Published 29-10-2012, 08:53
Unsurprisingly, the US presidential campaign has remained firmly focused on domestic issues, notably the economy. This was evident even during the 22nd October televised debate between Obama and Romney devoted to foreign policy – the last pre-election opportunity for the candidates to speak to a national audience about the US’s place and role in the world today.
On several issues, Obama and Romney have shown agreement: namely, on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan (Romney now agrees that those troops should be withdrawn by 2014), on unequivocal support for Israel and on opposition to US military involvement in Syria. They both made clear they would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. With an eye on domestic "bread and butter” concerns, they jostled to act tougher than the other on China’s alleged currency manipulation. And Romney even went so far as to moderate his stance on Russia, commenting only that he sees Russia through "clear eyes” (while Obama does so through "rose-colored glasses”) and steering well clear of his earlier depiction of Russia as the US’s "foe number one”.
Nevertheless, there are significant differences between the two camps at the deeper, ideological level. Traditionally Republican leaders have adopted a more muscular stance on the issue of the US’s "global leadership” and the need to project US democracy values, while the Democrats’ more sober line has frequently earned them the moniker "appeasers of autocrats”. Indeed, these differences resurfaced throughout the campaign. At one point, Romney accused Obama of "leading from behind” and promised to use US power to shape world events, instead of simply reacting to them. Speaking of Russia, he has promised to "reset the reset”.
Such differences are even more evident from statements by Romney’s advisers, including John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN under the G. W. Bush presidency. Earlier this month, Bolton indicated that a Romney administration would go as far as to force the renegotiation of existing arms treaties if Moscow continued to object to US anti-missile defence plans. As for Russia’s granting the US the right of transit for supplies to Afghanistan, the Romney camp considers that goodwill gesture unimportant in the light of Moscow’s persistent torpedoing of US policies on a range of key issues. From this perspective, Romney’s characterization of Russia as the US’s main enemy continues unashamedly to ring out loud and clear.
It is frequently the case, of course, that once an election campaign is over, stark realities (especially of the economic kind) prevail over pre-electioneering. Hence, in practice, a President Romney’s policies might not differ much in substance from Obama’s. Nevertheless, different styles may over time yield very different outcomes, and this could have troubling implications for global peace and stability.
• To what extent could such a difference in style impact on US relations with Russia and/or China?
• Regardless ongoing economic crisis, is the Republican call for a tougher line against the US’s global rivals justified?
• Might a President Romney be unduly influenced by hard-liners in his entourage, such as John Bolton, paving the way for a potentially dangerous global confrontation?
The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, Expert Discussion Panel Editor (New York University, Prague)
Expert Panel Contributions
Professor Nicolai N. Petro
Department of Political Science
University of Rhode Island
In the final debate between the two U.S. presidential candidates we learned that their foreign policy differences are matters of nuance. This should not, however, obscure from view the central reason for the persistent malaise in Russian-American relations--the sad fact that the attitudes of American elites toward Russia are at least a quarter century out of date. Both campaigns describe a Russia that no longer exists. Not surprisingly, the strategies they propose for dealing with it cannot hope to succeed.
While Romney's cartoonish Cold War rhetoric signals just how out of touch he is with contemporary Russia, the Obama administration is actually no less bereft of new ideas. His "reset" for Russia has failed to fundamentally change the tenor of relations because it remains tethered to a core premise of the Cold War--that the values of Russian society are fundamentally at odds with those of the West. This "values gap” justifies attempts to influence Russian society and constrain its foreign policy, just as containment did.
Alas, the problems facing the global community are increasingly complex in nature. Addressing them successfully will therefore require much more extensive international cooperation. This new type of cooperation revolves around mutual risk sharing among major international actors, but this will only be possible if we leave the "values gap” behind us.
