In the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, two of the most deadly assassins in the world are in bed together, so to speak, when they are unexpectedly assigned by their warring agencies to kill the other in what becomes a cat-and-mouse, who's-seducing-who, sexy murder-romance. Now, that plot seems to be playing out right now in real-time between, arguably, two of the most powerful (or soon-to-be) leaders of the world, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Specifically, there is the quasi-flirting with a nuclear arms race that is taking the Trump-Putin love/hate bromance to new heights.
Remember their honeymoon period when Trump praised the Russian head of state while throwing some hefty shade at President Obama, saying, “[Putin has] been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.” And Putin was thrilled when Trump won America's highest office? Putin told Russian state television right after Trump's Election Day win that "[Trump] spoke about resuming and restoring relations with Russia. We understand the way to that will be difficult, taking into account the current state of degradation of relations between the U.S. and Russia."
The menacing flirtation between the two world leaders has been a bizarre pairing from the start, inspiring endless late-night comedy fodder. However, this week, the relationship took a new turn with the subject of nuclear weapons.
On Thursday, Putin said his country should "enhance the combat capability of strategic nuclear forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems." That was a statement that was widely considered to be aimed at the United States. Trump fired a tweet echoing the sentiment saying: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
The tweet raised many a nuke-expert-eyebrow and led to debate overs the dangers of such a tweet because of the potential catastrophic damage a potential nuclear war would cause. Even Trump's surrogates tried to downplay the fears. His transition spokesman and soon-to-be director of communications at the White House Jason Miller wrote to the Washington Post that "President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it---particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes."
Then, on Friday, MSNBC Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski made an attempt to clarify Trump's intention behind his message. But instead of taking the opportunity to relieve the world of worrying about such a threat, Trump apparently doubled down in an off-air comment to the broadcaster. Brzezinski said that Trump had told her, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them at all."
And then this Trump-Putin tango took another twirl. The president-elect's transition team went out of its way to email a press statement on Friday, including a holiday letter purportedly from Putin. It stated:
What a perfect way to continue the dance — a compliment with a hint of a threat. (What are the "real steps"?) And Trump did the same, adding, "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path."
Hopefully, Putin and Trump do not tango down that "alternate path."