A former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation offers a gimlet-eyed view of the new Cold War.
In 2014, when he announced that he was leaving his post as the Obama administration’s ambassador, McFaul (Political Science/Stanford Univ.; Advancing Democracy Abroad, 2009, etc.) writes that “a prominent pro-Kremlin nationalist told me he was glad to see me go.” The reason: McFaul, unlike many politically appointed diplomats, actually knew something about the country, so much so, as a Stanford Kremlinologist, that Putin was said to have feared him. The author returns the favor. As he makes clear, Putin is no friend of the U.S., and in the most recent iterations of the Cold War, especially the proxy struggle to support or undermine, respectively, an independent Ukraine, he has become ever more anti-American while at the same time progressively “weakening checks on his power.” In some sense, it did not help that Obama backed off from the old U.S. mission, nominal or not, of spreading democracy. Putin certainly had no problem with spreading autocracy, even as Obama “did not support the use of coercive power to pressure dictatorships into democratizing.” But McFaul’s post-mortem on the Obama-Putin relationship is of less immediate interest than his view of the current morass. As he notes, Donald Trump enjoys far greater popularity in polls in Russia than at home, and although Putin may not have directly made Trump president—“American voters did that”—Trump has proven to be a highly useful tool for the Russian autocrat’s ends. He has validated Putin’s claim that the Western media are slanted and untrustworthy, refused to impose congressionally mandated sanctions, and, in his obsession with the “deep state,” has played straight into Putin’s conspiracy theories. Even if, as McFaul writes, “the American backlash against Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election has begun,” it may come too little and too late.
Of interest to observers of the unfolding constitutional crisis as well as of Russia’s place in the international order.