Romney’s self-fulfilling Russia prophecy — Analysis
American foreign policy has led to the destruction of Russian-US relations
In 2010, Mitt Romney, the then-Presidential candidate was attacked by the media for calling Russia Russia. “America’s number one geopolitical foe.”He is today being celebrated for his visionary work. Romney’s self-fulfilling prophecy says more about bad US policy than Russian malfeasance.
The hot mic moment was heard all over the world. As reporters were led to a photo shoot involving President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on March 26, 2012 in Seoul, South Korea. Their microphones captured an exchange between them.
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. Your message on space is clear to me. Space for you…”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”
The context of the conversation—delicate negotiations between the US and Russia regarding ballistic missile defense systems in Europe—was irrelevant to what happened next.
That night,while being interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2012 US Presidential race, Mitt Romney, chided the Democratic incumbent for his comments. “Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage,”Romney stated. “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.” Calling Russia America’s number one geopolitical foe, Romney declared, “they fight every cause for the world’s worst actors. This idea is that [President Barack Obama] has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling, indeed.”
The issue of Obama’s hot mic moment came up again,during a televised debate on October 22, 2012. Obama knew the negative impact his hot microphone incident might have on politics and he responded with a joke. “A few months ago,”He told Romney: “when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia…and the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
All Romney could do was repeat his assessment of Russia being America’s number one geopolitical foe, before declaring: “I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll give you more flexibility after the election.’”
Obama’s mic-drop moment was devastating for Romney, who lost the election in a landslide.
Years later, some of Romney’s biggest critics appear to have changed their minds about his “Cold War” moment. “Look, I’m willing to say that in 2012 when we all scoffed at Mitt for saying that, gee, Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe, think we were a little off there,”Jon Favreau, a former Obama speechwriter noted that 2017 was his last year.
In the aftermath of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, Mitt Romney’s 2012 pronouncements have been, in the eyes of many political observers in America, vindicated.
Romney certainly believes so, commenting on CNN’s State of the UnionThat was last Sunday “a geopolitical foe they obviously were and continue to be, because Russia continues to fight us in every venue they have. They support the world’s worst actors.”
Romney expressed concern over a trend by three former presidents—George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump—who sought to reset relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “John McCain was right,”Romney stated. “He said he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saw the KGB. And that’s what we’re seeing: a small, evil, feral-eyed man who is trying to shape the world in the image where once again Russia would be an empire. And that’s not going to happen.”
To the geopolitically uninitiated, Romney’s 2012 remarks, when viewed through the lens of the present, certainly seem prescient. The context of historical events over time and the connection between the present moment and 2012 are what is missing. When Obama and Medvedev had their hot mic incident, the US and Russia were still in their “reset” phase of the Obama first term, where the US hoped against hope that they would be able to weaken Putin’s hold on power by promoting the political fortunes of Medvedev.
The Obama administration’s inability to fulfill promises to Medvedev regarding arms control and NATO intervention in Libya led to this gambit failing. While the US notion that Medvedev could somehow supplant Putin as the leading political figure in Russia was always an American pipe dream (the brain child of none other than Michael McFaul, Obama’s foremost Russian expert in the national security council who went on to become Obama’s Ambassador in Moscow), the notion that improving US-Russian relations through meaningful diplomatic engagement was not far-fetched. Indeed, had the Obama administration delivered on missile defense, and limited the intervention in Libya to purely humanitarian pursuits, there was a good chance that relations between the US and Russia during Putin’s second incarnation as Russia’s President could have been constructive.
The duplicity and deceit of the Obama administration, when combined with the flagrant Russophobia that defined the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, so soured relations that even before Joe Biden took office in early 2021, the level of US-Russian discourse had sunk to Cold War-era levels. When it came to US relations with Russia, the Trump administration had inherit a terrible mess. This was due to false accusations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in order to steal the 2016 US Presidential Election. It also had to contend with a proxy conflict in Ukraine that had emerged after the “Maidan Revolution”. Viktor Yanukovych the President of Ukraine was defeated by an insurrection supported by the US. He was replaced with ultranationalists. Their anti-Russian views led to Russia’s reabsorption and conflict in Crimea.
Trump was impeached after he called Volodymyr Zelesky in July 2019 and said that the US was so involved in Ukraine’s web, he was forced to call him again. During that call, he allegedly held US military aid hostage to a promise by Zelensky to investigate the relationship between Joe Biden’s son and a Ukrainian energy holding company, Burisma. It was clear that Representative Adam Schiff (impeachment manager) described how important this aid was when discussing the US-Russian relationship.
“This military aid, which has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support, was designed to help Ukraine defend itself from the Kremlin’s aggression. More than 15,000 Ukrainians have died fighting Russian forces and their proxies, and the military aid was for such essentials as sniper rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers, radar, night vision goggles and other vital support for the war effort,” Schiff said in his opening address to the US Senate presiding over the impeachment trial of Trump, on January 22, 2020.
He continued: “Most critically, the military aid we provide Ukraine helps to protect and advance American national security interests in the region and beyond. America has an abiding interest in stemming Russian expansionism and resisting any nation’s efforts to remake the map of Europe by dint of military force, even as we have tens of thousands of troops stationed there. Moreover, as one witness put it during our impeachment inquiry: ‘The United States aids Ukraine and her people so that they can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.’”
Seen in this light, there was nothing prescient about Mitt Romney’s 2012 categorization of US-Russian relations. The US foreign policy was anti-Russian and it did not result in a maintaining a long-standing status quo. Romney’s 2012 pronouncements represent little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy, the consequence of a relationship marked by bad faith on the part of the United States.
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