When presidents meet a ‘hot mic’

Updated
 

Some of my favorite moments of George W. Bush’s presidency were “hot mic” moments, in part because they offered rare peeks behind the curtain. When Bush was accidentally overheard on live microphones, we learned that he didn’t know what the Mexico City Policy was, even after he signed an executive order on it; he didn’t understand 2006 developments in Lebanon, though he thought he did; and he talked to world leaders in a strikingly unsophisticated way behind closed doors.

But President Obama is not without hot-mic moments. One of the big political stories of the day is the interest in comments Obama made to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on missile defense.

The revelations aren’t exactly shocking here. Obama, in Seoul for a nuclear security summit, told the Russian leader, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space.” In this context, “him” appears to refer to Vladimir Putin. When Medvedev noted that he appreciates the larger context, Obama added, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev responded, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

Mitt Romney is feigning outrage, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who’s often confused about U.S. policy in Russia but likes to pretend otherwise, is looking for the fainting couch, but Obama’s comments aren’t exactly scandalous.

The president believes the election season restricts his foreign policy options? Well, sure, but that isn’t exactly breaking news. The administration, if given a second term, plans to have additional talks with Russia on missile defense, and would like Russia to be patient until after the election? Yep, we knew that, too.

Ultimately, Obama didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, or echo remarks he’s already made publicly. He was a little more candid in his delivery with Medvedev in Seoul, but it’s not unusual for U.S. presidents to seek some election-season “space” from negotiating partners, especially when it’s an election year in both countries.

For those who are paranoid about Obama becoming some entirely new person in a second term – paranoia that even some conservatives consider ridiculous – then I suppose any new evidence will be seized on as important and shocking.

But for everyone else, today’s revelations offer more heat than light.

Nuclear, Russia and Barack Obama

When presidents meet a 'hot mic'

Updated