Mitt Romney Was Right About That Russia Prediction That He Sort of Backed Away From

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 5 2013 9:11 PM

Mitt Romney Was Right About That Russia Prediction That He Sort of Backed Away From

Tom Scocca has some fun with a McKay Coppins piece that asked Romney campaign veterans whether the tough first sixth of the second Obama term proves that their candidate had been right all along. Surprise: They think it does! The piece itself has nearly 200,000 views and 2.7x "social lift," which appears to mean something, so Coppins gets the last laugh here by just letting Romney veterans jaw for a while.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

During the campaign, Romney frequently criticized Obama for foolishly attempting to make common cause with the Kremlin, and repeatedly referred to Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe.”
Many observers found this fixation strange, and Democrats tried to turn it into a punchline. A New York Times editorial in March of last year said Romney’s assertions regarding Russia represented either “a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics.” And in an October debate, Obama sarcastically mocked his opponent’s Russia rhetoric. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” the president quipped at the time.
That line still chafes Robert O’Brien, a Los Angeles lawyer and friend of Romney’s who served as a foreign policy adviser.
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The fuller jibe had Obama telling Romney that "I'm glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia." Viewed now, as Republicans fret that the rebels in Syria are basically an Al Qaida front, no, this doesn't seem wise on Obama's part. What's less remembered is that Romney walked his own comment back during the debate.

First of all, Russia I indicated is a geopolitical foe. Not... excuse me. It's a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same -- in the same paragraph I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin.

A real twist here: Romney wanted to be able to call Obama feckless, without actually taking as strong a position as he was credited with. You can make a case that Russia, given its relative lack of economic partnerships with the United States, is less of a geopolitical challenger than China. But that's a tough sell; arguing that Romney tried to warn us all along about this crisis is tougher still.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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