The USSR would have dominated this Olympics

Vladimir Putin once famously said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. That may not be true, but from the Kremlin's point of view, it was inarguably an Olympic catastrophe.

Russia finished the 2012 Olympics with a respectable 82 total medals (putting it in third place behind the U.S. and China) and 24 golds (putting it in fourth behind Britain). But what if things had turned out differently in the early 1990s and the Soviet Union were still intact? Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus all put in strong showings at the games. In fact, 13 of the 15 former Soviet states got at least one medal, including just the third ever* for tiny Tajikistan. (Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan failed to medal.)

If you add up all 13 countries you get 163 medals -- well ahead of the U.S. total of 104. The USSR would have been awarded 46 golds -- tied with the red, white, and blue. With 16.9 percent of the total medals, the hypothetical Soviet Union would have nearly tied the real Soviet Union's haul of 17.8 percent in 1988. 


(It would have been an indisputable victory if Belarusian shot-putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk hadn't been stripped of her medal after testing positive for an anabolic steroid today.)

Back in the world of currently existing countries, the Olympic prediction models I wrote about before the games all had the correct top 4, though China and Britain got many more medals than expected. Australia, which normally punches above its weight at the games, was probably the biggest surprise on the negative end. 

*Correction, Aug. 13, 2012: The original post incorrectly stated that Tajikistan won its first medal at this year's Olympics. It actually won two at the 2008 Olympics.



With Ryan pick, Romney would send a message: This is not a foreign-policy election

So much for Petraeus. Barring a colossal media-wide screw-up -- which is not outside the realm of possibility -- it appears that Mitt Romney will name Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate Saturday morning from the deck of the USS Wisconsin. It's a bold choice: Ryan's hard-line economic views will excite the Republican base but could alienate moderates and swing voters. But whatever impact the pick has on Romney's campaign, one thing is clear: The GOP ticket is not running on foreign-policy this year. With the exception of a fairly rote 2011 speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society and a budget plan that would gut the government's diplomacy and development funding, Ryan has little record on foreign- policy issues.

This makes this year's GOP ticket something fairly unprecedented in modern presidential politics: a pair in which neither the VP nor the presidential nominee has any substantial foreign-policy experience on his résumé.

Romney's obviously not the first former governor or candidate without significant national security experience to run for president. But generally speaking, his predecessors have picked running mates who compensate for this lack of experience. Freshman Senator Barack Obama chose the veteran Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden. George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, a former secretary of defense. Bill Clinton's pick, Al Gore, had sat on the House Intelligence Committee and been active on arms control issues. Mike Dukakis's running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, had been involved in Latin America policy during the Carter administration. Ronald Reagan chose former ambassador and CIA chief George H.W. Bush. Walter Mondale -- Jimmy Carter's vice president -- had been active on Vietnam and intelligence issues in Congress.

New York Governor Thomas Dewey and California Governor -- later Supreme Court justice -- Earl Warren had little foreign-policy experience to speak of when they ran in 1948, though both had been involved in wartime planning efforts.

With this pick, Romney seems to be wagering that foreign policy will not be a major issue in the campaign. We'll see if he's right.

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