The Fall Of McFaul

I keep forgetting to post about this article I found several weeks ago. It’s from February 2014 and I missed it back then—I was probably having grad school angst or something like that—but it’s still an interesting read. It concerns everyone’s favorite ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul. Back when McFaul was ambassador, I used to read about him a lot. Then I stopped because he had so many embarrassing gaffes that I started to despair after a while.

The announcement that the US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul, will resign after the Olympic Games in Sochi comes just over two years after he assumed the post. At the time, his appointment was greeted with enthusiasm from his many admirers in the Washington foreign-policy establishment. The prevailing view was captured in a fawning profile in the pages of Foreign Policy in which he was described as a ‘brilliant scholar’; as ‘a man of profound intellectual and personal integrity’; and ‘with his shock of blond hair, Hollywood handsome.’

I wish I could say that last sentence was an exaggeration… but it’s not. I read the very article the author references. I believe it’s right here and unfortunately may be behind a paywall.

The reaction to the appointment among the professionals over at Foggy Bottom was somewhat less ecstatic. Those familiar with McFaul’s work as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs noted with disdain that it was he who was responsible for the memorable ‘reset’ button flub which saw Secretary Clinton hand a ‘reset’ button to the Russian foreign minister that was instead labeled with the Russian word for ‘overcharge.’

It’s also important to note that the word they put on that fateful “reset button” can also be translated as “reload,” as in to reload a weapon. Back when that happened, I believed it to be an honest mistake. Now, I’m not so sure.

Worse was the perception among some career officers that McFaul out-maneuvered the sitting Ambassador to gain the post in Russia. As 2012 approached, the assumption at State was that the widely respected John Beyrle would be reappointed as Washington’s man in Moscow. By all accounts Beyrle had excellent relations with his counterparts in the Russian government and was widely admired by the Embassy staff. The speculation is that McFaul, as the 2012 elections approached, was uncertain of Obama’s reelection chances and persuaded the President to unceremoniously drop the experienced and long-serving Foreign Service officer Beyrle and appoint him in Beyrle’s stead.

If this is true, it’s a crying shame. Beyrle was an excellent ambassador. The Russians loved him, probably in part due to his open admiration of Russian language and culture, in addition to his excellent Russian language skills. They may not have always liked what the US government did, but they respected Beyrle for putting so much effort into mastering the Russian language.

There’s more to the article, but I’m not going to quote it here because it’s pretty much more of the same thing. It’s not long and I’d highly suggest reading the rest.

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2 thoughts on “The Fall Of McFaul

  1. A sidenote:
    the Russian for reload, in the sense reload a gun, is перезарядка, not перегрузка which was written on that button they handed to Lavrov.
    I would rather translate the word перегрузка as overload, like in electrical power overload.

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