Sunday, July 1, 2018

Former Ambassador McFaul Talks U.S.-Russia Relations and ‘Hot Peace’

Aileen Torres-Bennett,; see also

McFaul image (not from article) from

Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama from 2012 to 2014, remains a busy man after leaving the circus of professional political life.

I had been chasing him for an interview for several weeks before he finally had enough time to devote to talking. He was able to fit me in for a phone call during a car ride to the airport in mid-May. McFaul is on tour, heavily promoting his new book, “From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.” ...

The Diplomat: What do you see as your greatest achievement as U.S. ambassador to Russia? ...

McFaul: ... Greatest achievement: demonstrating openness and the ability to engage directly with Russian society. I don’t think many other ambassadors did as much in that domain as I did. I had the advantage of a Twitter account. That was brand new. I also spoke Russian. I didn’t need a translator. I had already lived in Russia for several years over my time as an academic. I knew thousands of Russians already. I wasn’t brand new to Russia. This was an important part of public diplomacy. [JB emphasis]

There were little things. We reduced down to 30 the number of days it took to get a visa. I believed the more Russians travel to the U.S., the better. It’s crept up to 250, and I heard even 300, days to get a visa.

The Diplomat: What was your greatest disappointment as ambassador?

McFaul: I guess the greatest disappointment was how the Kremlin and their media sources treated me, as if I was some usurper of the regime, that I was sent by Obama to overthrow him [Putin]. That was a propaganda effort that started even before my first day at the embassy. Channel One did a big hit piece on me. I didn’t expect that because I was Mr. Reset. I was about changing relations. I arrived at a time when Putin was insecure about his power. He came after me that way. It was personal. I regret that was an image of me that so many Russians still have. It’s false. It’s disinformation, but it stuck because Putin controls the media. It’s hard to counter that effort. ...

The Diplomat: What advice would you give the current U.S. ambassador to Russia?

McFaul: I did get a chance to speak to Ambassador [Jon] Huntsman. He called me graciously to seek my advice. I advised dual-track diplomacy. Engage with the government if you can. Continue to seek avenues to cooperation. Remember you’re there to serve the U.S.’s interests, not to have a good relationship with Russia. That’s diplomacy. [The point of diplomacy] is not to improve relations. It’s to advance U.S. interests. People mistake it for having dinner parties.

I already see him [Huntsman] doing engagement directly with the Russians, not just government. That’s a very important part of diplomacy today. In an age of instant communications, the job of an ambassador is to do direct diplomacy. [The practice of acting] after receiving a cable from D.C. is diminishing. Public diplomacy must be a bigger part of the portfolio.

The Diplomat: Now for the lighter stuff. What was it like living in Spaso House, the U.S. residence in Moscow? Any memories you’d like to share?

McFaul: Spaso House was fantastic. I urge anyone to look up the virtual tour. It’s an early 20th-century mansion. Our entire house in Stanford could fit in the chandelier room. Incredible staff. We were treated like royalty. Part of the job of ambassador is to host fabulous parties — having [American jazz pianist] Herbie Hancock performing in your house, having the NBA over. We had 22,000 guests in our two years at Spaso House. We were told by the staff that we set a world record. It was a terrific thrill to live there, especially on July 4. It was a highlight to celebrate our culture, history and heritage. Those were great days. ...

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