When Barack Obama played wrong game with Putin

Author : Volodymyr Cherniak

Source :

Michael McFaul was leading consultant to US President Barack Obama on Russian issue. In his memoirs he admits: Americans wanted a change of power in Moscow
22:37, 28 January 2019

Obama Putin

The joint press conference of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit in mid-July was in full swing when journalists started talking about Russia's interference in the US elections in 2016: Will Putin reveal the intelligence officers accused by the US Department of Justice? No, the Russian president answered, but the investigators can easily interrogate the accused in Moscow. In this case, his people in response could interrogate some American citizens. “Great offer,” Trump said.

Soon they began to talk about the fact that Putin was primarily referring to Michael McFaul, who under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 was the main adviser on Russia in the White House, and then the ambassador in Moscow. Never before have American diplomats had to make excuses to foreign authorities for their work. The US Department of State said that Putin’s proposal was absurd, and since the senators were against it, Trump eventually refused to summon his counterpart to interrogate the Americans.

McFaul is a professor of political science, a friendly man who, having worked at the field of diplomacy has now returned to teaching at the elite Stanford University in California. An expert on Russia and a Twitter fan never hid his dislike of Putin, but Putin has enough haters. Why is the Russian president so stubbornly pursuing McFaul?

McFaul recently published his memoirs about the time of Obama, which contains the answer to this question. His book is one of the most unusual documents on recent history. After all, it is Putin’s opponent McFaul who explains in his book how big the US role was in the escalation between the two superpowers.

The former diplomat begins his narration from the times preceding the bloodshed in Ukraine, when the start of a new cold war seemed impossible to many observers. However, under the upper layer of balance, unrest was already raging, and McFaul quite openly talks about a mixture of ignorance and disregard for Washington’s attitude to the former rival. Whether it was the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, the expansion of NATO to the east from 1997 to 2004, or the withdrawal of the ABM treaty initiated by the Americans in 2002, Russia was constantly considered "weak and insignificant," the political scientist writes. When the Kremlin expressed its wishes, the position of the Americans was as follows: "Who cares about it at all?"

Russian politicians complained to McFaul, or in his presence they said that the United States was deceiving them, this is how a former diplomat describes events. He admits that they were absolutely right. So, Putin believed the then US President George W. Bush that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was possible to create a joint alliance to fight terrorism. But Bush, despite the wishes of the Kremlin, attacked Iraq - a long-time ally of Russia.

The Obama's government also deceived the Kremlin, for example, in the case of UN sanctions in 2010 against Iran. The Americans then created the impression that they were not planning any further penalties against Tehran - which was a lie. When Moscow agreed with this, Obama imposed additional sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was outraged and, as McFaul writes, had the right to do so.

And, of course, in a similar way, the Americans acted in the situation with the NATO air raids in Libya in 2011. Obama claimed that with the help of the bombing he wanted to prevent the genocide in the civil war in Libya, and not to overthrow the then dictator Gaddafi. In this regard, the Russians abstained in the UN vote from adopting a resolution on Libya, and after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, they felt as if they had been deceived. "Not without reason," admits McFaul.

The author of the memoirs understands Putin’s actions in the case of NSA agent Edward Snowden, whom Russia provided asylum and who, while in Moscow, told the world about the wiretapping methods actively used by Americans that became the most terrible PR catastrophe for the Obama government. "We would do the same if the Russian intelligence officer came to Washington," McFaul writes.

This does not prevent the former diplomat from blaming Putin for the new cold war. Fearing the loss of power, the "reactionary autocrat" chose a course of confrontation to enlist the support of the Russian public by imposing anti-Western hostility.

Western mistakes were only "tolerable hiccups" compared with Putin’s intentions. The fact that it is Obama’s leading expert on Russia that diminishes the importance of the Kremlin regime’s criticism indicates the extent to which the White House underestimated Putin with his destructive capabilities.

Be it a crisis in Ukraine or a war in Syria, the Obama government was confident that it could resolve these conflicts without taking into account the interests of the Kremlin. Americans were forced to admit that they built illusions.

