Dear Mr. President-elect,
After the most bizarre presidency in US history, you are now about to take charge and begin restoring a sense of normalcy to our troubled nation. But these are anything but normal times, and your task will be enormous.
The pandemic, the brazen attempts to overturn the presidential election, and now the assault on the Capitol itself make this a period of profound uncertainty. The challenges are both domestic—getting the coronavirus vaccine distributed and the economy rejuvenated—and foreign. Trump undermined our alliances and withdrew America from hard-fought agreements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He also repudiated important agreements with Russia. Achieving the goals set at Paris and getting the Iran deal back on track will be difficult. But the most arduous task will be putting our relations with Russia on a safer path and breaking the dangerous pattern of repeated escalation of tension between the two countries.
Russia poses the most serious threat imaginable to the United States; it could launch—possibly by mistake or miscalculation—hundreds of nuclear missiles, with absolutely catastrophic consequences. We, of course, pose a similar threat to the Russians.
While everyone knows this at some level—that an absolutely catastrophic US-Russian nuclear blunder is possible—few political leaders call for a resumption of even the level of dialogue that once existed between America and the Soviet Union. Name calling, sanctions, and outrage are the order of the day, while the older practice of serious dialogue among civilian, military, and scholarly experts is frowned upon or not widely appreciated. When there is trouble—like the recent massive intrusion into US government computer systems—the preferred US response is to punish Russia by curbing communication. This is a huge mistake. [Continue reading…]