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.