Relations with Russia may be peripheral to the main plot of the US electoral campaign, but in Moscow – as elsewhere in the world – watchers diligently collect the foreign-policy remarks scattered across the candidates' statements in the hope to get a glimpse of the international agenda to be adopted by Washington.
Speaking of Russia in March, 2012, when the race to the White House was in the initial phase, Mitt Romney famously declared: “This is without question our number one geopolitical foe... They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors”. Based on the picture, he criticized Obama in the same statement over being unduly gentle with Moscow, adding that “The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed”. In a response that seemed surprisingly meek in the heated context of the campaign polemic, the Administration spokesperson described the view as rather inaccurate. Indeed, commentators - in the US as well as in Russia - can only guess what regards led Romney to reach the above radical conclusion, but the Republican hopeful and his staff never reneged on the assessment. Recently, Richard S. Williamson, America’s Special Envoy to Sudan and the Romney campaign's foreign policy adviser, told reporters in a clear advocacy of the controversial view aired by his boss that “Russia is a significant geopolitical foe. They have chosen a path of confrontation, not cooperation, and I think the governor was correct in that, even though there are some voices in Washington that find that uncomfortable” (1). In September, Romney diluted the original invective slightly, stressing that the perceived geopolitical opposition stemmed from Russia's tendency to resist the US policies on the global scale (2).
No doubt, the statements betray a frightening lack of competence, but the possibility should not be discounted that the rhetoric may be essentially meant for domestic consumption and will not proliferate into the actual presidential agenda. This was the case with E. Reagan, the Republican Party's iconic president who drove his score up by condemning the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” to talk cordially about Gorbachev's “soul” years later, or with G. Bush, Jr. who, to the dismay of critics like Sen. McCain, found good words to say about V. Putin. In any case, an overview of the documents defining the Republican foreign-policy doctrine should reduce the level of uncertainty in the long-term expectations.
Romney's official foreign-policy program is found in “AN AMERICAN CENTURY — A Strategy to Secure America’s Enduring Interests and Ideals”, a white paper released by the Republican team on October 7, 2011 (3). The document's foreword was contributed by Eliot Cohen, a strategist renown for a hawkish perspective on international politics and the US relations with Russia in particular, and it is a credible guess that, moreover, Cohen had been the brain behind the entire piece. The charter is built around the objective of reinforcing the US global primacy, and, listing the challenges Romney will have to pick up if elected, cites right in the preamble the fact that “Powerful countries such as China and Russia are growing in strength and seeking their place in the sun”. The place in the sun being reserved exclusively for the US, the authors of the strategy maintain that, due to the authoritarian character of the regimes in Russia and China, the countries have a propensity for the type of conduct that undermines the international security. Critics might charge that the international security is being constantly undermined by the wars the US unleashes across the world and by the irresponsible liquidity injections which channel tons of money created out of thin air into the global economy rather than by the policies pursued by Russia and China which do not bestow their military might on others and staunchly urge respect for the international law, but this is not how things are seen from within the Republican headquarters. Given the above, it appears likely that the mobilization of “democracies” against a chimerical Russian-Chinese peril will pop up on the eventual Republican agenda. Romney's priorities already include parring the ambitions of the defiant countries and promoting their political transformations, the latter part of the plan having a curious connotation if the increasingly spotty human rights record of the country which had set up Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and a network of illicit jails worldwide is taken into account. In a section where Russia comes into the spotlight, the AMERICAN CENTURY spells out the approach with details thrown in: “With the Kremlin’s leverage over the energy supplies of Central and Western Europe, its stockpile of nuclear weapons, its recent history of aggressive military action, and the power it wields in multilateral institutions like the United Nations, Russia is a destabilizing force on the world stage. It needs to be tempered”. If the logic is applied to the US with its serial military campaigns, one might suggest that it is not Russia who should be “tempered”. Based on the allegations, Obama's reset policies are decried as total failure and as a disguise for the inability of the current Administration to draw Moscow into a more productive relationship with the US ad its allies. Obama, for example, is blamed for scrapping the Bush -era plan to site missile defense infrastructures in Poland and the Czech Republic without bouncing anything out of Moscow in return. It is unclear what Moscow could even hypothetically offer in return as neither the US had the design