A new U.S. poll
has found that 51 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Russia and just 2 percent consider Moscow to be Washington's "archenemy."
The assessment flies in the face of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's recent assertion that Russia is America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe." But that's getting ahead of the story.
Rewind to March 26, when a private comment made by President Barack Obama to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was accidentally heard on an open microphone
at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. Obama told Medvedev that he was confident Moscow and Washington's differences on missile defense could be solved, but not until after November's presidential election.
Obama told Medvedev, "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for [President-elect Vladimir Putin] to give me space." Then he and Medvedev had this exchange:
Obama: "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility."
Medvedev: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir."
You could have put an egg timer on how long it took Romney, Obama's likely rival for the White House, to jump in. In an interview with CNN
, he raised alarm about Obama's comments:
"What [Obama] did both on nuclear weaponry already, and the new START treaty, as well as his decision to withdraw missile defense sites from Poland and then reduce our missile defense sites in Alaska from the original plan – these are very unfortunate developments. And if he's planning on doing more and suggests to Russia that he has things he's willing to do with them he's not willing to tell the American people – this is to Russia, this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe; they fight every cause for the world's worst actors -- the idea that he has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling, indeed."
Medvedev couldn't leave that unanswered. At a news conference at the end of the security summit in Seoul, he took the rare step of commenting on U.S. domestic politics.
"Regarding ideological clichés, every time this or that side uses phrases like 'Enemy No. 1,' this always alarms me," he said. "This smells of Hollywood…
"I would make at least two recommendations to all U.S. presidential candidates, including [Mitt Romney]," Medvedev continued. "First of all, they need to apply reason and use their heads when phrasing their positions -- sometimes it doesn't harm a presidential candidate to do that. And secondly, check their watches from time to time because it's 2012 now, not the mid-1970s."
Would Romney take that sitting down? Only long enough to dash off a piece for the "Foreign Policy" website
that said, in part, "It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House."
The Russian newspaper "Pravda" quickly parried with its own piece
, headlined, "Mitt Romney: Out-Of-Touch, Out-Of-Date, Unelectable." Here's how it begins:
"Electing Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States of America would be like appointing a serial pedophile as a kindergarten teacher, a rapist as a janitor at a girls' dormitory, or a psychopath with a fixation on knives as a kitchen hand. His comments on Russia are a puerile attempt at making the grand stage and boy, did he blow it..."
You can imagine how it continues, but highlights include calling Romney a "foul-mouthed, big-headed oaf," "a pea-brained, pith-headed simpleton with too much testosterone and too little common sense," and "a foul-mouthed guttersnipe."
But let's remember where all this started: with Romney trying to ping Obama on his foreign policy in his quest to win the White House. The tetchy back and forth between Romney and the Russians may be fun to watch, but it doesn't shine much light on what Romney's foreign policy would be if he were U.S. president.
Enter Obama's foreign policy and military advisory team. Clapping their hands like a cross school mistress trying to bring order to a chaotic classroom, 18 of them sent a letter to their counterparts on Romney's campaign
via "Foreign Policy's" website, saying they wanted to "put the record straight" about Obama's record.
They asked for details on how Romney's policy would differ from Obama's on Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Cuba, and Iraq, and concluded, "We look forward to your responses on these specific issues."
So are we. This is getting good.
-- Heather Maher