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Edward Lozansky: Ambassador McFaul
The news about Michael McFaul being selected by Obama as a new U.S. ambassador in Moscow got unprecedented attention in the U.S. and Russian media. An ambassador's nomination rarely gets so much coverage, and I think this is not only due to the pretty rare choice of a scholar rather than a career diplomat for such a job. It is rather an indication that U.S.-Russian relations are once again becoming a very important factor on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Gone are the days when Russia was hardly on Washington's radar. Bill Clinton's and George Bush's obnoxious views that, as opposed to the Soviet Union, Russia does not matter, have been replaced with Obama's understanding that it does, and according to many observers it was McFaul who was instrumental in influencing a more pragmatic approach toward Russia, now known as the 'reset.'
No doubt that McFaul was enthusiastic about George Bush's messianic doctrine that American interests are better served by democracy promotion around the world, Russia included. This is why his office in the White House was widely open to the so-called radical democratic opposition leaders during their frequent visits to Washington. Most likely, in the course of his Moscow ambassadorship these people will be wined and dined at the Spaso House as well.
However, at the same time McFaul has demonstrated an outstanding ability to develop a pragmatic strategy that allows America to get what it needs from Russia without 'throwing under the bus,' at least verbally, all those in Moscow, Tbilisi, and other places who strongly dislike the current Kremlin rulers.
The big question, of course, is whether McFaul will keep his job if Obama loses the 2012 elections. I think he will, since he won't have any difficulty proving to either the democrats or the republicans that for him, America's interests place first, second and third, while other countries' interests can wait in line a bit longer. I had the privilege of debating with him in several talk shows, and at least this was my impression. The old fashioned American way of 'give and take' is certainly not one of his favorites.
So what does all this mean for Russia? Firstly, it has to be pleased that it gets an American ambassador who knows Russia very well and does not need a lot of introductory courses in Russian language, history, culture or foreign policy. Secondly, Moscow should not fret about McFaul's close ties with the opposition, and instead use his pragmatic way of thinking and easy access to Obama to feed him a very specific cooperation agenda that does have 'give and take' elements and is absolutely and unquestionably mutually beneficial to both countries.
This is easier said than done, so here is a short list of helping hints, just to warm up: a U.S.-Russia alliance for nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy; a joint tactical and strategic missile defense; a joint war on terror, drug production and trafficking; joint development of the Arctic, Siberia and the Russian Far East; building a strategic partnership with China and India; new guidelines for cooperation in economy and finance; cooperation in space exploration, science, health, education and culture; cooperation in controlling climate change, visa-free travel, promoting an exchange of ideas.
This list, of course, can and should be expanded, but even in this short form it gives the bureaucrats in both countries something to do instead of just waiting until 5.00 PM to go home.
Finally, McFaul should make sure that these nasty WikiLeaks are safely turned off, since rumor has it that they were the main reason why his predecessor John Beyrle lost this job.