[Update: this piece has been updated since its original publication.] President Obama’s off-the-cuff remark to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, picked up before a press conference by microphones that weren’t supposed to be on, was a brief candid glimpse into the mind of our president and the world of international politics. Here’s the exchange:
Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
It wasn’t quite as newsworthy as Ronald Reagan’s famous remark about Russia, recorded by radio producers who were setting up for a planned speech, that was later leaked to the press: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” But Team Obama has mishandled this situation.Republicans have pounced on Obama’s remark, portraying it as an American president who wants to be overly accommodating to a foreign, slightly hostile government. Romney went on CNN yesterday, announcing that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”At this point, whatever the president’s post-November plans might be, Team Obama should have come out tough on Russia, reassuring the country that U.S. national interests were in safe hands and that the president wasn’t planning to give away the store. Instead, the White House press secretary announced “…it’s in the interest of the United States to work cooperatively with the Russians. And that’s what he’s going to do.” This makes it sound like Obama is indeed planning to make sweeping, politically unpalatable concessions to the Russians. The Romney camp must be thanking its lucky stars.If Team Obama had instead come out with a hard line on Moscow, the Russians would most likely have understood; indeed, during his own presidential campaign, Putin came down very hard against the U.S. A similar strategy for Obama would have not have ruffled many feathers in Russia, and would have reduced the impact of the mike miscue as an issue.That didn’t happen, and Team Obama has just made it significantly easier for the Republicans to run against Vladimir Putin and both his foreign and domestic policies. In American politics, that is the winning side of the issue. A hard hitting editorial in the Washington Post drives the point home; President Obama has tied himself to a shaky anti-American regime and the mike gaffe was an indicator of things to come.