Michael A. McFaul’s memoir, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia, seeks to offer an answer on what went wrong in U.S.-Russian relations.
Michael A. McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), 506 pp, $ 30.00.
FOREIGN POLICY REALISM has always straddled the worlds of diagnosis and prescription, offering both a means for understanding how states behave in an anarchical international system and an approach to formulating policy rooted in unsentimental calculations of power relations and national interest. In the case of Russia, a number of realists cautioned that post-Soviet Moscow would react defensively to NATO expansion and to America’s insistence that it has both the right and the obligation to spread democracy in Russia and beyond. In retrospect, their predictions that Russia would draw closer to China and push back against U.S. interventionist policies with increasing strength as it recovered from its post-Soviet collapse appear accurate. As George F. Kennan observed about NATO expansion: “There is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong.’’ In Kennan’s view,
The ways by which peoples advance toward dignity and enlightenment in government are things that constitute the deepest and most intimate processes of national life. There is nothing less understandable to foreigners, nothing in which foreign interference can do less good.
While realists may have done a good job of anticipating Russian behavior, they have been far less successful in predicting and shaping America’s own. Even nonrealists would acknowledge that it does not serve U.S. interests to prompt Moscow and Beijing to overcome their longstanding mutual suspicions and cooperate against Washington, yet that is what American policies have effectively done. Moreover, the extraordinary animosity plaguing the current relationship between the United States and Russia cannot be explained simply by pointing to divergences in their respective national interests or values. Several other prominent American relationships also feature significant conflicts of national interests and values gaps, including those with China and Saudi Arabia. But the U.S.-Russian relationship is teetering on the edge of outright conflict. What went wrong?