McFaul’s Influence

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them. Can’t find a link for this. Question was presumably something about what influence McFaul had as US Ambassador to Russia.

Having been a diplomat, all I can say is that diplomats should be seen and not heard. It rarely works out well, for either side, when an individual diplomat becomes a personality rather than a quiet go-between passing information from one capital to the other. The ideal diplomat explains each to the other quietly and discreetly: diplomatically indeed.

That having been said, I don’t think that the real problem is with McFaul. Consider the famous “reset”. It was announced to the world with the reset button gift: a cute symbol, but nothing wrong with that. But the Russian word used was not the correct one and, even worse, it was written in Latin characters. Surely someone in the State Department knows what the correct Russian word for “reset” is and, even if no one does, Microsoft certainly knows. The Russians have their own alphabet – does no one in the State Department know that? Of course there are people in there who know these things. So why weren’t they asked?

A frivolity. A stunt. Not serious. Patronising. Amateur night.

What is the Obama Administration’s policy on Russia? Has there been any follow up to this bizarre beginning? Some say the rhetoric has been turned down. But has it? Clinton condemned the Duma elections almost before the results were out. As to substance, European missile defence is still a neuralgic issue for Moscow as if nothing had changed since 2008. Yes there is a nuclear weapons agreement in which each side retains a preposterous number. And Russia is finally in the WTO after a mere two decades of waiting. Not trivial, but are they really a “reset”?

Is there an actual, real, worked-out, consistent, pursued policy that is properly explained and defended? Or is it just evanescent rhetoric, gestures and the Europeans bullying Tbilisi out of its (strangely-acquired) WTO veto? The NATO Secretary General still says on one day that Georgia should and will be in NATO eventually and on another tries to importune a transit supply base in Russia. And we still await the repeal of the outrageously out-of-date Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

McFaul can hardly be blamed for not knowing whether the program is cooperation with Russia in a reasonable and mutually beneficial way or to attempt to denigrate and weaken Putin.