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Romney's Shot Across the "Reset":'

Nicolai Petro
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This item first appeared in the Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel on April 6, 2012

Introduced by Vladimir Frolov: What do Romney's recent statements on foreign policy say about his future policies as a Republican president, assuming he is elected? What do they say about the world view of the Republican political establishment and their ability to fashion policies that reflect the international realities? Has the Republican Party swayed too far to the right on foreign policy just as it has moved in this direction on economic and social issues? How will Romney's attack on Obama's Russia policy and his management of foreign affairs help the Republicans at the polls in November? How should Moscow prepare for the potential Republican takeover and Romney's promise to "reset" the "reset"?

Although Romney is likely to criticize Obama for being naÐ ve about America's enemies and "giving away the store," Obama can easily counter that Romney has zero foreign policy experience and therefore is easily swayed by his foreign policy advisors, many of whom worked behind the scenes to engineer the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Most interesting about Romney's remark is not that he felt he could use such rhetoric about Russia and get away with it (foreign policy gaffes are commonplace among U.S. politicians and easily forgiven), but that he reaffirmed it in the face of criticism. His policy director, Lanhee Chen, even suggested this was a well-reasoned stance presaging a new, more pragmatic approach toward Russia.
There is something to this argument. Romney's foreign policy team has a decidedly militaristic (for Republicans, "pragmatic") flavor. Of the 35 people listed as his foreign policy advisors, ten have been primarily involved with the Department of Defense and five with intelligence.

In the unlikely event of a Romney victory, this suggests that the U.S. military will serve the same function it did during the administration of George W. Bush - more of a tool for altering the behavior of other states than for defense. Specifically, to pre-empt potential national security threats, I expect Romney would expand the forward basing of military units and the aggressive use of specially-trained counterinsurgency units around the world. Most of his advisors tend to see these as examples of a more "realistic" approach to the threats America faces.

Neither Russia nor China falls into the category of being direct enemies. Yet. What his advisors wish to avoid is having to deal with the obstacles to unilateral U.S. action that they can create through their veto power in the United Nations. The solution to this, however, is to simply ignore the United Nations.

There is a risk that, at some point, other nations could begin to regard the United States itself as a "rogue state," and call for international sanctions against it. It is unlikely that such an anti-American consensus will gain much traction among leading states in the foreseeable future, but unless the trajectory of the past decade is counterbalanced by more restraint and introspection in the current decade, it becomes a more serious possibility down the road. Of course, that problem can be left to some future American president.

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)

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