Recently, President Barack Obama called to attention some comments made earlier this year by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Back in March, Romney criticized the president’s foreign policy. Obama had met with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in South Korea to discuss nuclear weapons reductions.
Romney insinuated that the president is being too easy on the Russians and that Russia should be recognized as our “number one geopolitical foe.” I believe this has been brought up again because of Obama’s weak performance in the first debate, but he does have a point.
Russia is not our rival anymore. Its predecessor, the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991, was. I hope Romney understands it isn’t “they’re bad, we’re good,” because his comment was kind of dumb. I don’t dislike Romney, but he’s out of line on this. Not only do we outspend Russia 10-to-1 on the military, but their population growth is fairly stagnant and we outnumber them 2-1 now. They are not, I repeat, not the Soviet Union.
What’s really interesting is that these views continue to thrive among so many conservatives when decades have passed since Russia was a real threat to America or her interests. The whole point of the South Korean conference was to try keeping good relations with a country we used to hardly engage with at all.
Obama wanted to “restart” relations with Russia after the increasing tension of the Bush years. After 9/11 the U.S. wanted to put anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and radar stations in the Czech Republic to shoot down possible missiles from Iran and Iraq. This would be like Russia putting missiles and radar in Cuba and Mexico, and was oddly reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Poland and the Czech Republic also joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, originally created to oppose Russia.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction was opposed by Russia. When Georgia attempted to capture rebel territory it had never actually controlled in 2008, Russia intervened and neutered Georgia’s military-industrial complex. Russia was almost universally cast
as the villain. Only later did it come to be known that Georgia was the first aggressor.
We also never found WMDs in Iraq and no connection to Iraq and 9/11 was ever proven. So that’s 3-0 for Russia. The Russians have also helped us in Afghanistan and cooperated with counter-terrorism.
I have my problems with Russia, though. They have massive wealth inequality caused by the lopsided privatization of state industries, something encouraged by the U.S. in the ’90s, and free speech there is far from our standards. Journalists who oppose the government have a habit of getting killed. Their economic problems are a prime reason Russia isn’t a real rival for the U.S. anymore.
Most of the tension between Russia and the U.S. is simply Russia reclaiming its position as a world power. The Russian Federation has huge reserves of oil and natural gas, and they have a strong military and a high level of technical development relative to their monetary wealth. They have a right to assert themselves just as we do.
Whoever gets elected in November will have to strike a respectful balance with Russia if our relationship is to improve. It’s not a choice to be friends with Russia, it’s a necessity.
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