Barack, Mitt & the Russian Bear

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With Russian troops in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, here’s a look back at how Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sized up Russia and Vladamir Putin during the 2012 presidential campaign.

First, here’s an excerpt of Romney’s interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 26, 2012:

Romney: The actions he’s (Obama’s) taken so far, which he says are to reset relations with Russia, have not worked out at all. Russia continues to support Syria. It supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions we wanted to have the world put in place against Iran. Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage. … What he (Obama) did both on nuclear weaponry already in 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 — I mean, these are very unfortunate developments.

Blitzer: But you think Russia is a bigger foe right now than, let’s say, Iran or China or North Korea? Is that what you’re saying, Governor?

ROMNEY: 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 that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough. But when these — these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them — when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people — we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It’s always Russia, typically with China alongside. And so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s 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.

Note: In the final debate of the 2012 presidential campaign, on October 22, 2012, President Obama referred to the aforementioned interview in an attempt to paint Mitt Romney as a rank amateur on foreign policy, an old school cold warrior who was stuck in the ’80s.

OBAMA: Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida, you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.

ROMNEY: First of all, Russia, I indicated, is a geopolitical foe. It’s a geopolitical foe and I said in the same paragraph, Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin.

Postscript: "Romney was right," reported Slate’s David Weigel. Obama "was playing to the cheap seats." On October 30, 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the Tsar Bomba in northern Russia, a bomb 2,500 times more powerful than the Nagasaki bomb. Today, Russia has an estimated 8,500 nuclear warheads.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics and the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
Ralph R. Reiland

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