Recent events in Ukraine and Crimea have apparently convinced the Washington Post fact checker that it’s worth going back and finally reviewing an Obama “zinger” from a 2012 presidential debate.
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” President Obama told former Massachusetts Mitt Romney on Oct. 22, 2012.
The remark was universally hailed as a solid blow against Romney. However, a few years out and with Russia ignoring the international community in its actions against Ukraine, perhaps that line isn’t so clever after all.
Obama’s quip begins with Mitt Romney explaining during an interview on CNN why he considered Russia to be America's greatest “geopolitical foe.”
“This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed,” Romney said.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed the former governor and Republican presidential candidate for clarification.
Romney responded: “I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors, of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough, but when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when [Syrian President] Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors?”
“It is always Russia, typically with China alongside, and so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council, and is of course a massive security power — Russia is the geopolitical foe,” he added.
Of course, it’s worth noting that this isn’t entirely accurate. Indeed, at the time of Romney’s remarks, Russia had already supported a few resolutions supposedly aimed at limiting Tehran’s and Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear energy.
Obama’s team saw an opening and made sure the president came to a foreign policy debate seven months later prepared with a “zinger.”
“Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaeda,” Obama said, mischaracterizing what the Republican candidate actually said.
Romney then corrected the record: “Russia, I indicated, is a geopolitical foe. Not … Excuse me. It’s a geopolitical foe, and in the same paragraph I said, ‘and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.’ Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again.”
But Romney’s clarification was apparently of no use. President Obama went ahead with his “zinger.”
“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” he said. “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
The Post's fact checker's bottom line: “Obama’s comment on the ‘1980s’ was clearly a pre-planned zinger. In the wake of the Crimea standoff, odds are the anonymous author of that line is not eager to be identified. But it probably seemed like a clever idea at the time.”
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