President Obama and Governor Romney battled to claim the mantle of strategic wisdom for their respective positions on recent events in the Middle East. Yet a strategic vision for U.S. foreign policy was not much in evidence when it came to at least two key relationships: Russia and China.
On Russia, the candidates practiced pure political hyperbole, with the president portraying Romney as stuck in a Cold War mindset and Romney in turn blasting Obama as naive in offering Putin “flexibility.” Though Romney bemoaned Russia’s rejection of U.S. nonproliferation assistance and Obama suggested he had won Russian backing for crippling Iran sanctions, neither explained how he would get relations with Russia back on track after the past year of dramatic decline.
China was mentioned, predictably, as an unfair economic competitor but also as a potential partner for dealing with global challenges. Given China’s overwhelming indifference to the issues of Middle East democracy, Iran and terrorism that dominated much of the debate, it would have been useful to hear at least a few ideas about how to engage China as a responsible stakeholder in international security.
Matthew Rojansky is the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.