Mitt Romney apparently described Russia as "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe" on CNN today, while discussing the president's unfortunate hot mic incident. Romney was challenged on the statement by host Wolf Blitzer and a number of commentators are already discussing it as a "gaffe."
Romney stuck by the claim when Blitzer asked if he was really saying that Russia is a greater foe than Iran, China or North Korea:
Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors. Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.
But when these -- these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when -- when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go -- we go to the United Nations, and who is it that always stands up for the world's worst actors?
It is always Russia, typically with China alongside.
While one can certainly argue with the statement, it's not at all inconsistent with Romney's previously stated positions on Russia. This is the same candidate who described the New START treaty as Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake":
New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States. The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured? Astonishingly, while excusing tactical nukes from the treaty, the Obama administration bows to Russia's insistence that conventional weapons mounted on ICBMs are counted under the treaty's warhead and launcher limits.
By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president's eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia's demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted.
Here's his take on the "reset" from an interview with Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin:
He’s under no illusions about Vladimir Putin. He is convinced that Putin dreams of “rebuilding the Russian empire.” He says, “That includes annexing populations as they did in Georgia and using gas and oil resources” to throw their weight around in Europe. He maintains that the START treaty was tilted toward Russia. “It has to end,” he says emphatically about “reset.” “We have to show strength.” I ask him about WTO, which has been much in the news as Putin blusters and demands entry into the trade organization. Romney is again definitive. “Letting people into WTO who intend to cheat is obviously a mistake.”
Is the most recent comment an escalation of rhetoric? Absolutely. But it's not really a change in position. (Yes, Romney did once call Iran "the greatest threat the world faces," but that's not quite the same thing as a "geopolitical foe".) Expect more of this line of attack as we move into the general election.