Who Was Right on Russia?
Two op-ed columns, one from last week by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and one from six years ago by CNN/Newsweek pundit Fareed Zakaria, highlight the mind-boggling failure of left-wing policy on Russia during the Obama administration, and indicate that our current president has led us down a dead-end street of endless disaster and disgrace.
On April 26, 2008, just as that year’s epic presidential campaign shifted into high gear, Newsweek’s Zakaria published a vicious, scathing personal attack on John McCain. Zakaria accused McCain of being mentally ill for advocating the ouster of Russia from the G-8 in response to Vladimir Putin’s renewed cold war against the West. Last week, as Russia was ousted from the G-8, Zakaria became perhaps the most humiliated columnist in American political history.
In that 2008 column, Zakaria called McCain “schizophrenic” and “radical” and said that listening to his “neoconservative posturing” about Russia filled Zakaria with “sadness.” Zakaria expressed support for what he termed a “decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating [Russia] into the global order” and asked plaintively: “What would be the gain from so alienating” the “great power” known as Russia?
Zakaria wasn’t alone; even some in the Bush administration were with him. McClatchy quoted an anonymous “senior U.S. official who deals with Russia policy” as stating: “It’s not even a theoretical discussion. It's an impossible discussion. It's just a dumb thing.” McClatchy explained that America’s G-8 partners “would never agree to toss Russia, given their close economic ties to their neighbor.”
The Bush administration, of course, knew from dumb. You remember George Bush, the fellow who “looked into Putin’s eyes” and “glimpsed his soul” and pronounced him a trustworthy partner.
For further emphasis, McClatchy quoted Stephen Larrabee, an “expert” on Europe and Russia at the RAND think-tank: "In Europe, there's very little support for a policy like that. It's too late in the game to try and oust Russia."
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos piled on, stating: “We need [Russia] to help secure nuclear weapons. We need them to help contain Iran. To kick them out is going to make it harder, isn't it? Every other G-8 nation is against it.”
Oops! Who had that big fat slice of humble pie? Don’t hold your breath, however, waiting for Zakaria to apologize.
Just a few months after McCain called for Russia’s ouster from the G-8, in part as a way of countering Russia’s increasing military pressure on the nations of the former USSR, Putin rolled his tanks into Georgia and annexed two big chunks of its territory, Ossetia and Abkhazia. McCain’s vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, warned that if Barack Obama were elected and his policy of appeasement towards Russia enacted, we could soon see Russian tanks in Ukraine as well.
And this month, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
Had McCain been heeded by the Bush administration in early 2008, the Russian invasion of Georgia might never have happened. If Russia had received a strong, united rebuke from the G-8, prompted by American leadership, it might well have reconsidered its aggression. Had McCain/Palin been elected rather than Obama, Putin might never even have dreamed about marching troops into Ukraine.
Now, the only question we are left with is this: which nation of the former USSR will Putin attack next?
As for Zakaria’s bizarre characterization of Russia as a “great power,” just try to read Telegraph financial columnist Abrose Evans-Pritchard’s biting analysis of the impending collapse of Putin's economy following the Ukraine attack and still believe Zakaria could be right. Indeed, even Obama himself has now openly rejected this fanciful notion.
Evans-Pritchard reveals that Russia has experienced a horrifying $70-billion wave of capital flight in just the first quarter of 2014. He quotes Bartosz Pawlowski of BNP Paribas: “It is shocking. Markets have been extremely complacent, fooling themselves that Russia is invulnerable because it has almost half a trillion in foreign reserves. But reserves can become almost irrelevant in this sort of crisis.”
In his equally confounding diatribe for the New York Times, McFaul wrote: “As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, ‘What about Iraq?’ Some current practices of American democracy also do not inspire observers abroad.”
Only one question could then be asked of McFaul: why didn’t you resign? Didn’t you understand that it was your job to defend your country, and that if you found you couldn’t do that, then you needed to make way for someone more qualified?
