From the Stanford Kremlinologist who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, and has since been sanctioned by Vladimir Putin, comes a revelatory account of U.S.-Russia relations from 1989 to the present, told through his experience working for President Barack Obama and witnessing the tightening of Putin's grip firsthand.
From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia will have variously engaged audiences, which McFaul himself acknowledges ... Careful about providing evidence for his hard-earned opinions, the Stanford University professor is always clear and successfully assesses the level of complexity we lay-readers need to understand academic theories about revolutions and economics. It only dawned on me after a few hundred slow and steady pages that if the book were more compelling and had more headlong momentum, it would be less persuasive and convincing ... Despite Putin’s sharp authoritarian turns, McFaul was and remains ever hopeful for the country’s eventual democratic development ... His epilogue, 'Trump and Putin,' is rather too careful and hedging, as if his return to academic life has softened him. McFaul is really more bold when he’s out of his comfort zone.
This memoir tells a political story that is also personal: the story of a man who watches as his own lifelong efforts to promote cooperation and integration between America and Russia are undone by Putin himself ... McFaul combines both analytical and personal perspectives to offer a fascinating and timely account of the current crisis in the relationship between Russia and the United States ... Putin is clearly the villain in this story. McFaul concluded that the Russian president was 'paranoid,' a man of 'fixed and flawed views' who 'saw us as the enemy,' and that so long as he ruled Russia, 'strategic partnership was impossible.' He makes his case with energy and conviction. Yet his relentless focus on Putin’s individual role tends to obscure the broader evolution of attitudes toward the West within the Russian political establishment ... Placing responsibility for the rapid deterioration in United States-Russian relations squarely on the shoulders of the Russian president has its appeal. It holds out the promise that Kremlin policy toward the West might pivot once again when Putin finally retires or is pushed out. Maybe so, but the more pessimistic view is that Putin represents a now-entrenched revanchist nationalism that sees the liberal international order as a mere smokescreen for the advancement of Western political agendas.
For Michael McFaul, in his vigorously argued political memoir, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia, there is a 'new ideological struggle .?.?. between Russia and the West, not between communism and capitalism but between democracy and autocracy.' As a generalization, that is unconvincing ... McFaul is on surer ground when he describes the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States and a coalition of the gullible as a 'devastating blow' to U.S.-Russia relations ... McFaul’s list of real and perceived Russian grievances adds up to a great deal. He underplays their collective significance ... On occasion only the prudence and sober judgment of a few individuals saved the world from that catastrophe. This remains reason enough for prioritizing the U.S.-Russian relationship, for paying attention to perceptions on both sides as well as to their concrete behavior, and for not stumbling, blindly or fatalistically, into a second cold war — or worse.