The one thing needed to replace the vicious cycle in which U.S. foreign policy has been stuck since the collapse of the Soviet Union--one administration’s attempt to improve relations is criticized by the next administration for failing to put pressure on Russia for its values--is to recognize the truth. There is no more values gap with Russia, because Russia is not the USSR. Just stating this simple truth would create the intellectual and cultural environment necessary for the development of long term partnership with Russia. Without it, we are endlessly stuck in the doldrums of the Cold War.
If a new framework of shared values were to be adopted as the basis for U.S. policy toward Russia, political disagreements would continue to exist, but they would be treated as such problems are currently treated within the Western alliance, in the family. This would lead to closer political integration, greater security, more economic investment, and a general sense of well being and lessening of tensions.
There is still little awareness of the real root cause of our poor relations with Russia. But if the next US administration, under president Romney, remains unwilling, or under president Obama, remains incapable of moving beyond this pseudo values gap, then Russia will seek out other partners to create a long term framework for global security.
Professor of Government
A new Romney Administration would be an unknown quantity as far as US-Russia relations are concerned. Of course, Romney has been talking tough on Russia. But one can put aside Romney's election campaign rhetoric. The utterances of both candidates are carefully crafted to appeal to independent voters in a handful of swing states, and they bear no relation to the actual policies that they are likely to follow once in office.
Romney does not appear to have a clear or coherent vision about America's role in the world, apart from recycling bromides about leadership and values. However, this could turn out to be an advantage, if Romney the pragmatist takes a fresh and clear-eyed look at the world and comes up with some concrete goals.
Part of the problem with Obama's "reset" policy was that is was based on a flawed assumption - that Russia was on the verge of a breakthrough to liberalism and democracy under President Dmitri Medvedev.
Romney does not have any illusions on that score. But he may have illusions of his own - such as the view that Russia no longer matters, and can be factored out of US foreign policy. Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Karabakh - all these crisis issues require Russian cooperation to a greater or lesser degree.
It is tempting to hope for a "Nixon goes to China" moment, in which Romney cuts a deal to solve one or more of these problems which includes some pay-off for Russia. However, this is probably an unrealistic expectation. The biggest challenges facing Romney on the foreign policy front are the rise of China and the fragility of the Euro. Russia is not a key player in either of these spheres, so Russia will probably remain on the back-burner of US policy in a Romney administration.
Professor of International Relations and Political Science
San Francisco State University
There are two possibilities with Romney in charge of U.S.-Russia relations – bad and very bad. Although Romney’s gut feelings are to be a pragmatist and strike deals, he doesn’t know much about Russia and has an instinctive mistrust in it. Within his elite circles, Russia is viewed not as a potential partner, but a corrupt, authoritarian, and revisionist power.
In addition, Romney is an opportunist and may choose a confrontation with Russia if that suites his political agenda. Several of his foreign policy advisors are known for their neo-conservative and anti-Russian views – John Bolton, Robert Kagan, Leon Aron to name a few – and Romney may decide to follow their advise. During the campaign, he attacked Russia for politically expedient reasons of identifying a different security threat than the one presented by the Barak Obama’s administration (terrorism). Russia happens to be a safe target for attack. Domestically, there is no strong Russian constituency or pro-Russian lobby to expose Romney’s unrealistic views. Internationally, there are also few voices in Russia’s defense – in part due to the country’s image problem in the West.
With Obama, there is at least a possibility of strengthening U.S.-Russia cooperation even though a distinctly remote one. If Romney is elected, such possibility is likely to be excluded for quite some time. The best we can hope for is a period of stalemate or freeze in relationships with only a slow and painful realization that Russia matters.
University Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Kansas State University
I think there are number of factors at play. First, I am not happy to say it but the fact is that China is in the process of becoming Washington's number one concern. I don't mean to suggest that Moscow will not play an important role, but the Cold War is over and Moscow has tremendous economic, social and military problems -- at least from the American perspective.
