But when the president of the world’s leading democracy asks the boss of the world’s leading managed “democracy” to time international diplomacy according to an election calendar, he encourages Putin to believe that the difference between Russian democracy and those in the West is only the degree to which political elites manipulate their people, and that when Americans object to Russia’s slouch toward authoritarianism, the criticism is more about tearing down Russia than promoting principle.
Of course, it often is the case that criticism of Russia’s political system is motivated by the desire to find obstacles to U.S.-Russian cooperation rather than genuine concern about the status of Russian dissidents, but this comes completely out of left field. There is no way one can construe Obama’s remarks in Seoul as saying anything about Russian authoritarianism or Western criticism of it. Of all the phony objections to what Obama said in Seoul, the idea that a few comments stating the blindingly obvious about election-year realities somehow blur the line between Western managerial democracy and Russian “managed democracy” is the weakest. The fact that this non-event is being treated by so many people as a serious blunder helps to prove the point that a prolonged election season is detrimental to conducting foreign policy.
Update: Stromberg has some stiff competition from Newt Gingrich. Gingrich offered the sort of calm, measured response that we have come to expect from him:
If you read what he said, it is the most blatant comment about selling out American defenses I think any American president’s ever made and I don’t see how any American could trust him ever again after that comment.