Mark Adomanis discusses Romney’s pledge to show “more backbone” to Putin:
Romney, and foreign policy hawks in general, take a strangely one-sided view of US-Russia relations, and tend to view it as an arena in which the US is the only party with any real agency. In this view the Russians cooperate on issues like Afghanistan and Iran “because they have to” and the US can afford to aggressively oppose other Russian policies without paying any cost. But that’s clearly not the case.
This is mostly right, but I would add that American hawks do allow that Russian agency exists insofar as it allows them to blame Russian behavior for any deterioration in relations. There is a one-sided view at work, but it’s one that interprets all Russian actions as hostile and holds Russia responsible for whatever goes wrong in the bilateral relationship. This is the basic assumption behind all criticism of trying to improve relations with Russia. It’s not just that hawks don’t want to have good relations with Russia, but that they consider the attempt a fool’s errand because U.S. actions and attitudes could not possibly have led to the breakdown in the relationship by late 2008.
According to this view, Bush-era decisions didn’t contribute significantly to the wreckage of the relationship, and since the U.S. wasn’t responsible for wrecking anything it can’t be expected to repair it. Of course, this is an entirely self-serving and wrong view, but it seems to be the one informing opposition to the “reset” and Romney’s Russophobic rhetoric of the last few years. This view gives its adherents the advantage of avoiding accountability when their policy choices come back to bite them. If a Russia policy of “more backbone” resulted in the reduction or cessation of Russian cooperation on Afghanistan or Iran, or if it provoked Russia to take other unwelcome actions, hawks could simply attribute that to the nature of the Russian government and pretend that their preferences had nothing to do with it.
As Adomanis points out, Romney didn’t elaborate on his promise to show “more backbone” last night or at any other time in the last two months. Note that this “backbone” talk doesn’t fit at all with Romney’s feigned interest in nuclear security cooperation with the Russians. It was laughable that a candidate that has railed against the modest of arms control treaties for the last three years was suddenly concerned about working with Russia to secure nuclear materials. This is why we should assume that Romney’s supposed interest in nuclear security cooperation is meaningless and more antagonistic policies towards Russia would follow under a Romney administration. Even if Romney’s foreign policy can be reduced to little more than an “anything but Obama” reaction, it seems reasonable to assume that undoing current Russia policy and reverting to a more adversarial relationship are things that Romney will do because they will represent a clear break with his predecessor.