NYT: Mitt Romney wants ‘good relations’ with Putin, son told Kremlin ally

November 2, 2012

(Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Matt Romney, whose father Mitt has called Russia the "number one geopolitical foe" of the United States during his presidential campaign, reportedly offered the Kremlin reassuring messages during a business trip to Moscow, the New York Times' Peter Baker reports.

But while in Moscow, [Matt] Romney told a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president, according to a person informed about the conversation.  

Mitt Romney has framed Putin's Russia in confrontational terms, emphasizing the country as a "foe" in part to criticize the Obama administration's "reset" with Moscow. Assuming that Baker's source is correct that Romney's son is downplaying that rhetoric, and assuming that Matt Romney is correct about how his father would govern, it would seem to portray the presidential candidate's anti-Russian stance as more about campaign politics than about the foreign policy of a hypothetical Romney administration. In other words, it suggests that Romney would follow a Russia policy a bit more like Obama's.

Regardless of whatever political embarrassment this might or might not cause Romney's campaign, it seems less significant in pure foreign policy terms. After all, as many observers pointed out after the third presidential debate, Romney articulated a foreign policy — both in specifics and in worldview — not so different from President Obama's. And it's not unusual for candidates to stress their "tough" diplomacy during a campaign but show more flexibility and cooperation once in office. 

Obama's Russia policy is in many ways consistent with George W. Bush's approach while in office, emphasizing good relations with Moscow and seeking Russian cooperation where it could be helpful, particularly on the all-important United Nations Security Council. In many ways, the contours of U.S. diplomacy toward Russia have been broadly consistent since the fall of the Soviet Union. In execution, U.S. presidents seem to show more consistency on foreign policy across administrations and even parties than their often-tough rhetoric might suggest. It wouldn't be shocking if that also held true of a Romney administration on Russia policy.

This story has echoes of a controversy from Obama's initial presidential run in 2008. His campaign had repeatedly stressed that Obama would seek to "renegotiate" the North American Free Trade Agreement, and might even withdraw from the trade agreement. The rhetoric reportedly alarmed leaders in Canada, where NAFTA is seen as a boon to the country's economy. So, in February 2008, a senior economic official with the campaign met privately with Canadian diplomats to assure them that Obama's words were "more reflective of political maneuvering than policy."

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Max Fisher · November 2, 2012