A new Pew Research Center survey reveals that Americans now see Russia as the United States’ chief geopolitical rival. This survey represents a stark reversal from 2012 when President Barack Obama zinged Mitt Romney in the presidential debates for making this very claim by asserting that “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back” (A claim that did not merit a fact check from The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler until March of this year).
But Americans’ opinions of Russia, which they now consider a “threat,” represents a reversal from even September, 2013, when Obama relied on a proposal submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to avoid committing to military action in order to contain Syria’s civil war.
Then, only 39 percent of Americans held negative views of the Russian Federation compared with 36 percent who viewed America’s Cold War adversary in positive terms. A Pew survey from November, 2013 showed that 40 percent did not see Russia as “much of a problem” at all. As of March, only 22 percent agreed Russia was “not much of a problem.”
Today, 23 percent of Americans view Russia as the nation’s top geopolitical threat, compared with just 19 percent who say the same of China and 16 percent who award that distinction to Iran.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes that the terms “threat” and “adversary” have distinct and mutually exclusive definitions, and the differences between those definitions were hotly debated in 2012. Obama got a mild rebuke from Politifact when he claimed that Romney characterized Russia as a “threat” when he actually used the word “foe.” But that distinction seems hollow today when Americans themselves are freely using the term “threat” to describe the challenge a resurgent Russia poses.
This interesting image provided by Pew reveals the outlines of a post-American bloc in Asia. Most of the Cold War-era alliances still hold, and nations like Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea continue to view the United States as their greatest ally. Most of that is driven by a widely-shared fear of a rising and aggressive China.
The People’s Republic is, however, not as nervous about its regional adversaries as it is about the challenge presented by the United States. 36 percent of Chinese respondents said the U.S. was their chief threat, followed closely by Japan at 33 percent. Pluralities or majorities in Pakistan and Malaysia now cite China as their chief ally in the world.
And who do the Chinese regard as their greatest ally in the world? Russia.