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Russia Talk Throws DNC And RNC Back To Cold War


Last night, in his convention speech, President Obama offered this critique of the Republicans on foreign-policy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy - not Al-Qaida, Russia...


OBAMA: ...unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.


OBAMA: You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.


SIEGEL: Well, that was last night. Last week in Tampa, here was Mitt Romney on the president's foreign policy record.

MITT ROMNEY: President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus...


ROMNEY: ...even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro's Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments.


ROMNEY: But he's eager to give Russia's President Putin the flexibility he desires after the election.


ROMNEY: Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.


SIEGEL: Well, now for more on the differing foreign policy visions we've heard at the two party's conventions, we're joined by Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. Hi, welcome.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much for having me.

SIEGEL: Having heard the two conventions now, what differences do you hear in the two candidates' foreign policy priorities?

GLASSER: Well, it is pretty extraordinary to hear them clashing so openly about Russia. You would think that the whole conversation, frankly, is in a little bit of a Cold War time warp, isn't it? You know, I'm Mitt Romney, throughout his campaign, has made the extraordinary claim that Russia is a foe these days, while never mentioning - as Democrats have been quick to point out - the war in Afghanistan in his convention speech; an actual foe where we have more than 70,000 troops stationed.

Obama, I think, you know, got a good clean punch away last night. And I think it's fair to say it that, surprisingly enough, Russia might be the single biggest area of foreign policy difference between the two candidates.

SIEGEL: Governor Romney has cited the anti-missile system, we're not protecting Poland enough from the Russians. The Russians have, indeed, been on the other side in dealing with Syria. They've been along with the Chinese, and Libya before that. Is there something there? Is there a serious U.S./Russian problem right now?

GLASSER: Well, absolutely. Russia is one tough actor in the world, there's no question about it. Russia has consistently vetoed any action against Syria in the Security Council. The Obama administration has now thrown up their hands basically and given up because of the Russians. They've consistently been difficult partners when it comes to Iran and working to impose stricter sanctions on the Iranians.

There's a lot of areas in which our relationship with Russia actually had been becoming much more frayed over the last few months. Until Mitt Romney started making it a campaign issue, the actual story was how much the relationship had frozen. So, you know, in a weird way, Mitt Romney has brought Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama back together.

SIEGEL: When President Obama mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia the number one geopolitical foe, he said instead of Al-Qaida - and I had to wonder is the real complaint, which one doesn't say at a convention, instead of China, where the U.S. is reorienting strategic forces in the Pacific, to be concerned about Chinese military interests?

GLASSER: Well, that's a pretty provocative question and I think the Chinese are wondering that themselves fairly anxiously. To me, as I look at it right now, it seems like China and the United States are really locked in much more of a frenemy situation right now. Both sides are warily eyeing each other. We're very strong partners in many ways and we're very mutually dependent, as the two largest economies in the world.

At the same time, the Obama administration has announced a strategic pivot, or what they're calling a rebalancing toward Asia and away from what they hope is the costly conflicts in the Middle East. And the Chinese have taken that very badly. They have really looked at that analytically and are convinced that this is a new policy of containment.

We, of course, are insisting no, no, no - this is all friendly, it's all very peaceful. I think everybody is wondering over the horizon whether that's going to be true or not.

SIEGEL: There are rhetorical differences between the two camps over dealing with Israel. Are there substantive differences?

GLASSER: Well, there's no question that if you look at the relationship between Obama and the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, it's been very frosty, very hostile. And that could lead to a potential real problem should Israel decide to take preemptive military action against Iran, for example.

That being said, you can't look right now and say here's what Mitt Romney would do on Israel and Iran, and here's how it's different than Barack Obama.

SIEGEL: Susan Glasser, thanks for talking with us.

GLASSER: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy talking about foreign policy at the two national conventions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 9, 2012 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly identified Susan Glasser as the editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs. Glasser is the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy.