Romney uses Medvedev statement to smack Obama

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev slammed Mitt Romney on Tuesday in a move that gave the former Massachusetts Governor a second opportunity to suggest President Barack Obama is colluding with a foreign antagonist.

The first opportunity came Monday when a hot-mic exposed Obama’s offer of “more flexibility” in weapons-talks with Russia once the November election is over. The second opportunity came Tuesday, when Medvedev slammed Romney’s statement that Russia is, “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”

“My first advice [to Romney] is to listen to reason when they formulate their positions… My other advice is to check their watches from time to time: it is 2012, not the mid-1970s,” Medvedev told reporters Tuesday as the nuclear summit in Korea ended.

But Mevedev’s jibe merely allowed Romney to take another jab at Obama. “The Kremlin would prefer to continue doing business with the current incumbent of the White House,” said a response from Romney’s campaign office.

“In contrast to President Obama, Governor Romney is clear-eyed about the geopolitical challenges Russia poses… The creeping authoritarianism of its government make Russia a unique geopolitical problem that frustrates progress on numerous issues of vital concern to the United States,” said the Mar. 27 statement.

Romney’s allies joined the fight. Obama’s hot-mic offer to Medvedev and Putin was “inviting the Russians to participate in the American election process,” Ambassador John Bolton told The Daily Caller. Obama’s pitch essentially said to the Russians that “’If you want someone who is going to give you what you want, help us, and you won’t get Romney,’” said Bolton, who is a Romney supporter and a former top appointee in George W. Bush’s administration.

“Asking foreigners to participate in the process is indeed a bad thing,” he said.

This bare-knuckle exchange reflects the White House’s concern over Obama’s hot-mic gaffe — and the Romney campaigns’ aggressiveness after months of White House efforts to paint him as unprincipled and inconsistent.

Those Democratic themes have damaged Romney’s standing among voters, and were bolstered when his aide Eric Fehrnstrom suggested the campaign would revamp its positions after the Republican primary. “It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch… You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again,” the aide said Mar. 21.

But Obama’s hot-mic gaffe came directly from the candidate, and plays into the public’s worries about Obama’s political priorities. It also boosts Romney’s suggestion that Obama’s second-term priorities are secret, risky and dangerous.

Romney wasted little time before slamming Obama for his hot-mic gaffe of promising “more flexibility” in talks with Russia once Obama wins reelection. “I think it’s very alarming for the President of the United States to suggest to Russia that he has a different agenda that he’s going to work out with the Russians after the elections,” Romney said.

Obama quickly responded to the gaffe by using a press event to portray his pitch to the Russians as a routine description of diplomatic complexities. “This is not a matter of hiding the ball, I’m on record,” Obama told reporters while visiting Korea for a summit. “I want to see us, over time, gradually, systematically, reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.”

Obama’s defense was aided by his allies at home, including former Gen. Wes Clark.

“Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears… The next president is going to have to take America forward, out of war, and into other challenges,” said Clark, echoing Medvedev’s jibe about Romney.

Romney’s supporters also jumped into the fray.

His campaign quickly organized a letter to Obama from 42 of Romney’s national-security supporters, including Ambassador John Bolton, whose appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations by President George W. Bush was fiercely opposed by Democratic Senators.

“Your administration has cut our missile defense budget, linked the New START treaty to our missile defense capabilities, and abandoned plans for missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic without extracting concessions from Russia,” said the letter.

“Should the American people expect more efforts to placate Russia by weakening the missile defense systems that protect us and our allies?… Will post-election ‘flexibility’ lead you to undermine Israel further?… Would post-election ‘flexibility’ lead you to impose even deeper cuts that will cripple our military?”

Romney followed up with a Mar. 27 comment on CNN that explained his emphasis about Russia’s antagonism towards the United States. “In terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s on the Security Council, and as of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe,” Romney said.

“The idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming.”

Medvedev is widely regarded as a four-year stand-in for his former boss, Vladimir Putin, who is set to soon regain the title of Russian president.