Michael McFaul: From Cold War To Hot Peace


If you follow the Trump reality show, you might remember that at the recent love-in in Helsinki Vladimir Putin suggested that he could be willing to extradite the Russians indicted (unjustly) for interfering in the US election if Trump sent some American bad guys to Russia to answer for their plotting against Russia.  Top of the list was Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia under Obama.

I leave it to others who know what they’re talking about (Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, George Shultz) to sing the praises of the book’s analysis of US-Russia history and relations.  What interested me was McFaul’s own story – he’s an American idealist of a kind that seems sweetly old-fashioned these days – and the picture of Putin he paints. McFaul has been interested in Russia since his student days and worked on the ground with local change activists in the Gorbachev years when it seemed possible that Russia might come in from the cold. And there’s the root of Vlad’s obsession with him. You can understand why Vlad might be suspicious of anyone who worked for the “American democracy-promoting organization, the National Democratic Institute – supported by US government funds, but officially nonpartisan and non-governmental”.  Even McFaul sees the problem – “but history was in the making and I no longer wanted to watch. I wanted to help. NDI gave me that chance.” (13)   His belief in American democracy is evangelical:

All of these disturbing challenges [i.e Trump] to American democracy help Putin make his case that the United States is not exceptional, that American democracy is no different from Russia’s political system, and that we have no moral authority to preach to other countries about their behaviour. (447)

 Putin himself emerges as the essential reason for the breakdown of the US-Russia relationship. In 2010 with Medvedev as President, cooperation between the two countries on arms control, trade and investment had never been higher. “Russia was popular in America, and America was popular in Russia.”  Two years later, on the first day of McFaul’s ambassadorship, under Putin, he was described on the state-run media as

A professional revolutionary whose assignment was to finance and organize Russia’s political opposition as it plotted to overthrow the Russian government (ix)

It’s a fascinating clash between an American idealist (perhaps a rather naïve one) and a man who seems motivated by visceral anger at the US bestriding the world. It’s interesting that the American idealist can make you see just what it is about the US that gets Vlad’s goat.

6 thoughts on “Michael McFaul: From Cold War To Hot Peace

  1. It’s pretty hard to avoid the Trump reality show.
    McFaul is right, “American democracy is no different from Russia’s political system, and… they… have no moral authority to preach to other countries”. They have an elitist system run by a bunch crooks, as do most other countries today. The level of corruption is the main variant.
    One irritating thing about Trudeau is, he comes off with this “holier than thou” approach and Canada has an abysmal reputation for our treatment of our own indigenous people. Even today, most reservations, where our indigenous are force to live or lose their status privilege, don’t have potable water to drink. Trudeau also has this annoying habit for apologizing for things done by our great-grandfathers and doesn’t lift a finger to change the situation that contribute to it.
    There now – I feel much better.

    1. Glad it makes you feel beter!
      Our indigenous people get a raw deal too. Behind the scenes, when they’re given a chance to do things their own way, things are happening, much better than when politicians and bureaucrats try to run things. We tend to see Canada as doing much better than Aus, so your perspective is interesting.

      1. There’s a lot of talk and very little constructive action. Their governance is best left to them as you say. Meanwhile, the guy with the “nice hair” continues to make the most dramatic apologies on behalf of our forefathers.

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