Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took his eye off of Iran and incorrectly designated Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe” during his interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Romney offered his throwback to the Cold War while attacking President Barack Obama for his diplomacy with Russia—including the New START treaty that was supported by many Jewish communal organizations [NJDC, December 2, 2010], which was one of the pieces that helped bring Russia on board with the fist round of Iran sanctions. Romney told Blitzer [emphasis added]:
What he did both on nuclear weaponry already and the new START treaty as well as his decision to withdraw missile defense sites from Poland and then reduce our missile defense sites in Alaska from the original plan. These are very unfortunate developments…. This is to Russia, this is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors. [Think Progress, March 26, 2012]
Blitzer followed up, and asked Romney how Russia was a greater U.S. foe than Iran. Apparently, Romney’s definition of “number one geopolitical foe” does not include Iran’s threatening behavior—including its nuclear weapons program and belligerent actions in the Middle East. Romney said [emphasis added]:
Well I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors. Of course the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear armed Iran and a nuclear North Korea is troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the UN looking for ways to stop them ... and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside. So in terms of a geopolitical foe a nation that is on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council and is of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming. [Think Progress, March 26, 2012]
Click here or above to watch the video.
Following Romney’s dangerous reassessment of global affairs—in which he prioritized a partisan sound bite over the reality of the threats posed by Iran to America and our allies—a number of experts and observers slammed Romney for yet another baseless foreign policy smear. A sampling of criticism appears below:
Vice President Joe Biden [National Journal, April 1, 2012]:
‘He acts like he thinks the Cold War is still on - Russia is still our major adversary. I don’t know where he’s been,’ Biden said, pointing to Russian support for Iranian sanctions and allowing vital U.S. war supplies through to Afghanistan.
‘This is not 1956,’ Biden said. ‘He just seems to be uninformed, or stuck in a Cold War mentality. I think what the exchange did - it exposes how little the governor knows about foreign policy.’
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton [CNN, April 1, 2012]:
‘I think it’s somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don’t agree,’ Clinton told CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty…
‘If you take a look at the world today, we have a lot of problems that are not leftovers from the past, but are of the moment,’ Clinton said, pointing to Iran and its suspected nuclear development program as an example. ‘In many of the areas where we are working to solve problems, Russia has been an ally.’
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney [ABC News, March 27, 2012]:
Carney, a former Moscow-based correspondent for TIME magazine, stated that ‘in a world where Al Qaeda is so clearly the preeminent threat to the United States, and similar organizations, it seems a little inaccurate to make that statement about Russia where Russia is a county that we have been able to cooperate with on very important issues even as we disagree with them on others and that includes missile defense and Syria.’...
Carney said ‘the relationship that president Obama has established with Russia when he pressed the reset button in 2009 has born a great deal of fruit, including Russia’s cooperation with China at the United Nations in sanctioning Iran, Russia’s cooperation and assistance to the United States on our Afghanistan mission in terms of trans-shipment issues.’
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said [The Hill, March 28, 2012]:
‘You don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda,’ Earnest said. ‘There are also significant threats that are ... posed by nations like Iran and North Korea that have failed to live up to their ... international obligations when it comes to nuclear weapons.’
‘And the irony is that Russia, particularly in the cases of North Korea and Iran, has worked very well with the international community to isolate those two regimes and to seek a diplomatic solution to hold those two regimes accountable for living up to their international obligations,’ Earnest added.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-MA) told Foreign Policy [Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012]:
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable that the U.S.-Russia relationship is not nearly as bad as Romney makes it seem and actually has potential for productivity and progress.
‘Russia’s cooperating with us on some things, it’s not on others. The threat of religious extremism is not centered in Russia; it’s centered in South Asia and the Middle East and that is an enormous and time-consuming challenge for all of our national security enterprises.’ Kerry said. ‘So I think [Romney] is vastly and significantly off target as well as in terms of potential of the upsides with Russia if we move forward on a number of things.’
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also told Foreign Policy [Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012]:
‘I don’t see [Russia] as our No. 1 strategic foe because they’ve got a weak economy and structurally are not very strong. China could potentially be more harming to our interests because of the growth of their economy and the growth of their military,’ Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable.
