Michael Hirsh is trying too hard:
So Mitt Romney actually had things right in 2012, when he inartfully labeled Russia “America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
Hirsh is profoundly mistaken about this, but it’s important to understand why. If Russia were consistently acting as “the chief countervailing force to U.S. power and influence around the world,” as Hirsh describes it, it would not be cooperating with the U.S. on Afghanistan. Hirsh makes the same error that Romney did, which is to treat a handful of high-profile issues where the U.S. and Russia disagree as proof that Russia is America’s top “foe” in the world. One problem with this is that some of the issues where the U.S. and Russia disagree are not that important to the U.S. Fortunately for the U.S. and Russia’s neighbors, it is simply not the case that Russia is America’s “foe,” much less a leading one. If Russia were actively trying to be the “chief countervailing force” to the U.S. around the world, it would be far more activist and meddlesome in the affairs of U.S. allies and clients than it is.
Hirsh is grossly exaggerating how often Russia opposes the U.S. This doesn’t happen “at nearly every turn.” It is not very frequent at all. Unless one wants to treat Syria, Iran, NATO expansion, and missile defense as the whole of U.S. foreign policy, Russia doesn’t make a point of opposing the U.S. on very much. Even when it does oppose the U.S., this usually amounts to casting vetoes at the Security Council and grumbling in public. Russia opposes the U.S. only on those international issues where Russia perceives itself to have important interests, and there aren’t enough of those to make Russia into the “chief countervailing force” to the U.S. around the world.
Yes, Russia opposes the U.S. on some resolutions at the Security Council, because it formally objects to undermining state sovereignty and it doesn’t like seeing its clients overthrown. Western interventions in the last twenty years have done both. The U.S. and Russia are at odds over Syria because the U.S. and its allies believe that pushing for regime change there is desirable and Russia sees it as dangerous and unwelcome. Russian foreign policy is very often focused on preserving the status quo and reacting against what it perceives to be Western intrusions into its internal affairs or those of its close neighbors or clients. When Western governments push for intervention, Russia will half-heartedly push back, but it doesn’t want to risk its relations with European countries or the U.S. by pushing back too much. That isn’t what our “number one” foe would do. Romney’s statement was embarrassing and foolish, but he had the excuse that he didn’t know what he was talking about. There is no excuse for defending the statement or the silly Russophobia behind it.