Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently called Russia "without question, our No. 1 geopolitical foe" while criticizing President Obama for remarks he made to Russia's president about missile defense that were picked up by a live microphone.
At the United Nations Security Council, "who is it that always stands up for the world's worst actors?" Romney asked on CNN on Monday. "It is always Russia, typically with China alongside."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was unimpressed, telling reporters in Seoul that Romney's remarks seemed to come out of the Cold War era and "smacked of Hollywood," the Associated Press reported.
The Times posed the question to several experts in international relations: Is Russia the "No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the United States? And if not, who is? Here's what they said:
Nicholas Burns, director of the Future of Diplomacy Project: Iran
Iran is, without any question, the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the United States. Iran is the leading funder and supporter of terrorism in the Middle East. It has worked against our interests in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And, most importantly, Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability directly threatens the U.S., Israel and the Arab states. Should Iran become a nuclear weapons power, it would undermine our most important interests in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Iran is a far greater threat to us than Russia.
Lawrence J. Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress: Nobody
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not faced an existential threat, nor does it have any "No. 1" geopolitical or nation state foes. But this does not mean that it does not face any threats to its security interests.
In the near term, the U.S. faces dangers from violent extremists with a global reach like Al Qaeda, rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran, and weak and failing states that can spread disease or become a haven for violent extremists. But none of these dangers represent an existential threat to the United States like Soviet Russia did. With the exception of Iran and North Korea, which have very little influence outside their regions, the primary dangers do not come from traditional nation states.
In the long term, the U.S. also faces the challenge of incorporating rising and resurgent powers such as China, Russia, India and Brazil into the global economic and security system. But none of these geopolitical entities are foes, let alone existential threats. In fact, we can and should work with them on several issues that influence our security, such as arms control, climate change, money laundering and drug trafficking. In addition, we borrow money from China to finance our debt and use Russian routes to supply our troops in Afghanistan.
The rhetoric of geopolitical foes should be retired as a relic of the Cold War while the U.S. develops policies to deal with its short- and long-term challenges.
China is usually the favorite choice of presidential challengers, or perhaps Islamic terrorism. But China owns so much of our debt, and Al Qaeda has faded fast. So Russia becomes the default choice.
Honestly, I would say that we are our own worst enemy. We are spending ourselves ever deeper into debt through our consistently high military expenditures. We swell the ranks of our adversaries through wars, occupations and the actions of Special Forces and drones. We fail to address with sufficient resources or attention the major threats that undermine our security (not to mention the security of the world at large) such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and the widening gap between global haves and have-nots. Of course, if we are our own worst enemy, we can more easily change the geopolitical calculus than if it were Russia or China or Al Qaeda that represented our greatest threat. We cannot, after all, control those entities. But we can vanquish our own greatest enemy by simply looking in the mirror and changing our own policies.
Barry Pavel, director of the International Security Program, Atlantic Council: Iran
The primary geopolitical foe for the United States is Iran. The regime ruling Iran can and does threaten the United States in a variety of ways and knows that, short of all-out war (which would be disastrous for U.S. interests broadly), there is little the U.S. can do to blunt these challenges. Iran is a great source of instability in the Middle East, a primary sponsor of terrorism that reaches across continents, and has produced and transferred weapons that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan to kill U.S. and coalition military personnel. When Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the world will be a much more dangerous place.
David C. Speedie, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs: Nobody
By dint of military and, yes, economic dominance, the United States does not have a No. 1 global enemy in the manner that one might have assessed the question prior to 1990. Mr. Romney’s statement -- given New START, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization et al -- is palpably ridiculous. The challenges of the day and of the recent past are largely of our own making -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- but they hardly constitute an existential threat. One might add that, on the basis of his own foreign policy positions in the campaign -- bombing Iran and now Russia as our enduring enemy No. 1 -- America’s greatest threat during a Romney presidency may be ... America.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Supporters of Vladimir Putin celebrate his victory in Russia's presidential election as they rally in the southern city of Stavropol on March 5. The poster reads: "We trust Putin!" Credit: Danil Semyonov / AFP/Getty Images