BLITZER: You think Russia is a bigger foe right now than say Iran or China or North Korea? Is that what you’re suggesting governor?
ROMNEY: Well I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors. Of course the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear armed Iran and a nuclear North Korea is troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the UN looking for ways to stop them … and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside.
So in terms of a geopolitical foe a nation that is on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council and is of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming.
You could chalk this up to campaign rhetoric, which to at least some extent it is. But as you can see from the Russian president's response, he doesn't appreciate such rhetoric:
“I always get very cautious when I see a country resort to phrasings such as ‘No. 1 enemy.’ It is very reminiscent of Hollywood in a certain period of history,” Medvedev said, through a translator, at the nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea. [...]
“My other advice is to check their clocks from time to time,” Medvedev said Tuesday. “It is 2012, not the mid-1970s. No matter what party a candidate represents, he has to take the current state of affairs into account.”
That last sentence is why Romney appears clueless. He is correct that Russia can stand in the way of our interests in certain situations. But this isn't the cold war where they do so blindly and without any regard for our interests. So when you make it known to them that you think they are our biggest foe on the international stage you kind of put a damper on our diplomatic relationship with them, and during a time in which we are talking to them about nuclear stockpiles, something even the great Reagan wanted to reduce.
Political scientists will often caution about putting too much importance on what the president says. But that's less the case when it comes to foreign policy. The president has much more power to enact policy in this area than it does in domestic policy. And the president is the spokesperson for the US to the rest of the world. So when you label countries as part of an axis of evil or our greatest foe, they are probably going to listen closely.
Even if Romney believes what he said, and even if he were objectively correct to believe it, it doesn't make a lot of strategic sense to say it publicly. As much as many Americans want it to be, international relations isn't simply about the US displaying it's dominance and everyone falling in line. That's never been the case. And it's certainly not the case now given our recent track record. In order to get important things done we need to foster and take advantage of good relationships and find common interests. Throwing out bombastic charges against other nations probably won't accomplish that.