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August 15, 2013

Hot Line: Even without a Cold War, the Washington-Moscow link is still up

(Continued)

WASHINGTON — OBAMA

President Barack Obama frequently has used the Direct Voice Link to speak with Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. There is no indication Obama has used the traditional Hot Line. But the president did speak about it in June 2010, although metaphorically.

In a joint news conference in the White House with the visiting Medvedev, Obama talked glowingly about improved cooperation with Russia. "We may finally," he said, "be able to throw away those 'red phones' that have been sitting around for so long."

However antiquated the Hot Line may seem, and presidential jokes aside, pulling back from the Cold War icon might be tricky. Given the good odds for tension between Washington and Moscow in the future - the Syrian civil war, for example - a suggestion by one side to turn off the Hot Line might signal a degree of unhelpful unilateralism.

The Hot Line may be an anachronism in today's wired world, but it's a subject protectively wrapped in symbolism and lasting perceptions. Perhaps Obama, Putin and even the nimble fox should leave the lazily sleeping dog lie.

Michael K. Bohn, a former director of the White House Situation Room, writes regularly for McClatchy Newspapers. He is a nonfiction author now working on "Presidents in Crisis: Tough Decisions From Truman to Obama."

 

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