As far as US policy toward Moscow is concerned, I don't think we know what it will happen after November 6. When George Bush Jr. came to office, he and Condoleezza Rice were very anti-Russian. It was only after 9/11 and Putin's phone call that relations began to change. Since then relations deteriorated due to a number of factors. Some of those factors such as missile defense will not go away. Shooting down four of five incoming missiles last week suggests that missile defense is about to become a reality. I understand Russian concerns, but I can't imagine any president willing to give up such a system for the sake of US-Russian relations.
On the Russian side, I have the impression that Putin has just about had it with the unpredictable nature of US foreign policy formulation. He can ensure that what he says becomes policy. An American president can -- on some issues -- but not on others. Interest groups in the US -- from across the political spectrum -- will have an impact. That is something I saw first hand when I had charge of the Polish Desk during the martial law period. Don't think for a minute that the Polish-American Congress did not have an important impact as did the AFL-CIO. Indeed we had some confidential understandings with the Jaruzelski government that vanished once the latter heard about it.
I am sure there are some in Romney's camp who have a good idea of where they want to see US-Russian relations go in the next four years. Some would be good and some not so good, but they haven't been appointed yet. As far as Romney is concerned US policy toward Russia is number 26 in his list of his ten most important concerns. As far as Obama is concerned, I am not convinced that his "private" conversation with Medvedev will see the light of day. Much depends on the outcome of the election campaigns in the House and Senate.
I realize I have not answered the question Vlad Sobell posed -- for the simple reason that I don't think anyone can. Romney has shown (to me, at least) that he is not an ideologue and that he is open to compromise. Will that extend to relations with Moscow? Tol’ko bog znaet -- and he hasn't confided in me on that topic.
Former Editor-in-Chief, Moscow News
Two Right Wings to US Foreign Policy
Back in the 1970s, Gore Vidal described America's two-party system in a paragraph so apt that it is worth quoting here almost in full:
"There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party ... and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt ... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties." (Gore Vidal. Matters of Fact and of Fiction: Essays 1973-1976. Random House,1977. p. 268 )
I particularly liked that bit about that zoological monstrosity, a party with two right wings. Now, nowhere is this pervading right-wingedness more obvious than in America's foreign policy.
As I listened to the salient points of the Obama-Romney debate on foreign policy Oct 22, Vidal's stupider vs cuter antinomy obtruded itself most vividly. My impression of Romney's performance was that he often plain did not know what he was talking about and was anxious to veer away into some topic where he would be on firmer ground, like the parlous state of America's economy under Obama's administration.
On the contrary, President Obama did know a lot more about the international situation and even about "these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them," a thrust that must have really hurt the would-be supreme commander-in-chief.
The two debaters were vying over which of them was better equipped to ensure America's leadership of the world. Obama was clearly the more astute and knowledgeable candidate for the role, and so he won the debate. However, neither the contestants nor, worse, most of their electorate paused to consider the really important question: Does the world and its individual constituent nations wish to be led by America, or by anyone else, for that matter?
That question simply does not arise, America's leadership is a given, and if the world does not want any such leadership it can lump it. That was why Mitt Romney was not overly distressed when he made various gaffes about the world he proposes to lead. Indeed, what difference does it make whether a certain African country is actually in Africa or in the Middle East? Wherever it is, it will have to accept American "leadership" - or else. That's the way the average conservative/fundamentalist American feels (I nearly said reasons), and that is the kind of electorate that Romney is playing up to.
The same voter will swallow without chewing Romney's protestations that, when he called Russia America's enemy Number 1 (26 times within a single month, we are told), he meant it "in the geopolitical sense only." This vividly brought to mind the scene from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, where an honorable member calls Mr.Pickwick a humbug, amid general uproar; when pressed by the chairman whether he meant the word in the ordinary or the Picwickian sense, the honorable member replies "Certainly in the Pickwickian sense," to rapturous cries of "Hear, hear!" and general satisfaction. So Russia is America's enemy Number 1 in the Pickwickian sense only, and Mitt Romney is "no warmonger." Bad word, warmonger. For the Romney voter "enemy in the geopolitical sense only" sounds the more soothing the less intelligible it is.