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McFaul joined Obama even before the 2008 elections in order to "change the course of history." A fellow student, later the presidential adviser on national security issues lured him into the Obama team. McFaul describes the then presidential candidate as a "smart, sociable, fun" person.

A lawyer by education, Obama was not well versed in matters of Russia. According to McFaul, their first conversation "was more like a Stanford workshop." He discussed with the future president the Soviet history and theories of international relations, and also spoke in favor of a “reset” of relations with Russia. Obama could do this better than his predecessor, and McFaul became the main strategist of the reset policy.

At first everything went well. Shortly before Obama moved to the White House in 2009, Putin completed his second presidential term, and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, positioned himself with Barack Obama as a representative of a new generation. Both presidents took a great interest in smartphones, visited the Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, a suburb of Washington, they even used the word “F”, that is, “friend”. They signed a disarmament agreement called "Restart", acted together against North Korea, as well as in Afghanistan. Russia was finally able to join the World Trade Organization.

According to McFaul, Obama thus solved not only foreign policy problems, such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons or disarmament issues. Washington’s goal was a fundamental democratic reform of Russia; behind this goal was the conviction that democratic countries do not pose a threat to the United States.

Even in the first document on the reset policy, formulated by McFaul for Obama, it appeared that the US government should bypass the Kremlin in "speaking to the Russian people in order to develop our common values." Obama, according to McFaul, wanted to strengthen Russian civil society so that its representatives could "implement democratic reforms and ensure respect for human rights."

The point was, McFaul writes, “to create more favorable conditions for a democratic regime change.” McFaul compares Putin with Stalin and does not allow any doubt that for this it is necessary: the deprivation of the power of the former KGB agent, who remained even during Medvedev’s presidency as an influential figure in the background.

The realization of this step is impressive. McFaul specifically draws attention to the fact that few people in the Obama administration have gone as far as he does. Yet Obama’s policy toward Russia was dictated by McFaul’s position.

Americans trained liberal opposition activists or paid millions of dollars to civil organizations, which, according to McFaul himself, could not be politically neutral. During a meeting with the Russian opposition in Moscow, Vice President of Obama Joe Biden said that it would be better if Putin did not participate in the next presidential election.

When the ruling United Russia party largely took advantage of fraud in the 2011 elections - according to McFaul, probably on its usual scale - the Americans didn’t limit them to moderate criticism. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a strong protest, which started a lifelong feud with Putin. Those who at the White House endorsed Clinton’s position were McFaul.

As a student and young scientist, McFaul lived in Russia for several years and already then tossed between university and political activities. In the early 1990s, he participated in demonstrations in Moscow, organized seminars for the democratic movement and worked in non-governmental organizations which goal was to implement the principles of democracy in Russia, A former human rights defender from Chicago, McFaul later found a like-minded person in the face of President Obama.

When in 2012 Putin won the election and moved to the Kremlin again, he was convinced that the Obama government wanted to get rid of him. This was the last circumstance that put an end to the reset policy.

Curiously, McFaul finds Putin's point of view ridiculous. At the same time, Putin overestimated the scale of the intentions of the Americans, and not their main focus.

"How can they be so hostile to me?" McFaul was perplexed, referring to the cold attitude that he, as the new US ambassador, received in Moscow in 2012.

Soon McFaul was threatened with murder, unknown pierced the tires of cars belonging to his employees, and pursued his sons on the way to school. Russian guards in front of the US embassy molested his wife, television inflamed dissatisfaction with the new ambassador, members of a pro-Kremlin youth organization lurked for McFaul at the embassy walls. By 2014, he got sick of it, and he returned to California.

Today, McFaul is banned from entering Russia. This extremely unfriendly decision was made by Putin. The last US ambassador to receive such a ban was George F. Kennan. He represented the United States in Moscow, when the one who ruled in the Kremlin was Joseph Stalin - the personification of crimes against humanity.

Read original article at Der Spiegel

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