implemented in East Europe to any extent nor was Russia eying a kind of a symmetrical response. The 2010 Strategic Arms deal – the New Start - comes under fire in Romney's program for causing the US to slash its nuclear potential while Russia could up its nukes stockpile as it was below the ceiling prescribed by the treaty. It angers Romney's team that in the process the US Administration supposedly blew a unique opportunity to convince Moscow to cut its tactical arsenal along with the strategic one. The idea in not unheard of, and Moscow had brushed it off ages ago since the Russian tactical nukes pose no threat to the US but are a integral to Russia's deterrent in Eurasia where the type of weaponry quickly spreads along the perimeter from Great Britain and France to Pakistan and N. Korea. Obama also takes a portion of hammering for the failure to entrain Russia in the arm twisting to which Iran and N. Korea are currently subjected over their nuclear programs. The criticism is completely unfair as Russia is a key partner in the negotiations but is naturally entitled to its own vision of the situation. Romney, according to the strategic blueprint, pledges “to reset the reset” and to put into practice a muscular strategy that would reign in Russia's alleged expansionist ambitions while stimulating political and economic reforms in the country. That sounds ominous, considering that virtually the same threats have been or currently are leveled at Libya, Syria, and Iran. By the way, if even a a heavyweight like Russia faces such forms of pressure in today's unipolar world, the attempts made by smaller players – Iran and N. Korea – to become nuclear-armed look quite rational against the background.
The impression is that Romney's political philosophy is entirely premised in the assumption that international affairs are a zero-sum game and that deepening the confrontation is a universal solution. At the moment, he has it written on his ticket that all of the arms-control agreements sealed under the Obama Administration would be reviewed to find out how well they serve the interests of the US national security, that is, how closely they conform to the Republican candidate's reading of it.
According to the document, Romney's Administration, if the upcoming poll propels it to the White House, will work “to decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian sources of energy”, support for the crumbling Nabucco project – the construction of a gas pipeline from Central Asia to Europe with Russia bypassed – being a part of the package. Special attention is given in the framework of the strategy to the US interactions with the energy-rich part of the post-Soviet space: “A Romney administration will build stronger relationships with the states of Central Asia by enhancing diplomatic ties, increasing military training and assistance, and negotiating trade pacts and educational exchanges”.
Predictably, support for the civil society in Russia – a staple of the US foreign policy – features prominently on Romney's program. Specifically, “A Romney administration will be forthright in confronting the Russian government over its authoritarian practices”.
Reliance on soft power is nominally implied, but the plan does not look quite peaceful. The tentative Republican Administration “will support measures to increase the flow of information into Russia that highlights the virtues of free elections, free speech, economic opportunity, and a government free of corruption” and intends “to bring more leaders of Russian civil society organizations to the United States on exchanges programs, which would raise their profile and empower them with ideas that can be shared with their fellow Russians upon their return”. Free riders eager to take advantage of the program will surely line up, but these days Russians know and understand the US, with its strengths and weaknesses, well enough to realize that lack of realism in Washington occasionally grows into the main problem. The US neocons, with their archaic thinking, promise to be a major source of it: the authors of the American Century seem to be travelers in time chronically unable to wake up to reality in its current shape. When Romney says “Reset the reset”, he actually calls for refreezing the US relations with Russia. The position correlates with the records of the majority of Romney's foreign-policy advisors who used to serve in the Bush administration and, within it, to belong to the ultra-hawkish “volcano” camp with D. Cheney at the helm. The careers and intellectual trajectories of John Bolton, Eliot Cohen, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, etc. were at all times interwoven with the old-fashioned business of churning out anti-Soviet/anti-Russian stereotypes, and at the moment they have nothing to offer other than the frayed myths about the aggressive Russian bear. Every public opinion survey shows that those no longer sell - only 2% of the Americans subscribe to the view that Russia is the number 1 enemy for the US. Yet, the harmful effect of the anti-Russian talk shoud not be ignored, considering that negative perceptions of Russia are expressed by 61% of the Americans. As far as the dynamics goes, some manifestations of the expanding trust in Russia instilled extraordinary optimism – reportedly, Romney bought over 1,000 Gazprom and Yandex shares back in 2011. He had to dump the assets ahead of staking the presidential bid with some damage to his personal finances, though - could this be the secret reason why he deems Russia unfriendly?
1. http://www.ewi.info/The Foreign Policy Divide Romney.