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Democrats Fumble the Russia Question

For quite a long time, I have lamented the near total lack of any discussion about policy positions toward Russia by the U.S. presidential candidates – and then, when we finally get a question posed by NBC’s Tim Russert to Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about the challenge of dealing with the authoritarian threat, the result is disaster. In some ways, Clinton’s flub on Medvedev’s name probably did a good service for attracting debate on U.S.-Russia relations – certainly producing more column inches about the question than if she had fired back a prepared vague platform statement about how to capitalize on the opportunity of new leadership. Others have raised the point that the fumble of the Russia question shows that neither democratic candidate is particularly foreign policy focused – which although probably won’t make a difference among U.S. voters in the primaries, it certainly gives Sen. John McCain a stronger edge in the presidential election. Although it was disappointing to hear the audience laughter at Clinton’s dismissal of Medvedev’s name with a curt “whatever,” it is clear that at least she was well briefed on Russia, and at least got the gist of the issue right: Vladimir Putin and his related allies, networks, and methods remain the focal point for the next U.S. government to address in the short term, while doing everything possible to make it clear that increased independence by Dima would be greeted warmly. Clinton is right to point out that just because Putin is moving down the hallway to another office, does not mean all the outstanding difficulties and challenges of his administration don’t remain. Now let’s see if the candidates can pick up the debate on this issue and carry it forward from here.