Mitt Romney recently drew applause from Republicans, and flak from Democrats, for his proclamation that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” As The Washington Times reports, Romney’s foreign policy team (which includes American Interest board member Eliot A. Cohen) is looking to emphasize its candidate’s unwavering support for democratic friends like Israel and hard line against autocratic “adversaries” like Putin’s Russia.
“Gov. Romney believes that in foreign policy, you start with your friends,” said Eliot Cohen, who wrote the foreword to the Romney campaign’s 43-page foreign policy white paper last fall.“Obama believes that no, you start with your enemies, you see where you can cut deals and negotiate,” said Mr. Cohen.
Unlike the cooler foreign policy view candidate Obama delivered with advisors like Zbiegniew Brzezinski (also on TAI‘s nonpartisan board), Romney’s team emphasizes this friend/enemy distinction as being key for deciding policy. The trouble is that those distinctions aren’t always clear cut.Relations between Russia and Israel have been warming for the past couple of years, for example. Putin’s recent visit to Jerusalem, where he met with top officials and crooned with a Gesher singing troupe, is a more public display of what has been a discreet but significant tightening of the Israeli-Russian relationship since the two did some horse trading before the Georgian War in the summer of 2008.This mingling of friends and enemies may not make the Romney line wrong, but it makes things complex. The former governor’s oft-stated unconditional support for our friend, Israel, is complicated by the fact that our best friend is currently courting what the governor calls our number one geopolitical foe.There is more than an echo of Romney’s statement in the words of activist Garry Kasparov, who protested Putin’s visit in similar terms of “friends vs. foes” and “democracy vs. autocracy”:
“Putin is a dictator, he has erased all the remaining elements of democracy in Russian standing, he supports Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran, he supports Chavez, and now Bashar Assad, so I can hardly understand the rationale for Mr. Netanyahu and his government to host Mr Putin, who is their enemy by definition, because Israel is a democracy and Putin is a dictator,” Kasparov told Israel’s Channel 10.
But despite this and other protests, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres hosted Putin just the same. There must be variables other than democracy and liberalism at work here.Governor Romney recently told an audience of evangelical supporters that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, and that “we’re prepared to take any and all action to keep that from happening.” Needless to say, so is Israel, and forging tighter relations with the Kremlin already helped thwart a 2008 sale of S-300 missiles to Iran. The Kremlin also offers Israel a potential partner to offset Turkish ambitions in the region, as well as the spread of Sunni radicalism. And when it comes to oil and gas, a partnership with Russia is also just good business.Governor Romney’s “friend-enemy” distinction seems more in touch with the opinions of some (not all) American Jews, as some groups objected to Tel Aviv’s hosting Putin. But Israel is a small and vulnerable democracy in a rough neighborhood. Like it or not, the Jewish state will reach out to whomever it can in order to guarantee its security. The US sometimes does the same thing; our dear friends the Saudis are living proof of that.