The Mother of All Deals

Among all the difficult choices and severe challenges President Obama will face on January 20th and in the months and years to follow, there is one very attractive change that is relatively easy to bring about. The major reason I am wildly optimistic about a US/Russia deal is that it can be based on a principle that underlies many, if not all, great deals: There are concessions that Russia can make for us that we care about deeply--and that they do not. And there are concessions Russia dearly wants--but about which we do not care nearly as much.

Before I quickly list the main elements of such a master deal I should note that it requires dropping the remaining vestiges of the neocon fantasy (a) that we can democratize the world and that only countries that embrace our kind of regime are reliable partners in peace, and (b) that we are a superpower which is so rich and omnipotent that we do not need to set priorities and we can gain even things that are low on our wish list.

What does the United States want most from Russia? That it stop supplying Iran with nuclear plants and uranium and that it join us and the Europeans in a joint drive to convince Iran to come clean with regard to its nuclear military program. And--that Russia accelerate the Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative, our joint project to ensure that the small nuclear bombs Russia has in great numbers (the bombs most suitable for terrorists) and the materials from which such bombs can be made will be better protected or rendered inoperative, and that their contents will be blended down. Russia has no profound reason to refuse to help us on these two fronts. Indeed, it has its own misgivings about facing a Muslim nation armed with nukes or terrorists with such weapons--only it does not feel nearly as threatened by these prospects as we are.

What does Russia most want from the United States? That we not put the instruments of "Star Wars" (our missile defense system) close to its borders and that we not surround it with NATO allies. Putting missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic is one of those far out ideas of the Bush Administration that we cannot pay for anyhow, it is unlikely to work, and it can be located in other areas. And although we may wish to see Georgia and the Ukraine in NATO (some even want to make Russia a member!), we can defer this invitation, say, for ten years without breaking out in sweat or tears or feeling any other great sense of loss.

No Drama Obama has shown so far a keen sense for making moves that keep the voters in rapture. See his rapid fire cabinet appointments, which have stretched out over a fair number of news cycles. See the way he plans to introduce a grand stimulus package on his first day in office, and has invited the Pentagon to prepare an Iraqi pullout, all before the first week of his presidency is completed. Striking a major deal with Russia, a country which following 1990 had worked quite well with the United States but has recently turned into an obstructionist opponent to our foreign policy, would fit well into Obama's first 100 days. Indeed, there is little that would make the much more difficult moves in the Middle East easier than first taking care of Iran's nuclear program. This in turn requires finding a way to work with Russia.

Hillary: Get your heavy coat ready. It is freezing in Moscow in January, but you can bring Russia in from the cold.

Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and author of Security First (Yale, 2007) email: