Imagine a presidential race during the Cold War in which a major candidate could not pronounce the last name of the new head of Russia.
Times have, indeed, changed, but Hillary Clinton's recent stumble, during a debate, over the name of Dmitry Medvedev was instructive. It may have said something about her, but it likely said more about Americans in general and their lack of serious attention to Russia in the post-Soviet era.
In 2000, George W. Bush was criticized for not knowing the name of Pakistan's president. In a strange twist of fate, Pervez Musharraf has been a bigger factor in U.S. foreign relations during the Bush administration than almost any other foreign leader. Perhaps the next president will become just as familiar with Medvedev and his prime minister, former Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He or she certainly should. Russia remains severely weakened from the breakup of the Soviet Union, but it is becoming increasingly bellicose, and the United States has ignored its relations with Russia for too long.
Medvedev won the election for president last Sunday. International observers agree the election was flawed and undemocratic. Medvedev was Putin's hand-picked successor. The government made sure there were no other serious candidates and no critical media coverage. Once Medvedev's election was secure, those who tried to protest the election were violently suppressed.
And yet observers say the election results most likely did reflect the wishes of the Russian people. Medvedev and Putin offer authoritarian leadership, but many Russians see that as preferable to the lawlessness that was allowed to thrive under a more democratic system.
The Cold War may be over, but as soon as a new American president takes the oath of office, he or she ought to arrange a summit reminiscent of those days. The United States and Russia have many common interests, from fighting terrorism to nuclear nonproliferation. Only through cooperation and a renewed relationship can the United States begin to pressure the Russians into recognizing basic human rights and liberties and into ending its threats against former Soviet states that are friendly to the West.
The consequences of further neglect could be regrettable, indeed.