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Brooks: Romney “Looks Like an Idiot” on Foreign Policy

Josh Rogin reports:

“Mitt Romney has been wandering around the country trying to find a place to disagree with Barack Obama,” he said during a panel discussion at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s annual conference. “He’s desperately trying, and every time he does, he looks like an idiot, because he has to say something so far out there on Russia or whatever it is.”

Brooks’ observation is similar to the one I’ve been making for a while. I agree that Romney’s overreaching in his foreign policy criticisms is a product of his need to exaggerate differences with Obama, and as a result he keeps making blunders. I would add that Romney has been embarrassing himself with his arguments on Russia policy for a long time before he made his “number one geopolitical foe” blunder, and that blunder simply takes Romney’s apparent antagonism to Russia to an absurd extreme. Romney identified Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe” because he does disagree with Obama.

The problem in this case isn’t that Romney is inventing differences that don’t exist, but that the differences that Romney insists on having over Russia policy have put him in a ridiculous position of having to pretend that Russia is our preeminent foe. Much like that claim, the arguments for his preferred Russia policy have little or no merit. What really makes Romney look “like an idiot,” as Brooks says, is that he keeps repeating those arguments in spite of the fact that they have so little merit. Of course, he keeps repeating them because this is what Republican hawks say about Russia policy all the time, and he is echoing what they say.

Rogin describes Romney’s characterization of the “reset” as an abject failure as a “far more defensible critique” than the “number one geopolitical foe” claim. I suppose a lot of things would be “far more defensible” than pure nonsense, but that isn’t saying much. Romney’s “abject failure” claim is defensible only if we pretend that Romney’s definition of failure is the opposite of the word’s normal meaning. The “reset” was not intended to eliminate all disagreements with Russia, it was never going to change Russia’s internal political and legal systems, and it wasn’t going to transform the Russian government’s understanding of Russian interests so that they always coincide with our interests.

The policy sought cooperation on a limited number of issues where the U.S. and Russia have common interests, and on the whole it has been successful in securing some Russian cooperation on certain issues at very little cost to America, and it has generally contributed to reduced tensions and improved relations overall. In other words, it did almost exactly what it was supposed to do. Romney’s “abject failure” description of Russia policy is defensible in the same way that it would be defensible to denounce Bush’s largely successful India policy as a complete disaster because it didn’t compel India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir (i.e., to do something that its government doesn’t want to do and would never do under foreign pressure). In other words, it isn’t defensible at all.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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