensuing scandal, Romney chided Obama for making deals with America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe” and became the center of his own media backlash for the comment.

Both of the newly released party platforms reference the exchange: the Republican platform describes the hot mic incident as an example of Obama “whispering promises to authoritarian leaders,” while the Democratic platform denounces Romney’s comment as depicting a “Cold War mentality” regarding a U.S. ally.

But was Romney’s comment so far off the mark?

Speaking at a Foreign Policy Initiative event in Tampa, Fla. late last month, former U.S. ambassador and Romney adviser Pierre Prosper posed his own question. “When was the last time we saw Russia on the right side of peace?” he asked.

In fact, Russia is deeply embroiled in some of the most volatile crises around the globe, at times positioning itself between hostile nations and western interests. Russia has backed the oppressive and violent Assad regime in Syria. As the death toll has risen in Syria over a year and a half of revolts, Russia vetoed three separate U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at bringing the violence to an end. Just weeks ago, Russia’s foreign minister warned the U.S. against taking unilateral action against Syria, saying the scope of what such an action would entail would make intervention “impossible.”

Russia’s support of tyranny

Putin’s March re-election has been followed by a recent spate of prison sentences meted out for political dissidents. Meanwhile, Russia’s continued illegal occupation of the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have gone unanswered by the U.S. administration for far too long. “Russia is a significant geopolitical foe, and Gov. Romney recognizes that,” said former U.S. ambassador and Romney adviser Richard Williamson, who also spoke at the Tampa event.

“That’s not to say they’re the same sort of direct military threat that they were, but whether it’s a question of our vital interest in North Korea, missile defense, Georgia, Syria, Iran, our allies in the Baltics, in Eastern Europe, central Europe, they’re our foe. They have chosen a path of confrontation, not cooperation.”

In an interview broadcast this week, Putin made it clear that he too was uncomfortable with the tough changes that might come with a Romney presidency. Talking to the television network Russia Today, Putin said he would work with any American president, but was concerned about how plans for missile defense in Europe would be altered under Romney, saying that elements of a new system would be turned against Russia.

According to Romney’s policy plan, he would “reset” the failed reset and would also, Prosper said, look to allies in Eastern Europe and central Asia to allow for greater freedom of movement in the region without Russia’s aid and to promote the ideals of a free world.

“We need to fortify them with military relationships, emblematic relationships. Support them with energy so they can have that independence, that freedom from Russia,” he said. “We need to begin to bring more people here as we have here today that can be part of this democratic movement… that can be this voice of the future for Russia.”

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