There is excessive confidence among some Russia experts that Romney’s Russia policy will not be as reckless as it sounds:
But this doesn’t mean that presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, if elected, will transform his public anti-Russian statements into political practice.
“I believe that most likely Governor Romney believes in the statements he made, but that does not mean that in practice this rhetoric will be his guide for action,” Simes said.
Anything’s possible, but it not “highly probable” that Romney’s views on Russia will “evolve,” as Simes says. One might wish that to happen, but there is no good reason to expect it. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward. There is no large constituency in Romney’s party that cares very much about good relations with Russia. His party’s foreign policy professionals seem to be nearly unanimous in their loathing for the “reset,” and even if they don’t loathe it very few of them are going to object to its demise.
The “reset” label was always silly, but it reflected a correct assessment that Bush-era Russia policy was a disaster and U.S.-Russian relations were unacceptably poor. Most of the people advising Romney instinctively dislike the repudiation of Bush-era policy that the “reset” represents, and they are also inclined to blame the deterioration of relations solely on Moscow. Rejecting a signature Obama policy would allow him to start his administration with a clear break from his predecessor. If Romney wants to govern in an “anything but Obama” fashion, what better way to start than by undoing one of the policies that is most closely associated with Obama himself? Romney can expect glowing editorials from the Post and elsewhere praising his “moral clarity” as he trashes the relationship with Moscow. He isn’t likely to pay any political price for it.
Unfortunately, all of the political incentives indicate that Romney would follow through on his anti-“reset” statements. Romney is a famously unprincipled opportunist. That’s why we can expect him to follow through on his opportunistic opposition to Obama’s Russia policy. We have no reason to doubt that Romney’s Russia policy will be every bit as bad as he promises it will be. It’s a disservice to the public to pretend that this isn’t the case.
P.S. It strains credulity to blame the administration for politicizing Russia policy. As early as the spring of 2009, Republicans seized on anything related to Russia policy and vilified every decision as appeasement or betrayal.