Mitt Romney was mocked in the 2012 election when he named Russia as our biggest foe. Bashing the president for his remark to Dmitry Medvedev, picked up by a hot mic, that he would have more “flexibility” after the 2012 election, Romney asserted: “This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.” No kidding.

Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan
President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (right) and CIA director John Brennan (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Guffaws followed. But the fear was well-founded (as he was in smelling a rat in the Benghazi debacle).

Today Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on CNN had this exchange with host Chris Cuomo:

MCCAIN: [I]t is well-known that [Snowden's] in Russia, and it’s reminiscent of the days of the Cold War when you hear a Russian spokesman saying that he’s not in Russia, when every shred of evidence indicates that he is.

Look, we’ve got to start dealing with Vladimir Putin in a realistic fashion for what he is. He’s an old KGB colonel apparatchik that dreams of the days of the Russian empire, and he continues to stick his thumb in our eye in a broad variety of ways, most importantly to me, of course, and should be to the world is their continued support of Bashar al Assad and the massacre taking place in Syria, not to mention a number of other areas that Russia is basically showing us a total lack of respect. By the way, this sends a message to the Iranians that they have to be wondering whether we are very serious about saying that they can’t achieve nuclear weapons status.  . .

 

As you know I spent a lot of time in the Middle East. Every one of these leaders say where is American leadership? Where is American leadership? We need to show more leadership and that does not mean confrontation but it means steadfast adherence to the principles that many presidents since the end of the Cold War and since before have stood for that the rest of the world will respect.

McCain argues that “the problem is that most now especially China and Russia don’t believe we’re serious.” He recommends that we should undertake “a reevaluation of our relations, particularly with Russia and China, a more realistic approach to two nations that are acting in their own spheres of influence in a provocative fashion.” In practical terms this means:

[W]e should stop the sequestration, which is decimating our military to an alarming degree, and we should carry out the promises and commitments that we make. And it doesn’t mean threats, but it means that the United States is still the only nation in the world that the rest of world can depend on, and these — and China and Russia both in their own way are trying to assert spheres of influence which are not good for the things we stand for and believe in. . . .. Putin’s behavior has been with disdain or even contempt of the United States of America so we’ll have to see. But I — he has to understand and we have to be serious that this will affect our relations with Russia in a broad variety of ways, and that does not mean a return to the Cold War. But it means a very realistic approach to our relations with both of those countries.

McCain is not alone in his assessment. John Arquilla writes in a piece entitled “Mitt Romney was right” for Foreign Policy magazine:

Though the current furore over Moscow’s willingness to shelter the fugitive Edward Snowden is eye-catching, the resurgent rivalry is more evident, and more important, in the case of Syria, where Russia can derail any effort to obtain the blessing of the United Nations for military intervention and at the same time shore up the Assad regime with a wide range of weaponry. . . .

Syria is thus something of a lens through which Russian strength, influence, and strategy can be gauged. From political pull in the United Nations to alliance-creation and clientelism among friendly states, and on to nuclear parity and a robust conventional military capability, Russia remains formidable. Moscow has engineered a strong position for itself in the Middle East just as the United States is talking openly about de-emphasizing the region in favor of focusing on the Far East. And the dismissive way in which President Obama’s call for deep reductions in nuclear arms was treated by Russian leaders is yet another sure indication of Moscow’s confidence in its standing in the world.

He concludes that “Mitt Romney performed a signal service in reminding us that, even decades after the Cold War, great geopolitical powers still matter. An awareness of this can inform and should guide grand strategy today. Ignorance of this simple truth is the path to costly ruin.”

It is in this context that we should appreciate how ridiculous is Obama’s proposal for unilateral nuclear arms reduction. That is what Obama foolishly preferred in the original Cold War; in the 21st century version of Russian aggression, it is nearly as preposterous.

A final note: Romney and his foreign policy team were right on a great number of foreign policy issues. But to the dismay of those same advisers, he and his political handlers refused to emphasize these issues. Never can Republicans take this approach again. Foreign policy is the most critical (and generally unchecked) authority the president has. Ignoring it is the height of irresponsibility. And if one wants to command respect and demonstrate fitness for the job, foreign policy prowess is a critical part of any presidential campaign.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.