Mitt Romney reminds us why most of us are glad that he isn’t president right now:
When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.
I’m sure Romney doesn’t see the flaw in this argument, but it is a very large one. Before the change in government in Ukraine, it was extremely unlikely that Russia would seize control of Crimea because no one in the Russian government would have thought it necessary or even desirable. The main thing that would have dissuaded Putin would have been the perpetuation of the old status quo in which a friendly government was still in power. The U.S. was in no position to reassure Moscow that it would not lose influence in Kiev, since the Kremlin assumed that the U.S. and EU were actively seeking to reduce its influence by encouraging Yanukovych’s overthrow. Romney thinks that the U.S. could have headed off the crisis by threatening Russia with punishment for things it had not yet done, but that ignores that Russia has behaved the way that it has because it already thought that Western interference in Ukraine was too great. Threatening Russia with sanctions at an earlier date would have changed nothing, except perhaps to make the crisis even harder to resolve. The problem with U.S. involvement in this situation has not been poor timing, as Romney claims, but a profound failure to anticipate and take into account the very likely Russian reactions to the attempt to drag Ukraine out of its orbit. This is another confirmation that Romney doesn’t understand why Russia behaves the way that it does, nor does he understand how to deal with it effectively. Whatever else one wants to say about the U.S. response to events in Ukraine, most of us should be able to agree that it’s a good thing that Romney isn’t the one in charge of it right now.
It has become fashionable in the last few months to give Romney credit for “prescience” on Russia in the 2012 campaign, as if he did anything more than echo ignorant hard-line talking points that didn’t show the slightest understanding of the relevant issues. He uttered a nonsensical claim about Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe,” which is still very wrong, and most of his defenders still don’t understand how laughable this was. All that Romney demonstrated as a candidate was a knee-jerk hostility to Obama’s policies and equally reflexive hostility to improving relations with Russia. To the extent that he had a coherent idea for how to approach Russia differently, he thought that Russia should be provoked at every turn and that cooperation should be avoided. This approach was rightly mocked during the campaign, and one can only imagine how much more poisonous relations with Russia would be now if it had been official policy for almost five years before the crisis in Ukraine. Had Romney been carrying out his preferred policy towards Russia over the last year, relations would be considerably worse, and we would be saddled with an administration that would go out of its way to clash with Russia on every issue. It was bad enough listening to Romney try to make foreign policy arguments as a presidential candidate, but it is simply ridiculous to be treated to the same nonsense now that the election campaign is long over.