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RIA Novosti, Russia

On Obama, Without Prejudice

By Mikhail Rostovskii

The question is how much politicians believe in their own rhetoric

Translated By Rina Hay

7 November 2012

Edited by Rica Asuncion-Reed

Russia - RIA Novosti - Original Article (Russian)

Had Romney become President, I do not necessarily think that he would have started some foreign adventure. Perhaps he would have, or perhaps not. I am thinking along different lines. The difference between Obama and Romney is, namely, in their attitudes toward prejudice.

Obama's foreign policy cannot be called pro-Russian. Had Mitt Romney won, it would not have caused a great catastrophe in Moscow. But I did feel a great sense of joy and relief on the morning of Obama's victory.

There is much that is crazy and illogical in our modern political life. But Obama's victory gives us hope: Moscow and Washington will squabble not because of outdated or invented ideological constructs, but because of the differences in their respective national interests.

At one point, our country was at the epicenter of American foreign policy. Today, if we remain at the epicenter, it is only the epicenter of Mitt Romney's speeches — the sincerity of which there are serious doubts about. Five days before the presidential elections, the New York Times (America's most prestigious newspaper) published a brief article under the intriguing headline “A Romney Travels to Russia, but on Strictly Friendly Terms.”

The story went thus: The son of the Republican candidate, 41-year-old Matthew Romney went abroad in search of investors for his California real estate firm. And [he did] not just go abroad, but to the country that his father called America's “number one geopolitical foe.” And in between the search for investors, Romney junior delivered, via “a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to Mr. Putin,” the following informal message to the Russian leadership, “despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president.”

To draw any far-reaching political conclusions based on the informal statement of the “investor son” would, of course, not be the best idea. But for some reason, I suddenly believed that Romney junior was not acting independently.

A few days before the U.S. elections, I met with a former high-ranking official of the U.S. Republican Party in Moscow. His current business depends on sustaining good relations between Russia and America. Regarding the outcome of the upcoming elections he seemed surprisingly calm, even indifferent: “What would really change if Romney won? In modern America, foreign policy is given very little room to maneuver. Our resources are nowhere near what they once were. And the number of points on which Russian and American interests converge — in both the positive and negative senses — is becoming smaller and smaller.”

This evaluation is not a pretext. In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans believe that China and Iran are now their main problems. And Russia is just a has-been main problem — a country that can be used in rhetoric toward those citizens whose youth coincided with the Cold War era.

But should we underestimate the importance of rhetoric in politics? No, and again, no. Words and thoughts are material. It is only in their memoirs that politicians’ decisions are based on vital interests and the window of opportunities available to them. In reality, the guise of the window of opportunities often concealed prejudices.

For example, when making the decision to fully involve America in war with Vietnam, U.S. leader Lyndon Johnson (according to his biographers) understood that he was destroying the heart and soul of his own presidency. In putting forward his slogan of building a Great Society, Johnson dreamed of entering the history books as a great social reformer. The Vietnam question put a great dilemma in front of the president: either war or his Great Society. Johnson was in favor of a great society with every fiber of his being. But the president's reasoning was at the mercy of the then-fashionable foreign policy concept: the domino theory.

The theory ran thus: If we allow one domino (a country in Southeast Asia) to become communist, then other states in the region would surely follow. It was guided by this foreign policy concept that Johnson sent a powerful military force to Vietnam. But the domino theory proved to be prejudiced. The president not only lost the war, but also destroyed his dream of the Great Society.

Obama is a cool-headed pragmatist, looking neither to the future nor the past. Romney is a politician whose relationship to prejudice remains unclear. One cannot simply worm their way into the head of another human being, especially if that human is a politician. The question is how much politicians believe in their own rhetoric, which is doomed to remain [an open question].

And however much prejudice there is in Washington, there is still more in Moscow. Even during Obama's first term, wild prejudices about U.S. politics spread around Moscow's political circles. For example, seemingly serious people were convinced that the Arab Spring was the result of a clever American plot. Thinking this, it was impossible for any sober, dispassionate analysis of the situation in the Middle East to come to any conclusion other than that Americans were desperately trying to use the Arab Spring for their own interests. However, the root causes of the political turmoil in the region were entirely domestic in nature.

The very same serious people firmly believe that the rise of opposition forces in Russia was also the consequence of a cunning and highly secret American conspiracy. However, all the causes of our political perturbations actually lie within our country. I am afraid even to imagine how much the amount of anti-U.S. prejudice in Russia would have increased had Romney and his abstruse rhetoric about the “number one geopolitical foe” won the election.

Let us draw a conclusion. Obama's second term as president will not turn Russia and America into best friends. Our rivalry will be as strong as ever in those spheres where our interests do not quite coincide or where they completely do not coincide: in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the creation of a missile defense system in Europe.

But there is a chance that this rivalry may not be based on prejudice. For such familiar sparring partners as America and Russia, this in itself is not such a small step.



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