The following is a letter written by Obama foriegn policy advisorProf. Michael McFaul in response to Robert Dreyfuss’s blog entitled: The Rise and McFaul of Obama’s Russia Policy

July 4, 2008

Dear Mr. Dreyfuss,

I thank Mr. Dreyfuss for his interest in my work for the Obama campaign and my views on Russia. A little more investigative work — an email or phone call to me or even consultation of some of my writings, all posted at–mighthave helped him to avoid printing some statements that are inaccurateand misleading.

First, Mr. Dreyfuss reports that I am back at Stanford “after a stint in Washington, during which he provided advice to President Bush aboutRussia policy.” This sentence is simply untrue. Between 2004 and 2006, I lived in Washington teaching at Stanford-in-Washington, and working for both the Hoover Institution and the Carnegie Endowment forInternational Peace. During that period, I never once met with oradvised President Bush. Anyone who has read my writings on Bush’sforeign policy will know that I am not on the dinner list for this White House.

Second, Mr. Dreyfuss implies that I support disengagement with Russia,citing Dmitry Simes as his only source to interpret my thinking (and the irony of a Nation reporter quoting a long-time Republican, and no one else, to comment on the views of a life-long Democrat was not missed by me). This is also untrue. To be sure, I have written numbers of articles lamenting democratic erosion in Russia. But I also have penned as many pieces arguing for why engagement — not containment or isolation–is the only strategy for addressing this issue or many other issues in US-Russian relations more generally. As I argued in written testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Relations on May 17, 2007, “it is obvious that President Putin is building a more autocratic regime, an internal process that in turn has strained Russia’s relations with the West. The appropriate policy response to these new developments is not a return to containment or isolation of Russia. Rather, a more substantial agenda between the Russian and American governments would create more permissive conditions for democratic renewal inside Russia.”

Even a skimming of the titles of some of my articles, including”Reengaging Russia: A New Agenda” or “Realistic Engagement: A NewApproach to American-Russian Relations,” could have given Mr. Dreyfuss a more accurate assessment of my views than the quip from Mr. Simes. With my coauthors in articles such as “The Right Way to Engage Iran,” or “A Win-Win Strategy for Dealing with Iran,” it’s a strategy I also have advocated for dealing with Iran. (All of these articles can bedownloaded at

Third and much more importantly, Mr. Dreyfuss implies that anassociation with a “hardliner” like me means that Senator Barack Obamaalso favors disengagement with Russia. This is also untrue. Even themost casual observer of the presidential campaign knows that SenatorObama is a fervent believer in engagement and diplomacy even with ourenemies let alone with countries like Russia. Senator Obama has voiced his concern about internal political developments inside Russia, but also affirmed that “The United States will need to work with President Medvedev on a range of issues of common concern, such as preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists, addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, reducing our nuclear arsenals and securing stable supplies of oil and gas from Russia.” It is Senator McCain who wants to kick Russia out of the G-8, not Senator Obama.

Mr. Dreyfuss somehow believes that because I have criticized Putin’sassaults on democratic practices, I must also reject engagement withRussia. Think how silly this logic sounds when applied to the UnitedStates. Must French critics of George W. Bush also advocatedisengagement with the United States? Must critics of Bush here athome also therefore disengage from any interaction with the USgovernment?

Finally, I am proud of my association with the leaders of the Democratic Russia as they struggled to destroy Soviet communism in the later 1980s and early 1990s. Should I have been rooting for other side? My Russian friends have not succeeded yet in creating a democracy to replace Soviet dictatorship, but the end of communism did create the necessary conditions for the extraordinary economic growth that most Russians now enjoy.

The more general point of Mr. Dreyfuss’s article is an important one for Democrats to debate. Dreyfuss believes that the US should favorstability and remain indifferent to those in other countries fightingfor democracy and human rights. I disagree today, just as I alsodisagreed when others made the same argument about privileging stability over our values when embracing Pinochet in Chile, the Shah in Iran, the apartheid regime in South Africa, or Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s. In dealing with countries like Russia, Democrats should seek to engage both the state but also societal leaders and organizations advocating democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Championing values of freedom, justice, and equality is an old Democratic tradition that now needs to be recaptured and pursued more pragmatically, humbly, and strategically, and not abandoned in kneejerk reaction to eight years of failed Bush policies.


Professor Michael McFaul
Department of Political Science
Stanford University


Michael McFaul takes issue with my blog posting, in The DreyfussReport, concerning the advice he provides to Senator Barack Obama.He suggests that my posting might have been written differently had Idone “a little more investigative work.” As an investigative reporterwith almost two decades’ experience, I appreciate the value of digging, and I admit that had I done a thorough investigation of McFaul’s views and influence, I might indeed have written a different piece.

I will take him at his word now that he “never met with or advisedPresident Bush.”

It is true that McFaul wants to “engage” Russia, but it is also truethat one person’s engagement is another person’s confrontation. McFaul wrote in the Los Angeles Times that , “Putin and his government increasingly portray the United States as Russia’s No. 1 enemy.” But McFaul underplays the role of badly misguided US policies since the end of the Cold War in provoking Russian hostility to the United States. They include the needless expansion of NATO to Russia’s western and southern borders, the creation of a string of American military bases on Russia’s southern flank in the Middle East and Central Asia, the proposed installation of a provocative missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, the US invasion of Iraq (and the cancellation of Russian-Iraqi oil deals), the American threat to Iran, and America’s confusing and misguided efforts to promote free-enterprise, privatization, and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet states.

Perhaps McFaul can convince Obama that it is possible to continue withthese policies and at the same time, win Russia’s support on criticalnational security items such as Iran, counter-terrorism, and nonproliferation.

I believe there must be a better way of engaging Russia and, thereby,improving US-Russian relations.

-Robert Dreyfuss