Dear Mr. President ...

“A brave and beautiful day” Owen T. Davis

The format and timing of this letter do not allow me to be among the first to congratulate you: indeed, even though I sit down to write these words on the brave and beautiful November day on which the world saw you arrive to be given your first conducted tour of your new Washington home, nobody including you will be able to read them until we are much closer to the day of your inauguration. Congratulations nonetheless, along with, I suppose, an admonition not to be too much overwhelmed by the Niagara of different “hopes” with which you are every day inundated.

I dare say that you at least suspect that the hope-and-optimism surplus generated by your election is in some part and to some extent your own fault. But it is also in the nature of democratic politics to generate a surplus of expectations, as it is somehow part of the essence of America to produce talk about “dreams.” But in dreams, as we also have good cause to know, begin responsibilities. And nightmares are dreams, too. For an instance, both of the similarity and the distinction, let us take an excerpt from your book The Audacity of Hope. You are describing a moment in what you clearly regard as your most important foreign-policy experience: your senatorial work in following up on the Nunn-Lugar initiative on nuclear non-proliferation, or perhaps better to say de-proliferation. And this was indeed important work, helping a near-bankrupt post-Soviet Russia get control of its now-redundant stockpiles while denying access to rogue elements or non-state actors. As you put it, in recording your trip to Russia and Ukraine with Senator Lugar in 2005:

In Perm, at a site where SS-24 and SS-25 tactical missiles were being dismantled, we walked through the center of eight-foot-high empty missile casings and gazed in silence at the massive, sleek, still-active missiles that were now warehoused safely but had once been aimed at the cities of Europe.

How enjoyable and how worthwhile this visit must have seemed—does seem, in your recollection—and how far off 2005 now must appear to you. On the morning of the very day that your electoral victory was being celebrated, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev intruded a loudly discordant note by informing you (and us) that if you continued your predecessor’s policy of installing “missile shield” technology in Eastern Europe, Moscow would begin to target Western European cities with its own ballistic array. Something that we had thought was behind us, in other words, had doubled around the block while our attention was otherwise engaged and was now right before us again.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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