Further evidence that the Republican Party still ought not to be trusted with guiding U.S. foreign policy comes courtesy of former Romney campaign foreign policy director Alex Wong. Wong, in a Politico essay that nicely captures the new Romney-friendly zeitgeist, tells us that Mitt was actually right all along; that his positions with regard to Syria, Russia, and Iran were far more astute and “clear eyed” than was generally appreciated at the time.
Perhaps the clearest example of Obama’s failure to recognize a strategic competitor is the case of Russia. Mere months before the president first came into office, Russia had invaded its neighbor Georgia, sending an unmistakable message about the manner in which the Kremlin did business. By then, Vladimir Putin’s Russia had already accumulated a deplorable record on human rights and democratic governance—and it was getting worse. Russia has long used its vast energy resources as a cudgel to coerce other countries. And throughout Obama”s presidency, the Kremlin has routinely stood in the way of international pressure on both the Assad regime and the ayatollahs in Tehran.
Where to begin? As I and many others have repeatedly noted, it was neoconservative puppet-turned Tufts University Senior Statesman Mikheil Saakashvili who provoked the 2008 war with Russia by shelling Russian ethnic enclaves in South Ossetia. So Wong begins with a faulty premise, and then pivots to a criticism of Putin’s domestic record with regard to “human rights” and “governance.” This conflation is common. Republicans like Wong, against all evidence, really do seem to take the tenants of Democratic Peace Theory—the idea that a regime’s internal affairs can predict their approach toward external ones—seriously.
Wong then goes on to note that Putin has “stood in the way” of efforts by the international community to pressure both Syria and Iran. Well that’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another: as regards Syria, it was Putin who actually pressured his client Assad to work with the U.S. and Russia to gather and destroy his chemical weapons stockpile, thereby saving Obama from having to follow through on his fantastically reckless “red line” ultimatum. Had he not done so, it is entirely possible the U.S. would now be embroiled in yet another war in the Near East, a war that hawks like Wong and his former boss were all too eager in which to embroil us.
As concerns Iran, please consider the following from the nonpartisan International Institute for Strategic Studies nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick:
Amid ongoing tensions over Ukraine, it is worth noting that Russia continues to cooperate closely with the West over Iran. Far from using the Iran issue to retaliate against US and European sanctions, as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ill-advisedly warned it might in mid-March, Russia has helped bolster the US position on the most sensitive aspect of the Iran negotiations: demands for cutbacks in the centrifuge programme. (emphasis added)
As Gov. Rick Perry might say: Oops.
Wong ends his indictment of Obama’s Russia policy by noting “for the Obama campaign, history stopped the day the Soviet Union fell. Throughout 2012, it was perpetually 1991.” I have been a student of U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Russia for years now. I have no idea what Wong means by this, and I suspect that neither does he. But let’s give it a try. I suspect, though cannot know, that Wong is suggesting that upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union the U.S. treated the vanquished empire with kid gloves, doing everything possible to lift them from the wreckage of their collapsed empire and welcome them into the family of nations. This view, while commonly held, is deeply at odds with the historical record. But no matter, Republican hawks have never let such inconvenient things like facts and the historical record get in the way of a good story, and that’s exactly what Wong’s piece amounts to.
James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.