Obama is, of course, much cuter on this subject as on many others. He knows that not only warmonger is a bad word: even to talk of "killing our way out of the mess" is clean unacceptable to, say, America's European allies. So is the word enemy - in the "geopolitical" or any other sense or non-sense. Europe is still in two minds about its own schizophrenia regarding Russia, can't decide whether it is in competition or partnership with that supplier of so much fine gas and oil - and here Mitt Romney mouths words like enemy. It won't do, you know. That's no way to get a Nobel Peace Prize as a kind of advance on future heroic achievements.
On the other hand, acting as if Russia were an enemy is quite acceptable, and that is exactly what America under Obama has been doing, with all those "defensive" missiles along Russia's perimeter. One of Mitt Romney's hard-liner punchlines is, that he will reset the Reset. Did he or his advisers stop to think for a moment what is there about the Reset to reset? What substance is there to this Reset thingummy? START? It has not been abrogated de jure, but de facto those missile pads in Europe have killed it very dead indeed. A school kid will understand that, once you have built an impenetrable shield, you can strike at the enemy from behind it with impunity. If that enemy has a grain of sense in his head, he will take care to restore the balance of power in some way. That is why Obama admonishing Romney about the Cold War being dead these 20 years sounds not just hollow but a deliberate unashamed lie that fools only those who wish to be fooled.
In all, we now face a prospect that makes words like grim and realistic synonymous. If Romney wins - which God forbid - he will simply act like the other right wing. He will continue Obama's foreign policy, only in a cruder and, to quote Gore Vidal again, stupider, more imperialist fashion, guided by the Scriptural precept "he who is not with me is against me" (incidentally, a principle earnestly professed by the Communists, too). Let us pray that he does not win, and that we will have to deal for the next four years with a man who can at least talk nice.
Former Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, teaches "Leadership in the 21st century” at various business-schools in Moscow
The final Obama - Romney debate revealed very few discernible differences between the two candidates on foreign policy. For example Obama said his aim is to stop Iran’s "nuclear program,” while Romney talked about preventing a "nuclear-capable” Iran. What’s the difference? Romney lowered his bellicose tone, while Obama raised it. Romney’s goal was to give the impression that he is not a loose cannon and basically agrees with the President on all major issues of foreign policy, but that he is also a tougher guy and will be more assertive.
They both know that American voters don’t agonize over nuances of specific issues but are looking for qualities that make presidential candidates "look presidential." And they want to be assured that a future president is committed to American exceptionalism and "Manifest Destiny" – America's divine right to remake the world in its image.
Mitt Romney’s secretive and opportunistic conduct makes it difficult to figure out where he really stands on issues of foreign policy. We do know that his foreign affairs advisers are the same old neocons who advised George Bush Jr. His Russia working group, for example, is co-chaired by Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, who has not uttered a single good word about Russia since 2005, when he suddenly became a born-again Russophobe. Therefore, we assume that Romney is likely to continue the policies of Bush Jr. But so did Obama – so there is nothing to worry about. They both will maintain "America’s leadership” and keep the military-industrial complex happy, particularly the high-tech segment.
In our attempts to read Mitt Romney’s mind and policies as President, however, we should not neglect one tremendously important factor – his religious beliefs. Because "religion is a private matter and is safely separated from the state” American voters don’t bother with presidential candidates’ religious views. As long as a candidate belongs to one of the established Churches, they feel they know enough about his worldview and morality. They also assume that the candidate’s allegiance to the Church will not interfere with his obligations as commander-in-chief. This may be true of Obama, but in Mitt Romney’s case the prospective president belongs to a Church most people know very little about. And this is why everyone should be concerned: for the first time since its founding the USA might be one step away from handing supreme executive power to a religious sect notorious for its unparalleled missionary activity and odd practises.
Mormons, the Latter-Day Saints, are modern-day Puritans who also called themselves Saints. They don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, wear special underwear at night which they believe protects them from evil spirits, and above all like Puritans they are driven by Messianic zeal to purify the world from evil.
