Romney Wasn’t “Churchill-Like” on Russia, He Was Thoroughly Ignorant
Robert O’Brien drones on about Churchill for a while, and then makes a truly absurd comparison:
Governor Mitt Romney’s Churchilll-like warning of a resurgent Russia [bold mine-DL] made during the last campaign was mocked by the President and elites, and was rejected by a narrow margin at the polls.
On one level, this is just a silly expression of partisan loyalty, and we could dismiss it as such. However, it is important to understand why Romney’s arguments about Russia during the campaign were wrong. It’s equally important to recognize that they haven’t been vindicated in the least by anything that has happened over the last year.
First, Romney’s arguments were not very well-informed. That was true of most of his statements on foreign policy during the campaign, but when it came to Russia he almost seemed to take delight in his errors. He repeated anti-treaty talking points about New START, but many of these arguments were disingenuous or simply mistaken. On New START, as on other issues, Romney confirmed again and again that he didn’t know what he was talking about. His first op-ed on the subject was appropriately ridiculed as “thoroughly ignorant.” Unfortunately, that described much of what he had to say about Russia while he was a candidate. His views on Russia were mocked because they deserved to be.
Romney adopted knee-jerk anti-Russian positions on every relevant issue, and married them to reflexive anti-Obama criticisms. That’s all that he did. It isn’t surprising, since he had no particular foreign policy experience, nor had he had much of an interest in these issues before he started his seemingly endless presidential campaigning. Romney had no particular insight into Russian behavior, and definitely didn’t understand what motivated Russian leaders or how they viewed U.S. policies in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. If the U.S. had been following his recommendations over the last year, tensions between the U.S. and Russia would likely be even worse, since Romney’s idea for Russia policy in practice was little more than to antagonize Moscow whenever possible.
As Noah Millman noted yesterday, “stopped clocks and hammers are not good guides to policy.” Romney assumed that Russia was an inveterate foe of the U.S. on everything because Russia sometimes opposed U.S. policies. This took an unremarkable observation–Russia strongly disagrees with the U.S. on a few high-profile issues–and turned it into an absurd, discrediting exaggeration. He seemed to think that any kind of diplomatic engagement or accommodation with Russia on any issue was equivalent to appeasement. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t ever explain how the U.S. had “appeased” Russia (or any other government)–he was just reciting from an ideological script that he picked up from other people in his party. This approach would not have avoided clashes with Russia, and it would not have averted or resolved any crises, but it could very easily have contributed to many more conflicts than necessary. Taking such a confrontational approach would not have aided the U.S. in advancing any of its interests, but would have likely committed the U.S. to more aggressive policies out of the misguided belief that Russia was our “number one foe” that had to be countered at every turn.
I’m sure that Romney would like to think of himself as a new Churchill, but the comparison is deeply insulting to Churchill, who at least had a decent understanding of the issues that he spoke about in public.