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March 26, 2012

"No. 1 Geopolitical..." Ignorance?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Listen up, kids.  I am old enough to remember when the Soviet Union was the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” however you define that term. When its leaders gave speeches about possibly using the more than 30,000 nuclear weapons targeting us, instead of joining us for summits on how to safeguard them. When, instead of opposing us in Security Council votes over Israel, Iran and Syria, the Soviets fought or aided proxy wars against us in Korea, East Africa, Nicaragua. (No, I’m not old enough to remember Korea, but still.)

Mitt Romney reflexively saying that Russia is the U.S.'s "No. 1 geopolitical foe" today shows, yet again, how bad the U.S. political class is at geostrategy; it also shows how uncomfortable Romney is on national security issues, needing when in doubt to reach back to those comfortable certainties of the 1980s.

Today, Russia’s economy is dependent on extractive industries and stagnant; its nightmare demographics mean it fears Chinese takeover in its east and rapidly-aging cities in its West. It produces world-leading innovations in weapons, cybercrime, and high culture… Growing Arab-spring-style protests in its cities will dampen whatever global cachet as the anti-America its leaders have sought to build.

Were I asked to choose America’s number one geopolitical foe, I’d answer these questions:

1)      Who has killed the most Americans in the past decade? (That would be nationalist and Islamist movements in countries we’ve invaded coming in at #1; Al Qaeda and its affiliates at #2; Iran at a distant #3 and perhaps even #4 behind nationalist and Islamist movements emanating from Pakistan.)

2)      Who has the greatest ability to harm our economy and way of life – the foundations of our strength? (China, no contest; then maybe the Saudis?)

3)      Who has the greatest ability and shown the greatest willingness to frustrate our key geopolitical aims? (Given that Russia has gone along with some of our Iran sanctions, facilitated our continuing presence in Afghanistan, and avoided using its energy wealth to pressure our European allies during their economic weakness, I’d vote for either China or the emerging powers writ large here.)

4)      Who has not just capabilities but intentions to foil continued progress toward a more integrated, more democratic, more free and prosperous (free civilly, socially and economically) world – which is, ultimately, what most benefits the United States? (C’mon, the Russians are pikers in this category.)   

In geopolitical terms, Russia has three things which pose significant problems for the US – its energy, its nuclear weapons and its Security Council seat. Ironically, Mitt Romney is on record opposing just about everything we can do to reduce the salience of both.  He opposed the New START Treaty, which required Russia to destroy hundreds of nuclear warheads; and he opposes efforts to shift US energy production and consumption away from the fossil fuels in which Russia is so rich. I don't know his position on Security Council reform and diluting the veto. Might be fun to ask. Or, just check with his advisor John Bolton.

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