Mitt Romney is not simply a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). As an adolescent, he had consciously concluded a covenant with God and spent much of his boyhood and manhood first as a missionary and then as bishop of the LDS Church trying to earn the highest possible form of salvation – to become a god in the next world. (Douglas J. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Mormons believe that Jesus will soon return, however, not to the old Holy Land but to North America. Jesus will establish the American Zion and (presumably) from Salt Lake City will rule the world for one thousand years. (Clyde R. Forsberg Jr., Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)
In light of these expectations I think Americans and humanity at large are entitled to know answers to the following questions:
As a Latter-Day Saint does Romney consider himself morally superior to people of other faiths?
Who in his judgment is today’s Anti-Christ?
Are Mormons as the chosen people of God entitled to rule the world?
Why does he consider Russia "the number one foe” of the USA? How can an entire nation be an "evil empire”?
Is the peaceful transformation of the enemy possible or does the enemy have to be destroyed?
Will he use the presidential powers to wage war on "satanic institutions” which produce alcohol, drugs, tobacco, prostitution, pornography etc.? What will he do to unremitting sinners?
Will he use America’s logistical and financial capability to dramatically increase the LDS Church’s activities to prepare the world for the imminent Second Coming of Christ?
Politics is an art of compromise. Does he consider compromise with "Devil’s minions” acceptable for the sake of greater good?
If it is the case that the overwhelming majority of people in America and the world have been corrupted by Devil, can their civic rights be guaranteed and protected?
Is democracy a satanic instrument used for subverting God’s order?
Finally, aren’t "we the people” [that is, Americans and all others whom Washington aspires to "lead”] entitled to know how the presidential aspirant is going to use the enormous powers we entrust him with? After all, lives of billions of people around the world might be radically affected.
AMI Global Security, LLC
An interesting perspective, but if I may role-play from a differing observation point. There are many "if's", throughout this piece. As in any relationship, it takes all parties to contribute to the success, failures and duration. So from this perspective, the analysis is one-sided.
Governor Romney is a candidate for the Presidency and will no doubt shape his own foreign policy as President, as they all do once they assume the position, based on geo-political, military and trade realities occurring in real time.
Campaign rhetoric merely lays out contrasts and criticisms of the incumbent's foreign policy. A campaign strategist will not likely advise the candidate to agree with the incumbent on the time of day, let alone Russian foreign policy.
From the other viewpoint, contemporary Russian policy makers should be encouraged to seek out more common ground and build on that rather than entrench in differences, which can change from one day to the next because of shifting global political realities over which they have no control.
An old Reagan joke quipped how it was explained to a Soviet diplomat that in the USA, everyone is free to openly criticize the President’s policies, call him old and doddering, misinformed and stubborn. The Soviet diplomat responded: "Yes, it is the same in Moscow also, everyone is free to criticize the American President in precisely the same way."
Russian media, academia, intelligentsia and political leaders should separate campaign rhetoric from real-time foreign policy actions. They should also encourage and influence the Russian leadership to grow a thicker skin and policy makers to factor in compromise on the critical issues.
For example, the Russian rhetoric that attempts to paint missile defense as offensive has yet to make the technical case how entire cities, along with their populations, are in greater danger of destruction from it than from an SS-20 armed with a MIRV.
Parallel to the history of warfare is the development of weapons that make obsolete those of their opposing force. Iron neutralized bronze, guns neutralized swords, missile defense will neutralize ICBMs. It is not only likely but necessary. If duelists wore bullet-proof armor, they would have to agree to settle their differences diplomatically and by consensus.
As far as public opinion makers like Ambassador Bolton are concerned, for each one of him there are two with opposing or differing opinions that are weighed into each particular diplomatic equation, as well it should be. In hindsight, all too often both sides are guilty of group-think settling in with disastrous results.
Public diplomacy in the form of business to business opportunities is a path both sides should encourage ever more, since business leaders influence political leaders, precisely because they are driven by capitalist self-interest. They want to sustain and increase profits. Their drive is to make profits, create jobs, create wealth, and relieve tensions, not generate them.
