ABC’s Jake Tapper and others are reporting a troubling exchange, clearly not intended to be public*, between Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev at the end of a meeting in Seoul earlier today. It went like this:
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
Obama is implicitly linking his ability to pursue the policies Russia would like him to pursue with regards to missile defense to the requirements of the election campaign – specifically the requirement to “sound tough” on national security issues.
He’s not saying “give me time because I don’t have time to schedule the necessary meetings and talk to the relevant people.” He’s asking for political wiggle room. And he knows that Putin wouldn’t be minded to “give him space” if there was any risk of Obama pursuing a missile defense policy that was unacceptable to Russia. A nod’s as good as a wink, as we say in Britain.
Everyone understands that politicians seeking election have to pander to their domestic constituencies and allies, but pandering to a foreign nation – and a dangerous strategic rival at that – is an alarming new tactic.
And while it was bad enough that Obama recently recruited a friendly foreign leader to his re-election bid in the shape of British Prime Minister David Cameron, this is surely the first time that an American president has asked the leader of a corrupt, hostile and thuggish nation to tacitly support his campaign.
It wouldn’t, however, be the first time a leading Democrat has sought to cooperate with the Russians for political gain. Ted Kennedy infamously traveled to the Soviet Union with an offer to help its communist rulers deal with Ronald Reagan in return for the Soviets helping the Democrats challenge Reagan in the 1984 election. (More on Teddy’s escapades here and here.)