A U.S.-Russian Transition

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Whew! With the seventh Vladimir Putin marathon phone-in and the sixth New York Times Russian/American write-in now safely behind us, it's time to relax, downshift and enjoy another revealing installment of "Arbat & Main Interactive," the pioneering broadcast-to-newsprint feature in which questions from Russians about things American get real-time answers here in our studio, then appear the next morning as a provocative, though not actionable, newspaper column.

Our topic tonight is "Giant Robot Border Guards: How Russia Will Stop the Invasion from Alaska." Just kidding, Sarah. Our topic is actually timely and sensible, as always: "Waiting for the Obama Presidency: Is It Barack Yet?" So, raise your hands, people, and we'll begin the questions. OK, you, the young man in the BMW cap.

Q: Americans keep yapping about transition this, transition that. Yikes, it took you 22 months to elect this guy. Why waste three more "transitioning" him?

A: Wait, you thought the peaceful transfer of power in the world's pre-eminent democracy was like what -- a baton pass in the 400-meter relay? And anyway, this transition is actually the fastest in modern history. Obama started wooing important nominees well before November -- much faster than the last time we elected a messiah to pull our national chestnuts out of the fire. President-elect Franklin Roosevelt had to wait until March, not January, to shove Herbert Hoover under the Greyhound of history.

Besides, would you rather wait a few months for a clear transition or a few years for a muddy one -- or none at all (hint-hint)? C'mon, when you ask Russians what's going to happen in the country in 2012 or even who's in charge of what today, they start mumbling stuff that sounds like Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine. Transition that, Mr. Beemer. OK, next question -- yes, the woman with the beehive hairdo:

Q. Can U.S.-Russian relations survive Hillary Clinton as secretary of state?

A. Oh please. A better question might be "Can U.S.-Russian relations survive Lawrence Summers again?" With Summers chairing the National Economic Council, you may get another load of catastrophic advice straight out of the 1990s from Larry's infamous Gang That Couldn't Loot Straight. Clinton, on the other hand, left no perceptible bombing pattern over Moscow. OK, she recently called your president "Med-ved-veda-whatever!" But hey, you've been styling her "Mee-sis Kleen-tahn" for years. Call it even. Seriously, she's a tough, smart negotiator blessed with the creative imagination of a Bosnian sniper. Both the Ugly Hillary and Zbig-in-a-pantsuit stories are way off. Next?

Q. Why did it take the U.S. media three months to figure out who started the August hostilities in Georgia? Don't you feel a little stupid?

A. Granted, my colleagues at certain publications were slow to perceive that hotheads in Tbilisi were the proximate causers. Perhaps they trusted Georgian government sources before Russian ones simply by reflex. I mean, who believed that the Yukos case was about taxes or that the City of Tallinn Parks Department was rewriting World War II? You can't suddenly stop insisting that up is down and expect everybody to hop on board. Why do you think nobody believed President George "W.M.D." Bush for years now? Just because he can't speak English? OK, the man in the Kant sweatshirt:

Q. Speaking of unbelievable, do you really think there's anybody left who believes that elements of an unproven U.S. missile-defense system and a radar base in Central Europe are vital to the defense of, well, anybody against anything?

A. I think they're precisely as important as putting Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad is effective in deterring their installation. And I hope neither happens -- duh. OK, last question. Yes, the vertically challenged fellow with the chipmunky grin:

Q. Both of Russia's leaders have made positive noises recently about improving the U.S.-Russian relationship. Are you optimistic?

A. Well, one encouraging breakthrough was agreeing that piracy on the high seas is a bad thing. Perhaps now we can also agree that terrorism is appalling and nuclear weapons should be kept away from lunatics. Seriously, people, it's hard to imagine why Russians and Americans would choose not to act in their own mutual best interests on a half-dozen issues critical to both. Let's get Barack sworn in and sit down, already. It's that or the giant robots.

Mark H. Teeter teaches English and Russian-American relations in Moscow.