Seldom does the hot-dog maker go to war with the hot-dog bun baker, and they all get along with the red-onion growers. It is this type of symbiosis formula that creates the environment for greater cooperation and less confrontation.
It is precisely these share values that will close the political difference gap. Our respective business leaders will support the political leaders who will value and sustain a profitable symbiotic relationship and find equitable solutions to complex differences. Political leaders will only find support from business leaders with whom they share these values.
Policy makers will, of necessity, craft policy that will foster a mutually cooperative relationship prevailing over anyone who suggests American/Russian differences need to be settled by proxy warfare or holding entire populations hostage with ICBMs.
The alternative to crafting mutually cooperative policy and fostering a symbiotic relationship is the Cold War model, which risks escalating to flash points promising disastrous consequences. Opponents of missile defense consistently seem to either ignore or welcome this paradigm. It's the same as saying that if a policeman removes his bullet-proof vest or a soldier removes his body armor, then the crime rate will be reduced and peace will prevail. I remain unconvinced of the viability of or value to that argument.
Rejoinder to Anthony Mele by Andrei Liakhov, Partner SK LLP, London-Moscow
The proposed deployment of early warning components of the missile defences in locations in Europe, is definitely aimed against Russia. Early warnings radars in Poland and the Czech Republic will allow the system to "see” Russian ICBMs at the engine start stage and the first 30 seconds after launch, which is currently impossible.
On the other hand, due to the curvature of the Earth US radars in Central and Northern Europe will not detect Iranian missile launches at the same stages as they would do the Russian missiles.
The only current facility (other than electronic surveillance vessels stationed in the Gulf) capable of detecting Iranian missiles at their early stages is that in Garbala in Armenia, which was offered to the Americans. Washington’s refusal to take up this offer was read in the Kremlin as the indication of the true intentions of the US military planners, particularly as Garbala is not capable of rotating to "see" the territory of the Russian Federation.
Unlike Russian anti-missile defence system, the American one relies on the early detection to be capable of shooting multi-head missiles before the heads separation stage. That makes the deployment of the early warning components as close to the launch sites as possible a condition sine qua non of the success of the whole defence system.
In addition the US intelligence community as well as the British and the Russians know perfectly well that Iran is currently incapable of manufacturing ICBMs capable of a strike against targets in Europe. Iran is at least 15-20 years away from producing an effective operational ICBM (test missiles can hardly count as an operational weapon which must be produced in sufficient numbers and have launch sites built and equipped).
That makes the whole idea of the US anti-missile shield being directed against Iran laughable...
Rejoinder by Anthony Mele, ICBM's are no laughing matter irrespective of where they originate and most importantly where they are targeted.
Missile defense is not only land based but also sea based, while the network technology extends to the atmosphere. Satellite detection technology is a key component to a global defense system.
We have yet to hear a convincing explanation of how missile a defense system threatens to harm entire populations, when in fact it cannot harm a house cat.
Missile defense technology had been offered to Russia to be shared, so they too can protect their populations from ICBMs. (Reference President Reagan's SDI proposal to Secretary General Gorbachev in Iceland.) The main reason the Soviets objected to the SDI was that they would have wasted the resources they had spent on the development of their ICBM arsenal, which would have been rendered obsolete.
The prospect of nuclear weapons proliferation, and ignited arms race or nuclear exchange in the Middle East, simply gives us another reason to develop more missile defense not less reason.
I had the opportunity of visiting a US nuclear missile silo. It was a deeply sobering experience and helped shape my world view on this subject. The discussion there of what would happen should a nuclear exchange ever occur was blood chilling.
If we are dumb enough to build them, we ought to be smart enough not to use them, but since too much is at stake to simply rely on good judgement, we would be wise to figure out the way to render them useless.
ICBM's are no laughing matter irrespective of where they originate and most importantly where they are targeted.