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Outside View: Was Obama’s message to Medvedev a gaffe?

By EDWARD LOZANSKY,, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   April 5, 2012 at 6:30 AM
MOSCOW, April 5 (UPI) -- Judging from the avalanche of negative comments about U.S. President Barack Obama's open microphone missile gaffe his Republican opponents got an unexpected windfall that can turn around or at least reduce the advantage in ratings that Obama presently enjoys.

Most of those who run for the White House as well as many Republican congressional leaders have pounced on Obama's controversial comments that he made in private to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

However, Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, outdid everyone by not only accusing Obama of "pulling his punches with the American people" and "obscuring his plans for the missile defense system" but by publicly calling Russia to be America's "geopolitical enemy No. 1."

In a few days we will see what happens to the ratings but I am not afraid to predict that Romney made a huge strategic mistake that can cost him dearly. One would expect this war-mongering rhetoric from U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and everyone knows what happened to him four years ago.

Taking into account the huge mess in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Arab Middle East the last thing that the United States needs right now is another powerful enemy such as Russia. In the 2008 elections Obama's spin doctors successfully used McCain's images next to President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney to scare people off. They might as well repeat this exercise by publicizing Romney's endorsement by McCain.

As for the missile defense, as I see it, Obama's words shouldn't be considered a gaffe but rather as understanding a sober reality.

We have heard many times over and over again that it is a firm U.S. policy not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If it is true in the first place, why would you then want a system that costs a lot, has a questionable performance record, is aimed at threats that may never exist and will antagonize Russia which is a powerful and reliable ally in the war on terror?

The sad irony is that to finance this dubious system while having the astronomical $15.6 trillion national debt, the United States will have no alternative but to keep digging its own financial grave by borrowing more from communist China.

The good news is that if re-elected Obama is prepared to jettison an expensive missile-defense program that has little to do with the current threats. However, if it turns out that missile defense lobby is too powerful to overcome we should opt for a joint U.S.-Russian system designed to defend against threats from rogue states or even space objects. Such a system is an obvious and logical solution that would make each side feel equally protected.

Kremlin leadership sent many signals to Washington and Brussels that they are in favor of this idea. Moreover, Moscow has repeatedly stated that it wants Russia to be a part of the global security infrastructure. To prove that these are not just words but deeds Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- soon to be president again -- offered much greater participation in Afghanistan including the use of Russia's military.

In line with this is his offer to NATO allies to use a Russian air base in Ulyanovsk on the Volga River for transit of troops and military cargo to and from Afghanistan. Recently Putin went even further by expressing his desire for Russia to become a part of Western alliance if the missile defense issue is solved to the mutual satisfaction of all sides.

At this point we have no choice but to wait until November to see whether the American people elect someone who considers Russia an enemy or someone with a more pragmatic and realistic views.

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(Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow and professor of world politics at Moscow State University.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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