McFaul followed up with a second op-ed, this one in TIME magazine. It’s genuinely disturbing to read. In it, he urges readers to believe that Americans show weakness and undermine their security if they dare to question or challenge Obama’s leadership on Russia. One has to ask whether this man is fighting for American values or against them.
Though eager to defend Obama by any means possible and to throw mud at Republicans over Iraq and other unspecified acts of what he apparently sees as barbarism on their part (notwithstanding McFaul's longtime association with the conservative Hoover Foundation), McFaul amazingly did not spend one single word looking at the abysmally failed “reset” policy of which he was the architect. Under this policy, McFaul urged Americans to reconsider Russia, to think of it as a respectable country that could be an American partner if only Americans would stop provoking it.
The “reset” policy that Barack Obama hired McFaul to implement was the exact opposite of the policy advocated by John McCain, Obama’s rival in the 2008 presidential election. Mitt Romney also warned Americans that Obama’s policy of appeasement would lead to disaster where Russia was concerned. Now we clearly see that the Republicans were right, and the Democrats were wrong.
In his Times piece, McFaul simply ignores all these basic facts and jumps on the McCain/Palin/Romney bandwagon as if he’d been singing their tune the whole time. It’s truly breathtaking.
McFaul writes: “We did not seek this confrontation. This new era crept up on us, because we did not fully win the Cold War.”
Crept up on us, indeed! And it did so because those we trusted to man the watchtowers, like Obama and McFaul, were asleep at their posts, after telling us to ignore McCain and Romney!
McFaul describes on the part of Russians “a yearning for the old order and a resentment of the terms of the Cold War’s end.” He states that “proponents of this perspective were not always in the majority. And the coming to power of an advocate of this ideology – Mr. Putin – was not inevitable.”
Not inevitable, indeed! But it triumphed because instead of following a consistent policy of confrontation, as Ronald Reagan would have done and as McCain and Romney advocated, McFaul and Obama chose the opposite course, allowing Putin the time and space he needed to consolidate his malignant neo-Soviet regime.
In one of the most stunningly dishonest statements I’ve ever heard from an American diplomat, McFaul writes: “When [Putin] selected the liberal, Western-leaning Dmitri A. Medvedev as his successor in 2008, Russia’s internal transformation picked up the pace.”
Really? Does McFaul really think the world has already forgotten the open admission of both Medvedev and Putin that the Medvedev interregnum was a sham, devised for the sole purpose of allowing Putin to maintain power while formally observing the Russian Constitution’s term limit provision? Does McFaul really expect Americans to overlook the fact that he and Obama conducted relations with Medvedev as if he were the real leader of Russia, and as such were suckered by Putin?
Now, however, when he has no other choice, McFaul admits that Russia is a neo-Soviet state: “And, as before, the Kremlin has both the intention and capacity to undermine governments and states, using instruments like the military, money, media, the secret police and energy.”
But for the past six years, that hasn’t been what McFaul and Obama have been telling Americans. Instead, they’ve been telling us that we could afford to drop our guard and offer Putin a handshake of partnership. What they told us was absolutely and terrifying wrong.
McFaul now calls for Russia to be isolated and confronted by NATO military power. He points out correctly that neo-Soviet Russia differs from the USSR in that it lacks an ideology with worldwide appeal. Putin’s Slavic nationalism is a big hit only in Russia; it simply makes the rest of the world feel nauseous. He’s also correct in noticing that Russia’s economy and military are very weak – pale shadows when compared to NATO.
But where was this wisdom for the past six years? Although Russia is not the USSR, it is far stronger now that it was six years ago, and that means the challenge of grappling with Putin’s exploding aggression in post-Soviet space is that much more difficult.
No matter how McFaul tries to hide the fact, he led us to the disastrous place in which we now find ourselves. Anyone can make a mistake, but McFaul’s refusal to admit his (and Obama’s) is a clear signal that he can’t be any part of the conversation on Russia going forward.
Instead, it’s time for Americans to agree that McCain, Palin, and Romney had it right on Russia all along, and that the left’s scurrilous attacks on them were clear proof that they can’t be trusted to make successful policy where Russia is concerned.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussopobe.