Political bluster is risky

Americans need look only as far as their own presidential campaign to understand the importance of open diplomatic relationships, especially with potential enemies.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney is playing the same political game that candidates from both parties have always played. He is trying to tap into American patriotism by painting other countries as threats.

Romney labeled Russia as “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” He promises actions that would ignite a trade war with China and real wars with Iran and Syria. His words are not intended for the foreign countries, but for his U.S. political base. If he wins the presidential election, he will no doubt spend months trying to repair the relationships he damaged.

Romney’s belligerence is not unique to him or to America. He is using a tried and true political tactic.

A few decades ago, such posturing was not a major threat to peace. Romney could have made such comments at a tea party rally and the nations he vilified might never have heard about it. Before 24-hour news cycles and the Internet, a politician could be a warmonger for a domestic audience and a reasonable ally when dealing directly with other countries.

Today, though, the people of other nations hear the comments. Leaders in Russia, China and Iran have had to match Romney’s hostility to avoid seeming weak to their people.

Iranian leaders are using the same tactic. The country is in desperate economic straits. In an effort to keep the people from turning on them, Iran’s leaders are railing against foreign enemies. Just like Americans, Iranians rally together if convinced by their leaders that they face an external threat.

The damage caused by such comments is reparable only if leaders of countries can communicate directly with each other. If Romney takes office, he needs to be able to tell officials in Russia, “Sorry, I was just playing politics.”

When the only information we have about Iran is what its leaders are saying to their people, we are likely to mistake political bluster for aggressive intentions.

Neither America nor the rest of the world will end the practice of creating foreign threats to secure domestic unity. To minimize the resulting conflicts, America needs open diplomatic communications with all nations, especially when tensions are high.

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Filed under Election 2012, Foreign policy, Iran

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