Last week, Mitt Romney described Russia as America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe," prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to respond: "I think it's somewhat dated to be looking backwards instead of being realistic about where we agree, where we don't agree."
While Romney's basic sentiment is correct, Clinton is also right in suggesting that Romney's characterization of Russia is both dated and diplomatically unproductive. Not to mention that it makes for awkward dealings later when you inevitably have to sit down across the table from someone like Vladimir Putin and ask him a favor.
The way the world works now, and the way Russia has inserted itself into absolutely everything, it's impossible to avoid dealing with them on virtually any international issue. Take the latest example: Syria, and the ongoing civil war between Bashar al-Assad's government forces and the opposition forces he's trying to eradicate who may or may not actually be worse than Assad himself, given that they're comprised of self-proclaimed Communists, Socialists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In any case, slaughtering political opponents, even if they're worse than you, is bad optics. If Obama doesn't do something to stop it, he'll be lambasted and deemed unworthy of his Nobel Peace Prize. Yet if he mucks around in a far-flung place many Americans would probably misidentify as Kazakhstan or Indonesia if asked to point to it on a map, he risks being called a meddling interventionist. So two choices remain: private contractors fighting covertly as they did in Libya, or Russia's help aboveboard. And since Russia has longstanding arms deals with Syria, you know they have Assad on speed dial. Hence Obama's request to Medvedev in the wings of the recent Seoul Nuclear Summit to help a comrade out.
While this might not actually accomplish anything, it gives him some good optics to work with until something else can be figured out or Sarkozy's French military steps in as they did in Libya - if he's still around after the early-May presidential election.
But asking for help from someone you've previously labeled an enemy probably won't get you far. Sure, it's OK for me to do it since I'm probably not going to ever be in a position to have to ask favors from Vladimir Putin - although I suppose one never knows -- and it's probably cool for Romney to do it if he doesn't actually plan on being president someday.
Joe Biden, however, took the diplomatic sentiment too far when he asserted: "(Romney) acts like he thinks the Cold War's still on. This is not 1956."