Romney’s statement today encapsulates the complete bankruptcy of his foreign policy criticisms:
Russia’s veto again shows the hollowness of President Obama’s failed ‘reset’ policy with Russia and his lack of leadership on Syria. President Obama has given away generous concessions on missile defense and nuclear arms to Russia, but has received little in return except obstruction and belligerence. While Russia and Iran have rushed to support Bashar al-Assad and thousands have been slaughtered, President Obama has abdicated leadership and subcontracted U.S. policy to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. Under this President, American influence and respect for our position around the world is at a low ebb [bold mine-DL].
Does it bother anyone in the Romney campaign that none of this holds up under scrutiny? Granted, these are just Romney’s usual talking points on Russia and Syria, and he’s thrown them together to achieve maximal incoherence. Cancelling the missile defense plans and ratifying New START weren’t “generous concessions” to Russia. Cancelling the missile defense plan wasn’t much of a concession at all when we remember that the proposed installations were designed to guard against a long-range Iranian missile threat that doesn’t exist. Cancelling a costly, useless plan was good for the U.S. by itself, and it also helped thaw relations with Russia. The terms of the arms control treaty were mutually beneficial, and it is to our advantage to have a verification regime in place. The U.S. has received several things over the last three years, and it doesn’t help Romney’s credibility that he is oblivious to them. Max Seddon pointed out Russia’s greater willingness to cooperate in a recent article:
Putin is also far more willing to cooperate with the West on key security issues than five years ago [italics mine-DL], when he accused the U.S. of wanting to be the world’s “sole master.” Last month, Russia gave its approval for NATO to use a base in the Urals for the Afghan war effort, over local protests and nationalist objections.
So Romney’s understanding of Russia policy is still just as vacuous as ever. That’s not all that surprising. It’s when he combines it with his boilerplate rhetoric on Syria that it gets especially bad. Does Romney believe that Russia would not have vetoed the last three U.N. resolutions on Syria if the U.S. had been pursuing a more aggressive and confrontational policy along the lines of Bush-era Russia policy from 2002 to 2008? Does he think that ratcheting up tensions with Russia over the last three years would have made for more successful diplomacy? If he does, he should explain how further alienating Russia would have made it more cooperative. What makes this statement particularly obnoxious is that Romney’s preferred Syria policy is virtually identical to the one that the administration is implementing. If Obama has “abdicated” leadership, Romney has already admitted he would be doing the same thing. If Obama has “subcontracted” U.S. policy to the U.N., Romney’s stated position is that the U.S. should subcontract our policy to the Gulf monarchies and Turkey, which is still the dreaded “leading from behind” without any fig leaf of international legitimacy.
The worst part has to be the last line. America’s influence and “respect for our position around the world” reached its lowest ebb in recent decades between 2003 and 2008. Many of the policies that Romney supported in the past and still supports today were largely responsible for driving both down to that lowest ebb. If Romney conducts foreign policy as he has said he will, he would be driving American influence and “respect for our position” back down from where it is now.