A Trace of Hot Tub Diplomacy in The Air

Created April 23, 2021

My wife Lalita emailed me “What happened to the hot tub?” when the latest U.S. sanctions were announced. That’s her way of referring to my recent columns envisioning a scene of détente among the leaders of the three superpowers.

I, too, felt disappointed when reading the headlines. I had hoped that the necessary wrist slaps would be presented differently than in the past, whether due to my ideas trickling up to the Oval Office or not. None of the headlines gave me any inkling that we were not still locked in the same mindsets as during the Cold War.

But things became more nuanced when I read the full reportage. President Biden’s televised remarks on April 15 sound a lot to me like the reasonable, moderate voice I gave my fictional Joe:

“We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process with impunity,” President Biden said in remarks announcing the sanctions on Thursday. He said he “was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further,” and that wanted a “stable, predictable relationship” with Russia.

“Now is the time to de-escalate,” Mr. Biden said. “Where there’s an interest for the United States to work with Russia, we should and we will.”

(The above as reported by CBS News)

The sanctions had been carefully measured to serve as a signal, to be more than merely symbolic, yet to limit the degree of pain caused to the Russian people. To make it clear that we will not be pushed around, nor will we over react, but we will be true to our word and not back off if transgressed against.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan summarized the President’s remarks to Mr. Putin in their April 13 telephone call this way:

“He said, ‘I told you that I was going to look into this, I made a determination that Russia has, in fact, conducted these actions. And I’m a man of my word, I am going to respond. But I’m not looking to escalate, I’m looking to provide proportionate responses. And I believe that it is in our interest to find a stable and predictable way forward in this relationship.'”

(The above as reported by The Guardian)

The measured nature of the sanctions is obvious to economists in that the move prevents U.S. financial institutions from participating in the primary market for ruble and non-ruble denominated debt after June 14, but does not affect the secondary market. Yet these U.S. actions also communicate that the line in the sand can be moved further depending upon how Russia responds.

Did my recent posts reach President Biden, or have he and his advisors followed a parallel path and reached similar conclusions to my own?

Perhaps God is talking to him, and I am somehow permitted to eavesdrop.

To me the most hopeful sign is that the President, while taking necessary action under the circumstances, simultaneously proposed a face to face meeting between himself and President Putin.

“President Biden reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with U.S. interests, and proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” the White House readout of the call said.

The readout went on to say that the two leaders “discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.”

(The above as reported by CBS News)

Perhaps the fictional scenario I outlined is going to take place in stages.

They also have hot tubs in Cannes.

Keep a positive thought.

Best to all,

Bill

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