In November of 2013, Russian media reported that U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul would soon resign; McFaul emphatically denied he was going anywhere. Yet today, he announced his resignation. Izvestia and Gazeta.ru reported the news back in November. Igor Morozov, first deputy of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs, commented:
During his tenure as ambassador he has achieved nothing, and the relationship between the countries has become much more complex: the Magnitsky List, the Dima Yakovlev Law, Georgia, North Korea, Iran, Syria. There have been many fundamental divergences of opinion. His resignation is an objective judgment by the American side; Russia requires a professional diplomat.
The resignation announcement by McFaul, posted in Russian and English on his blog, came as quite a shock given that McFaul had responded to the Russian reports in November with a tweet firmly proclaiming: “I’m staying put”; he told Russian news outlets the same.
McFaul cannot leave office a moment too soon. (I covered his wrongheaded advice to Obama when he was in the White House, and called for him to be rejected by the U.S. Senate when nominated to be ambassador. I also reported on his epic policy failures once given the appointment.)
McFaul is the chief architect of Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, a policy that diagnosed Vladimir Putin not as a dangerous foe of the U.S. but as a misunderstood statesman who had been alienated by Republican policies inspired by Ronald Reagan. In practice, “reset” was McFaul’s euphemism for appeasement. The results of this policy were completely predictable: sensing weakness, Putin attacked.
Today, Russia is increasing its military expenditures more than any country in the world as a percentage of its spending, and is expanding its nuclear arsenal while blatantly violating its treaty commitments. It is sowing the seeds of anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East in the hopes of causing fossil fuel prices to skyrocket. It is doing all it can to recreate the Soviet empire, particularly by seeking to destabilize and overpower Ukraine and Georgia.
This is the legacy of Michael McFaul: as he leaves office, America, its values, and allies are weaker as they relate to Russia, whereas Putin and his anti-American allies are stronger.
I had a telling exchange with McFaul on Twitter not long ago. McFaul tweeted: “More Americans should know about history of Leningrad blockade.” I asked McFaul whether he also sought to teach Russians about American heroics during World War II, since they are at least as ignorant on the topic as Americans are about the blockade.
McFaul’s response: “Yes, whenever I get the chance, especially Lend-Lease, which is not well known here.”
McFaul’s response indicated that he was perpetuating stereotypes about Americans, namely that they didn’t perish on the battlefield like Russians, but only contributed money and equipment. I asked him when he last discussed American casualties to an audience of Russians; he did not respond.
Soon after McFaul’s comments about Leningrad, the last remaining significant independent TV broadcaster in Russia — called “Rain” (“Dozhd” in Russian) — conducted a poll asking readers whether Russia should have surrendered Leningrad the way the French surrendered Paris, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives. The Kremlin pounced, using the poll as an excuse to shut down the station as it has shut down every other significant critical voice across the country.
Dozhd only reached a small segment of the Russian population, but even that was much too much freedom of information for the Kremlin, particularly with the Sochi Olympics right around the corner. As one Russian reporter put it: “You may have a storm, a twister, and even a 9-Richter-scale earthquake; still, we have to write that all skies are clear over Sochi.”
This is the legacy of McFaul in Russia. Instead of defending American values, McFaul minimized them. With a Ronald Reagan-style policy in place, perhaps Dozhd survives, perhaps Alexei Navalny does not get arrested and precluded from further participation in Russian elections.
The Russian ruble just hit a historical new low against the euro, and Russia’s manufacturing index dropped to a level it has hit only twice since the USSR collapsed, during the 1999 and 2009 economic crises. Russia has critical demographic issues. It is a weak country, in no position to resist a concerted demand from the U.S. to respect human rights and American values. But Obama and McFaul make no such demands, leaving Putin to be the proud KGB spy he is, building up Russian military power to the point where the U.S. once again faces a recalcitrant, nuclear monster.
It is now time for Republicans to demand an ambassador to Russia who understands that the country is ruled, as the House speaker recently proclaimed, by a “thug” who is sponsoring an American traitor and doing all he can to bring back the Cold War — with the aim of winning it this time.