Russia is in decline on many fronts, due to a lack of a moral direction by Kremlin combined with rampant corruption and a regime that’s desperately trying to hang on to power, Graham said.
Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) [Facebook, March 26, 2012]:
Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia is our ‘number one geopolitical foe’ was both reckless and inaccurate. While there are legitimate concerns about the status of Russian democracy under Putin and real challenges in our relationship, comments like this do nothing to address those concerns or strengthen that relationship. Governor Romney should correct his statement and make it clear he understands that Iran and North Korea pose the greatest immediate threat to U.S. and global security.
Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) [Politico, March 29, 2012]:
My message is simple: The Cold War is over; Russia is not our geopolitical foe.
Rather than strategically counter one another at every opportunity (as Gov. Romney contends), the United States and Russia collaborate strategically on some of the world’s most critical issues. Together, we fight international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and human trafficking. Russian cooperation enabled the deployment and return of U.S. troops to Afghanistan….
The United States and all peaceful, democratic nations face real dangers from terrorism, potential risks from nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue leaders and non-governmental entities, from environmental degradation and mismanaged resources. We have no need to erect straw men to knock down. We do not fear the Russians. Increasingly, we work with them to protects ourselves from real dangers.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark said [TPM, March 27]:
Surely one lesson of the 21st century is that America’s security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies. Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears. Given the many challenges we face at home and abroad, the American people deserve a full and complete explanation from Governor Romney. Good policy does not come from bumper sticker slogans. The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges. The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dr. Colin Kahl:
Today, Governor Romney said that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. Mitt Romney has an economic, energy, and social agenda of the last century—and now he has a foreign policy to match. Does Mitt Romney think Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than a nuclear-armed Iran or the terrorists of al-Qaeda? Is Russia a greater challenge than a rising China or instability in the Middle East? For a country that Mitt Romney called our top geopolitical enemy, he only addresses Russia in his foreign policy white paper with Cold War-era talking points and none of the sense of urgency that he demonstrated today. This is yet another example of Mitt Romney’s willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter how reckless it may be.
Former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig:
Governor Romney offered his judgment today that Russia is our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. This conclusion, as outdated as his ideas on the economy, energy needs, and social issues, is left over from the last century. Does Governor Romney believe that a Cold War foreign policy is the right course in the twenty-first century? Does he believe that Russia is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than terrorism, or cyberwarfare, or a nuclear-armed and erratic North Korea?
Oddly, before calling Russia our number one foe, he issued a foreign policy white paper that only got around to Russia after sections on China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, and Latin America. His most recent statement is yet another revelation that Mitt Romney repeatedly speaks inconsistently and in ways that are disconnected from twenty-first century realities.
Former Ambassador to India and Representative Timothy Roemer:
Today, Governor Romney said that Russia is without question our nation’s number one geopolitical foe. Does Mitt Romney really believe that Russia—a country that has supported our international efforts to sanction Iran, for example—is a bigger threat to the U.S. today than a nuclear-armed Iran or al-Qaeda? Does he truly believe Russia is more of a challenge than a nuclear North Korea or the Straits of Hormuz being closed? I proudly served our nation overseas as Ambassador to India, and the level of naiveté about foreign relations that Governor Romney displays is astounding. Worse, it is potentially dangerous for our country.
Former Secretary of State for Political affairs Nicholas Burns told The Los Angeles Times [The Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2012]:
Iran is, without any question, the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the United States. Iran is the leading funder and supporter of terrorism in the Middle East. It has worked against our interests in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And, most importantly, Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability directly threatens the U.S., Israel and the Arab states. Should Iran become a nuclear weapons power, it would undermine our most important interests in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Iran is a far greater threat to us than Russia.
Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Strategy on the National Security Council for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama Barry Pavel also told The Los Angeles Times [The Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2012]:
The primary geopolitical foe for the United States is Iran. The regime ruling Iran can and does threaten the United States in a variety of ways and knows that, short of all-out war (which would be disastrous for U.S. interests broadly), there is little the U.S. can do to blunt these challenges. Iran is a great source of instability in the Middle East, a primary sponsor of terrorism that reaches across continents, and has produced and transferred weapons that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan to kill U.S. and coalition military personnel. When Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the world will be a much more dangerous place.
In addition The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave Romney two Pinocchios for his claim.