The cold war just isn’t what it used to be. More Spies Like Us than The Spy Who Loved Me, last week’s Russian-American espionage exchange had all the makings of a chilling Glienicke Bridge spy swap—until it didn’t. At least in John Landis’s comedy, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd were actually able to do some good with their limited training and avert Armageddon. In contrast, the ten Russian spies, now duly deported, have been ridiculed both in Russia and in the United States for engaging in breathlessly surreptitious ineptitude.
Charles McCarry drolly summed up the public’s evaluation of the story in a New York Times op-ed on Friday, writing, “These Russian spies were so inept that they weren’t even charged with spying. Instead, they were given a good talking-to and, in effect, released into the custody of their guardians. Being forbidden to go on pretending that they were Americans was punishment enough.” Times television critic Alessandra Stanley compared the Russians to the spies in another Dan Aykroyd vehicle, Coneheads. And in noting all of the pertinent, homeland-security details, the New York Post labeled superspy Anna Chapman as “sexy,” a “femme fatale” and a “vixen,” taking care to let readers know that while in court, “her sexy figure [was] hidden by her baggy beige jumpsuit.”
So what’s really going on here? Perhaps the most meaningful result of the scandal is that both short- and long-term repercussions seem quite minuscule. This isn’t a Gary Powers situation, and not even a flurry of vulgar, Khrushchev-style Ukrainian folk proverbs can drape the fear and loathing of 1960 around Anna Chapman’s sexy figure. Mitt Romney’s and Senator Jon Kyl’s paranoiac The-Russians-Are-Coming hysteria notwithstanding, Obama’s and Medvedev’s New START Treaty still enjoys the bipartisan support of Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). And as Jacob Heilbrunn pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, “GOP foreign policy eminences such as Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz and Richard Burt endorse the treaty.” Provided that the Senate’s schedule cooperates, it’s likely that the treaty will be ratified this summer or fall.