Matthew Rojansky cautions candidates against relying on oversimplifications when talking about Russia during the campaign:
Campaign-friendly oversimplifications about friends and foes, white hats and black hats, will just make it harder to find common ground with Moscow on the next Middle East crisis, on our Afghanistan exit strategy, or on contentious trade issues.
The candidates would be wise to lay some groundwork now for a Russia policy robust enough to bear the weight of concrete U.S. interests that depend on cooperation with Moscow. Otherwise, it would be best to keep quiet altogether.
All of this advice is very sensible, which is why we should expect Romney to ignore it. One thing that binds hawkish critics of current Russia policy together is their belief that there should be little or no cooperation with Moscow unless the relationship is completely one-sided in our favor. Their opposition to the “reset” is defined by the belief that there is no common ground with Moscow to be found. Romney’s previous statements on Russia and related issues had suggested that this was his position, and his latest blunder confirms that he sees the relationship with Russia as a purely antagonistic one. If he were elected, he would probably have to scale back his hostility to Russia, but even then he isn’t providing the Russians much incentive to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible that he is just ratcheting up anti-Russian rhetoric for electoral purposes, just as Putin did with anti-American sentiment earlier this year, but to the extent that hard-liners in both countries can use this rhetoric to support their preferred policies it is detrimental to the interests of both countries.