After President Obama and outgoing Russian President Medvedev “hot mic” comments hit the blogosphere a speculative frenzy erupted. From claims Obama was waiting until after the elections to cave to Russian demands to calls for his impeachment for “selling out” European allies, the political rumor mill shifted into high gear once the private comment became public and have yet to slow down. What is missing from this particular bout of over-speculation is a simple explanation for what the conversation actually meant.
The captured conversation about the US/NATO European missile defense system went as follows;
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [referring to incoming President Vladimir Putin.]
The primary target of controversy is Obama’s “flexibility” comment, producing waves of accusations from his opponents that he will succumb to Russian whims in future negotiations. However, as every politician knows, including those criticizing the President’s comments, during a campaign season every word and action by a candidate is subjected to the election year microscope. Those political opponents and anyone who follows politics knows little can honestly be achieved in such an intense climate of competition. Within this particularly partisan environment the US is in now where little is accomplished even between election seasons, there is no doubt progress on something as sensitive as international treaties would be impossible. This is understood by Vice President Joe Biden and is very evident in comment released by Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona who in a letter to the White House wrote,
“We will oppose any efforts by your administration to arbitrarily limit our missile defense capabilities or pursue ill-advised nuclear arms reductions,”
This highlights the political divide in Washington and the ardent efforts by congressional Republicans to deny the President any policy headway and the Party’s professed goal to ensure Obama is a one term president rather than attending to more pertinent issues affecting the country.
Coupled with Russia’s own tumultuous and controversial elections and leadership transitions, the political realities of this country’s election atmosphere provides the context in which President Obama’s “hot mic” comment resides. Simply stated, there is little that can be accomplished in the current heated political climate. To place lingering concerns of nefarious dealings at ease one should ask, what previous foreign relations decisions of his resulted in such apprehension to make anyone think the President would not act in the best interests of this country?