Why Romney is Wrong that Obama’s Syria Policy Emboldened Putin

(By Juan Cole)

On Face the Nation on Sunday, Mitt Romney slammed President Obama’s policies toward Russia as “naive” and called the country a “geopolitical adversary” of the US. He also seemed to suggest that Obama’s Syria policy emboldened Russia. He said:

“”Well, there’s no question but that the president’s naivete with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face. And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you’re seeing in Syria,” Romney said. “We really need to understand that Russia has very different interests than ours. This is not fantasyland, this is reality where they are a geopolitical adversary. They’re not our enemy, but they are certainly an adversary on the world stage.”

The interview is here:

Russia’s actions in Crimea do not make it the chief geopolitical adversary to the US. Crimea was never a US sphere of influence.

If Romney meant to imply that Obama’s Syria policy emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea, that is frankly absurd. Rep. Dick Durbin (D-IL) pointed out that in the wake of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Putin nevertheless sent troops into South Ossetia and peacekeepers into Abkhazia, recognizing them both as independent of Georgia. He also bombarded Georgia. These events unfolded in March-October of 2008, when George W. Bush was president. It is unclear that Bush did anything at all about these events, despite talking a good game. Had Bush encouraged Putin by invading Iraq?

In fact, the Georgia crisis in some ways began with the declaration by Kosovo of independence from Serbia, and this was cited by Putin. Russia opposed Kosovo independence but then later saw it as a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As for Syria, nothing Obama did there would have made any difference to Putin. If Obama had in fact sent some bombs or drones on Damascus over the chemical weapons issue, it would have done nothing to deter either Syria or Russia.

But, if there is a principal villain in Obama’s decision to turn to international allies in defusing the crisis, it is the Republican-held House of Representatives, which clearly was going to vote against US intervention. So it is rich that the GOP standard-bearer should again be attacking a sitting president.

Bush’s non-action during the Georgia crisis is now completely forgotten by the Republicans castigating Obama.

Romney also completely misunderstands Russia’s motives. From Moscow’s point of view, NATO enlargement was a a kind of Western aggression. Romney’s advice that we should enlarge and speed up those developments is guaranteed to produce defeats for the US.

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Related video:

Reuters: “Russia consolidates Crimea control”

17 Responses

  1. Romney is just another dull witted right winger looking for a new foreign enemy to create a wave of fear that he can ride to power. He shamelessly and enthusiastically supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan despite having no argument beyond mass media blather in defense thereof. He does not deserve discussion.

  2. Dealing with Obama admin on Syria, Russians understood that they are being tricked, and made the conclusions. It is that simple.

  3. FIrst, the sphere of influence claim doesn’t justify the gross violation perpetrated by Russian. When 100000 Russian troops cross over the eastern border and take another chunk of Ukraine are you going to put forth the same argument? Why not take whole country then and Moldavia with it.

    Romney understood completely Putin ( I campaigned and voted for Obama). He suffers from the same alpha male syndrome , much greater than George Bush. He despises weakness, saw an opening and took it. He will not stop at Crimea.
    link to petitions.moveon.org

  4. My Russian friend and customer from Saint Petersburg is the main importer of military electronics components from California to Russia. He said that there in no alternative source for these components. China can not make them and Russia is totally dependent on the US. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union Russia is just another corporation pushing for monopoly in energy section in their so called sphere of influence. This is even at the expense of poverty, human loss (loss of freedom and happiness) in their sphere of influence.

  5. Obama put himself in a box when he drew a”red line” in Syria. The Russians cleverly took advantage of his mistake which also blocked the neoconservatives from making “A CLEAN BREAK” in Syria. Plan B was neocon Victoria Nuland promoting revolution in Ukraine.It’s like watching a game of ping-pong between the neocons and Putin. Invading Crimea gave a 2-1 advantage to “Vlad the Bad.”

    Obama and Kerry are the PING-PONG BALL.

  6. Romney confirms why America rejected Romney and affirmed Obama.

    Are the GOP insiders going to push another warmonger on us in 2016?

    If so, we will have no choice but to throw that one on the ash heap of history.

  7. “Are the GOP insiders going to push another warmonger on us in 2016?”

    Most likely someone with similarly inadequate experience brought to the White House by Obama.

    What happened that caused CBS to take a lurch to the right? Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace and Andrew Rooney would be appalled to witness what has become of “60 Minutes” and “Face the Nation.”

  8. Ya know the old man’s story? Nice guy republican – this was years ago – the guy was head of a car company and governor of Michigan. He went to Vietnam to see the war, said the generals brainwashed him, meant he’d been lied to but “brainwashed” killed his shot at the White House. Old George Romney had a conscience of sorts. Mitt? not so much.

    Springfield, Massachusetts

  9. We all know that Romney is a war-hawk–its just business–sort. Am I the only one who has noted that he is doing a lot of public speaking critical of others — particularly the old cold-war enemy. He also spoke out against Sochi Olympcis.

    I can see it now–Romney claiming the count is full and he has not struck out –the guy is trying to position himself to run again in 2016? Please, tell me it isn’t so. Enough is enough!

  10. Putin is paying a heavy price to take something he already had. Crimea has four major Russian bases and the Russian presence was not under any kind of challenge. By annexing the Crimea he has antagonized most of the world. The American interest in the area is minimal. Until the destroyer Kidd arrived for an exercise a few weeks ago, there were no American warships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has a military of about 90,000, which should be able to make a stand if Russia moves against them (and more importantly, turn the pipeline carrying Russian gas to customers in Europe into twisted metal). The numbers of Russian troops being bruited about are 20,000 on the Ukraine border. By way of comparison, that’s about two-third the size of the New York City Police Department.

    • “Putin is paying a heavy price to take something he already had.”

      And wanted to keep when he saw further encroachment from the west.

    • Edward writes : “Russian presence was not under any kind of challenge. By annexing the Crimea he has antagonized most of the world. ”

      Actually it was. The new Ukrainian coup regime announced they wanted to invite in NATO. If Ukraine had become a member of NATO and Ukraine then decided to ask the Russians to leave Sevatopol, then if the Russians responded it would be war against NATO and the US. Putin did us a favor and took care of business before it became a confrontation between the US and Russia.

      • Then Nato would be violating the same agreements Putin violated. Also, there is little chance that Nato would add Ukraine. The idea was bruited before and shot down.

  11. Isn’t this guy’s 15 minutes of fame up? Another Christian warmonger — Lord, save me from your followers! CBS continues to marginalize itself into irrelevance.

  12. Dear Professor Cole

    His paymaster has even less acceptable views on International Relations.

    link to jpost.com

    NEW YORK – During a panel at Yeshiva University on Tuesday evening, Sheldon Adelson, noted businessman and owner of the newspaper Israel Hayom, suggested that the US should use nuclear weapons on Iran to impose its demands from a position of strength.

    Asked by moderator Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whether the US should negotiate with Iran if it were to cease its uranium enrichment program, Adelson retorted, “What are we going to negotiate about?”

    Adelson then imagined what might happen if an American official were to call up an Iranian official, say “watch this,” and subsequently drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert.

    “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes’,” Adelson said.

    “So a tremendous demonstration of American strength?” Boteach clarified. “So that they would get the message?”

    “It’s the only thing they understand,” Adelson said.

  13. Good Lord! I’d forgotten the blank soul-less shark eyes and the smug ignorant nonsense.
    Doesn’t this guy ever up grade his software ?
    It’s depressing to think that this man may convince enough of his peers to buy him the Presidency in 2016.

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