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Nomination of New U.S. Ambassador to Russia Should Be Defeated

It’s the only way of sending a clear message to Obama that he must reverse course on Russia.

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June 15, 2011 - 12:00 am

In a recent op-ed for the Moscow Times discussing the nomination of Michael McFaul as the USA’s next ambassador to Russia, Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Foundation’s Moscow Center listed a trio of gifts that McFaul should bring with him to Moscow: memberships in the World Trade Organization and the  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act.

Conspicuously absent from Trenin’s essay was the mention of one single specific tangible thing that America might expect to get in return for this largess.

Interestingly, Trenin served most of his life in the Russian army, so thinking of how best to reward America isn’t exactly his forte. In fact, one might reasonably ask whether, if this is what the Russian army wants, it isn’t the very last thing McFaul should actually give Russia.

Trenin does mention some supposed gifts that Russia has already given McFaul’s mentor Barack Obama: increased U.S military transit through Russia towards Afghanistan, canceling a missile deal with Iran, not blocking sanctions against it, and not vetoing the use of force against Libya.

But Russia has already been richly rewarded for these actions. The USA canceled its planned missile shield in Eastern Europe and it refused to provide defensive weapons to Georgia. It turned its back on Russia’s nascent democracy movement and did nothing as Mikhail Khodorkovsky was railroaded back into Siberian prison (and thence to a secret location).

Since Trenin cannot name anything new America can expect to get, it’s clear he’s urging McFaul to make unilateral concessions. He apparently believes he will get them. He is relying on the absurd notion that so rewarded, the Russians will magically come up with better behavior on their own, rather than simply reaching for more.

And what is the real value to the USA of Russia’s prior “concessions”? Virtually none.

How can Trenin possibly see imposing pressure for democracy on tiny Libya as a win for the U.S. when the cost is shamelessly permitting dictatorship in vast Russia?

In what way has Iran become even remotely less dangerous to U.S. interests? Russia continues to pour nuclear technology into Iran and, if Iran gets a bomb, it will be because of Russia.

Afghanistan? Right after Osama bin Laden was assassinated Russia immediately invited the ruler of Pakistan to visit Moscow for the first time in three decades, thumbing its nose at American outrage over Pakistan’s obvious complicity in hiding the rogue terrorist.

I’ve already argued that McFaul is a terrible choice to lead America’s foreign policy towards Russia, so naturally, Obama is now giving him even more responsibility in this area, and the Russians are salivating at the prospect of what they may gain.

Obama is a dream come true for Putin — a U.S. president who is willing to look the other way as Putin drives the final nails into the coffin of Russian democracy and seizes power as “president for life.”

So now it is up to the Republican Party. At McFaul’s upcoming confirmation hearings, he must be challenged aggressively. Republicans should do all they can to block his appointment. It’s the only way of sending a clear message to Obama that he must reverse course on Russia. If they don’t do so, then they will share responsibility for allowing the rise of a neo-Soviet state in Russia, funded with oil windfalls and seething with contempt for American values.

The ghost of Ronald Reagan will haunt them the rest of their days.

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