The Jackson Foundation and the World Affairs Council featured former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and Stanford University political scientist Michael McFaul at a captivating discussion in Seattle. A leading expert on Russia, American foreign policy, and democratic development around the world, McFaul just published From Cold War to Hot Peace. This latest book – a historical analysis and memoir of his tenure as ambassador in Moscow during the Obama administration – describes McFaul’s development of the United States’ “reset” policy that fostered a new level of collaboration between the countries and explores the subsequent challenges that resulted from Putin’s return. Board President John Hempelmann provided the welcome for the event; board members and staff attended.
Ambassador McFaul traced his initial interest in Russia to his time as a high school student when he debated the Jackson-Vanik amendment with his partner, Steve Daines, now a senator from Montana. He later lived in Russia and concluded that, “If we could just get to know these people, it would help relations tremendously.” That belief contributed to his eventual development of the reset policy.
After some initial success with the reset, Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency and took a much more difficult stance with the U.S. Unfortunately, Russia’s relationship with the West became more acrimonious. McFaul noted, “You should never have a conflict with another country due to misinformation – engagement helps prevent that.” The Obama administration tried to establish a relationship with Putin but these attempts faltered amidst worsening relations.
On the 2016 U.S. elections, McFaul said, “It was very rational for Putin to want Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton and Putin clearly intervened. I would never have expected him to go to those lengths.” “Putin believes we were out to get him. In part, he’s right because an open society with free people by its nature is a threat to the way he governs.”
In order to rescue the U.S. – Russia relationship, McFaul suggested, “We need some containment, some engagement, and some isolation.” He emphasized that in terms of engagement, we need to get back into arms control. Regarding sanctions, he explained that he supports sanctions against individuals and companies that were involved in the annexation of Crimea, but he does not agree with wholesale economic sanctions. “The private sector should be put in a different place. Independent economic activity should be encouraged.” As a further important step, he explained, “We need to enhance the connectivity between our societies. Closing consulates is a big mistake because we need the architecture for more cooperation between our societies.”
Addressing the challenges facing the U.S. in the next few years, McFaul offered, “I’m nervous about Poland, Hungary, and Europe. This is not the Cold War, but some elements are the same. Putin defines conservatism as nationalism and views this as a fight of anti-globalism against the decadent, liberal West. He is exporting that fight now trying to propagate these ideas around the world.”
Reflecting on Putin’s grip on Russia, McFaul concluded, “While Putin is president, he will hold onto power; it’s a sophisticated autocracy. But the period after him will be interesting – there will be a power struggle.”
We are proud to have partnered with the World Affairs Council to host this key expert on Russia here in Seattle.
For Further information about Ambassador McFaul’s views, please see this Washington Post article: The Smear That Killed the ‘Reset’