Mar 28, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

A Lot of Hot Air

Image courtesy of Mario Piperni

President Obama’s so-called “hot mic” incident with Dmitry Medvedev certainly has received a lot of traction in the press. Mitt Romney, long the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in everyone’s mind except these guys, even has a Foreign Policy article on it running today, “Bowing to the Kremlin.” For reference, here is the exchange, courtesy of ABC News:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

Mitt Romney, as one would expect, takes issue with Obama’s condition of flexibility. “In a self-governing country like ours,” he writes, “the people have a right to know what kinds of decisions are being taken in their name. The American people deserve candor.”

Candor. How does this ideal notion mesh with the complexities of diplomacy? Does Mr. Romney truly suggest, as it seems, that America hand foreign leaders a black-and-white roadmap for further discussion and engagement? An all-or-nothing set of choices that would more likely serve to even further alienate our “Number One Foe”? Romney acts disgusted that Obama “appears determined to ingratiate himself with the Kremlin.” But how would anything else advance U.S. interests in the region? Ambiguity and cunning is certainly not always bad in this arena. We should be reminded of the old adage: a diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

Romney’s high-stakes rhetoric is one way of winning the majority of the Republican vote in the American primary contest. But living in envy of the Cold War era is not a viable strategy to lead a country through complex conflict. And if a future president Romney truly wants to (in his words) “extract meaningful concessions from Russia,” he is going to need to go about it another way. And that way, like it or not, may not sound so sexy to his voting block.



  • It’s campaign nonsense. I am glad to know that Romney sees foreign policy as purely an explicit extension of domestic politics. What concessions does he want from Russia? And what does he suggest giving Russia in return for them? Sound bite campaign nonsense.

  • If I were one of Obama’s advisers (or BO himself) I’d react much the way a parent would to a child mucking stuff up. “And this is why we can’t have nice things!” For goodness sakes, keep the hyperbole and insanity within the domestic arena.

  • The best comment I heard on this so far was: “Mitt: I can see Russia from my yacht.” Good times.

  • Good contest idea for twitter, Andrea. I’ll go with “I enjoy firing countries.”

  • super stuff great site, really good.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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