Mitt Romney doesn't get it.
By launching the flabby Cold War trope that Russia is our "geopolitical adversary," he has exhibited yet another symptom of foot-in-mouth disease on foreign policy (for others, see coverage of his Faux Pas Tour of Europe this summer).
I am in Russia on business, and have been working in and visiting Russia for over 20 years. When I lived here full time in 1989-90, the ice was just breaking; even then the foe we once knew was beginning to open up to the world.
Over the past two decades, with but a few hiccups, Russia has only become increasingly more open to the West, making travel in both directions easier, freeing up its currency, reducing its nuclear stockpiles and military spending, and slowly (ok, really slowly) opening up its political process. Is there still plenty of progress to be made? Absolutely. One would be blind and deaf to reality to conclude anything else. But one would also be naive to not see that, historically speaking, Russia has moved several pegs in the right direction in a very short period of time.
I visited Russia when it was our fiercest foe, in the early 1980s. Then is definitely not now. Then, there was an Iron Curtain, a totalitarian dictatorship and a planned economy. Now there is freedom of travel, speech and a booming (albeit warped) capitalist economy. Russia is a rapidly developing country rich in human and natural resources. Its younger generation has no memory of the Cold War, and is almost more Western than the West itself.
Romney says Russia is our foe because "almost everything we try to do globally they try and oppose."
Welcome to real world, where you can't buy everything you want, where you have to cooperate and collaborate.
This sort of Manichean thinking – where compromise is a dirty word – has locked down Washington. But compromise and negotiation is what people do when they live together in the world.
Does Russia oppose us in things that we want? Absolutely. Why should we expect anything different? So does France, Germany, even Canada, for Canucks' sake. Countries have different national interests. And so they get together to discuss those differences and work toward solutions.
It's called diplomacy.
Everyone I have been talking with on this visit is deeply dismayed by Romney’s rhetoric. It smacks of a black-and-white world that bears no resemblance to the reality they see and experience through the touch screens of their iPads and smartphones.
By posturing and needlessly politicizing US-Russian relations for electoral ends, Romney is hurting American interests. For example, on Syria Putin went down a dead end alley and a wise politician would recognize that he could use a bit of face-saving help to back his way out. Cold War talk makes that sort of maneuver harder, not easier.
Russians like Americans and they love American culture. Thankfully, they also have a pretty good history of separating us from our politicians. If they didn't, I wouldn’t get very many dinner invitations.
And that would not be a good thing.
Cool it, Mitt.
[Photo credit: © Stavros Damos | Dreamstime.com]
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