Romney, by keeping focused on Russia, may actually be demonstrating his chops as a geo-strategist. Given Russia’s greater capabilities, and intentions so clearly and so often inimical to American interests, the smart geopolitical move now would be for Washington to embrace Beijing more closely, giving Moscow a lot more to think about on its eastern flank. This was a strategic shift that worked well for President Richard Nixon 40 years ago, when he first played “the China card”; it might do nicely again today.
Such an initiative makes sense, given that U.S. trade with China amounts to more than half a trillion dollars annually — more than ten times the level of Russo-American economic interaction. And Beijing also serves as a major creditor. It simply makes little sense to provoke China, as Obama’s announced Pacific shift already has. If Romney is right about the return of post-Soviet Russia as the world’s bête noire, then any American Pacific shift should be more about alliance with, rather than alienation of, Beijing.
The biggest downside of Romney’s insight into Russia is that, with the truth now out in the open, Moscow might become testier, more willing to act in open opposition to American interests. But confrontation need not be the only way ahead. Recognition of Russia’s geopolitical importance might also lead to a more tempered American approach to the world, with less trumpeting about Washington’s “global leadership role.” This in turn could lead to a better working relationship with Russia.