Another part of the report on the Romney campaign’s foreign policy predicament identifies a more significant problem, which is that some of the people working on the campaign don’t understand when their candidate has blundered. Here the report quotes Romney’s foreign and legal policy adviser, Alex Wong:
Wong declined to discuss his own qualifications for the job or the criticism that he is inexperienced. He said the candidate’s Russia remark was a legitimate criticism of Obama’s approach to Moscow. Wong said that in the same CNN interview, the governor also said an Iran pursuing nuclear weapons was the greatest threat to the U.S. “I thought it was quite ironic that the Obama campaign thought [the Russia] remarks were an opening for them [bold mine-DL],” said Wong. “Russia is a unique geopolitical challenge, it holds a veto at the U.N. Security Council, it has a nuclear arsenal, it holds vast energy reserves, it has a government that is backsliding into authoritarianism, and it has shown a penchant for protecting some of the world’s worst actors at the U.N.”
Romney may not always listen to his advisers, but Wong isn’t doing him any favors here. Granted, he’s supposed to put the best spin on a bad statement, but it doesn’t work very well. Each thing Wong mentions in this quote is basically correct, but even when all of them are considered together it still makes absolutely no sense to describe Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe.” Everyone knows that Russia has a nuclear arsenal. Romney is on record opposing an arms reduction treaty that limits the size of that arsenal and re-establishes a verification regime to ensure compliance. Everyone knows that Russia has “vast energy reserves.” For some reason, Romney wants to antagonize the government that controls the supplies that Europe depends on for much of its energy. Everyone knows that Russia has a veto at the Security Council. Romney seems interested in provoking them into using it as often as possible. Russia isn’t America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” but for some reason Romney wants to treat it that way.
It was fairly obvious that Romney had given the other campaign an opening with his “number one geopolitical foe” remark. There’s nothing ironic in taking advantage of an opponent’s erroneous statement. The remark was almost perfectly crafted to fit into the Obama campaign’s plan to portray Romney as out-of-date and out-of-touch. It lends credibility to the charge that Romney wants to return the country to the Bush era in foreign policy, because he is giving every indication that this is what he would do. What should concern Republicans is not that Romney isn’t paying enough attention to foreign policy, but that he doesn’t even seem to know when he has erred. He made his “number one geopolitical foe” blunder three months ago, and there are still campaign advisers and would-be allies trying to argue that his error was actually a profound insight.
Romney isn’t required to agree with current Russia policy. One would expect a partisan opponent to try to find fault with a major administration initiative. What separates Romney’s “reset”-bashing from the usual attacks an inexperienced challenger makes is the shoddy, apparently uninformed nature of the attacks. Romney’s “number one geopolitical foe” remark was so bad for him not just because it was clearly wrong, but because it was the sort of error on foreign policy that anyone could easily recognize as a blunder.
On top of that, it was part of a pattern of Romney statements on policies related to Russia that have relied on fabrications and falsehoods. His complaints about missile defense are basically unfounded or deeply misleading, and his criticism of New START was hilariously bad. If the “number one geopolitical foe” crack had been an isolated episode, it would have been embarrassing but not very important. Because it belonged to a pattern of errors related to policies concerning Russia, it became a much bigger target for criticism. It confirmed the impression that Romney’s foreign policy is needlessly confrontational and informed by an anachronistic view of the world. The Obama campaign would have been mocked for inexcusable incompetence if they hadn’t seized on the remark.