Sunday, July 17, 2011


"If Michael McFaul becomes the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, it will be another case of a scholar becoming a top diplomat, which is not uncommon in U.S. practice. Before he was appointed in 2009 as senior director at the National Security Council responsible for Russia, McFaul’s entire career was in academia and think tanks. His performance since then proves that scholars can be successful bureaucrats and, given the powers of office, achieve valuable strategic results that they would only dream about in their op-eds.

The Russian media have attributed McFaul with being the architect of the U.S.-Russian reset. This is certainly true, but as an architect, he could achieve what he did because he was only working to order and was given the backing of U.S. President Barack Obama. It was the president who commissioned McFaul to redesign U.S. policy toward Russia in accordance with Obama’s own worldview and in pursuit of his larger goals.

The irony, of course, was that when Obama moved into the White House, he cared relatively little about Russia per se. Focused on Afghanistan and Iran, he saw Moscow as a potential resource to help reach Washington’s central objectives in both Muslim countries. That resource, however, could not be used because of the botched Russia policies of the previous administration of President George W. Bush. Hence, the obvious and very pragmatic need for a reset.

Two years later, this approach has led to spectacular results. The Northern Distribution Network across Russia now amounts to 50 percent of the U.S. military transit to Afghanistan and is likely to become the principal supply route as the Pakistan option becomes more hazardous. On Iran, not only has Moscow supported United Nations Security Council sanctions against Tehran, but it canceled the sale to Iran of the S-300 air defense system, foregoing $1 billion in revenue. In an equally rare development, Moscow recently abstained at the UN Security Council abstention to allow the use of force against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Although Russia is still not central to Obama’s foreign policy, it is a truly one of his largest success stories.

To Washington, this pragmatism has not come at the price of keeping mum on the issues where the U.S. and Russian governments disagree. McFaul has been criticized for co-chairing a group on civil society with Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov. Yet he speaks openly on matters dealing with civil society and democracy in Russia, including the safety of journalists, the conditions in prisons and the fate of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He speaks with as much candor as anyone in the current or previous U.S. administrations.

This is the hallmark of the scholar-turned-official — to be intellectually incisive and precise and to stay focused on what is practically achievable. Before he joined the Obama administration, some took McFaul for an ideologue; after he had spent 2 1/2years at the National Security Council, he sometimes passes for a realpolitiker. In fact, he is neither. McFaul is a person who is clearly wedded to his values, norms and principles, but who is equally mindful of the real world out there and of U.S. national interests in that world.

As the probable next Tenant No. 1 at Spaso House, McFaul will have a difficult task. In what direction will U.S.-Russian relations move now that the reset has been achieved? Changing the very nature of the strategic relationship between the nuclear superpowers by cooperating on missile defense will be an arduous endeavor. Yet this is precisely what is needed — to move away from the still dominant adversarial strategic relationship and toward a cooperative one where neither party will regard the other as a potential adversary. The United States, the obviously stronger partner in the relationship, could be more accommodating, and this would serve its own best interests".

Dmitri Trenin, "Ambassador 'Mike' McFaul Could Help Reset." The Carnegie Moscow Center. 2 June 2011, in

"The conventional explanation for Vladimir Putin's popularity is straightforward. In the 1990s, under post-Soviet Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, the state did not govern, the economy shrank, and the population suffered. Since 2000, under Putin, order has returned, the economy has flourished, and the average Russian is living better than ever before. As political freedom has decreased, economic growth has increased. Putin may have rolled back democratic gains, the story goes, but these were necessary sacrifices on the altar of stability and growth....

This conventional narrative is wrong, based almost entirely on a spurious correlation between autocracy and growth. The emergence of Russian democracy in the 1990s did indeed coincide with state breakdown and economic decline, but it did not cause either. The reemergence of Russian autocracy under Putin, conversely, has coincided with economic growth but not caused it (high oil prices and recovery from the transition away from communism deserve most of the credit). There is also very little evidence to suggest that Putin's autocratic turn over the last several years has led to more effective governance than the fractious democracy of the 1990s. In fact, the reverse is much closer to the truth: to the extent that Putin's centralization of power has had an influence on governance and economic growth at all, the effects have been negative. Whatever the apparent gains of Russia under Putin, the gains would have been greater if democracy had survived".

Michael McFaul & Kathyrn Stoner-Weiss, "Mission to Moscow: Why Authoritarian Stability is a myth." Foreign Affairs. January-February 2008, in

Allow me be the first to admit that I was erroneously filled with foreboding when Professor McFaul was first mentioned as being appointed to head the National Security Council's Russian 'desk'. As the Senior staffer dealing with Russia on the American National Security Council, McFaul I thought was going to preside over a continuation of the Bush regime's anti-Russian / anti-Putin policies. And as we see from Dmitri Trenin's article, this has proven to be not the case. Which merely means that one cannot necessarily take entirely seriously the writings of academics on foreign affairs, prior to their term of office & time in power. The example of Henry Kissinger being of course the most notable of all: a skeptic of unbridled American hegemony vis-`a-vis Western Europe, he of course became notoriously thin-skinned and arrogant vis-`a-vis those same Western Europeans when he came to power, especially in the years spanning 1971-1976. Many other examples spring to mind of course. The upshot is that in the irony of history, the American President, least interested in both Europe and Russia has put forth possibly most rational and constructive Russian policy since the days of Bush the Elder. As Trenin cogently argues, while not necessarily muzzling American concerns about Russian human rights problems, McFaul has decided to work around such pitfalls and come to agreement with Moskva on issues of mutual benefit. Such as Afghanistan, Persia and so it appears so far Libya. While one cannot gainsay the fact that the current rulers in the Kremlin, for reasons of primat der Innenpolitik may engage in policies which might overturn the entire 'reset', at the moment, the policy appears to be one that in comparison with the state of the relationship circa 2007-2008, is almost idyllic. Leading this observer to echo, Mme. Mere (Mme. Bonaparte): 'let us just hope that it lasts'.


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