During his international press briefing in The Hague today, ABC’s Jon Karl asked President Obama a mischievous question. During the 2012 presidential battle, GOP nominee Mitt Romney asserted that Russia is America’s “most important geopolitical foe.” Obama scoffed, saying “The 1980s called. It wants its foreign policy back.” The media carried Obama’s derision forward.
Then a funny thing happened. Russia invaded Ukraine and took Crimea. So Karl asked Obama if Romney was right, that Russia really is America’s most important geopolitical foe.
Obama offered up a lengthy word salad, and then made a statement that’s likely to fall outside his standards for “smart power” and have negative consequences.
OBAMA: “With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America’s got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors not out of strength, but out of weakness. Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union.”
That’s a unique assessment. The fact of the matter is, Russia has been caught probing American readiness in the past. It is presently forward deploying navy ships and long-range bombers to its allies in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuala. Russia is also the broker on Syria’s promise to get rid of its chemical weapons. Russia is also key to dealing with Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and along with China, key to deal with North Korea. If that’s what a “regional power” does, what does it take to be a global power?
Russia’s recent actions can be understood through a study of the country’s history. Russia’s strategic aims over the past 300 or so years have moved around establishing buffer states between itself and the West, around securing warm-water ports for its navy, and about advancing its foreign policies through energy production and exports. Along with that, one must take Russia’s wounded pride from losing the Cold War into account. On that last point, was it wise or smart to dismiss a clearly global power that possesses nuclear ICBM’s as “regional”?