Salzburg Diary: Cold warriors for McCain

Salzburg Diary: Cold warriors for McCain


What do Russians think about the U.S. electoral campaign? I spoke with two distinguished Russian scholars last night here at the Salzburg seminar I’m attending this week.

The first scholar told me that the hardliners and the security establishment are eager to see John McCain in power. He’s more or less a known quantity, and his recent statements about ejecting Russia from the G8 will make it easier for them to make the case that the United States seeks to humiliate and corner Russia. A McCain election would be seen as evidence that Americans want to continue George W. Bush’s policies, which are generally unpopular in Russia.

On the other hand, the scholar said, Republican presidents from Nixon to Ford to Reagan have a much better track record in making overtures to Russia, perhaps because they don’t fear being painted as weak.

Both scholars, who come from the liberal end of the political spectrum in Russia, seemed intrigued by Barack Obama as someone who could offer a “fresh start” in U.S.-Russia relations. They weren’t so comfortable, however, when I told them that Michael McFaul is Obama’s main Russia advisor. McFaul, a past FP contributor, is well known in Russian foreign-policy circles for his harsh criticism of Putin’s democratic credentials.

Clinton would be more predictable, given that her main Russia advisor is Stephen Sestanovich. His 2006 report for the Council on Foreign Relations was read closely in Russian political circles. But Richard Holbrooke, another Clinton advisor and a potential secretary of state, is seen as hostile to Russian interests for his role in the Balkans during the 1990s. When I told them that it’s not inconceviable that Holbrooke would get a top job even under Obama, they weren’t too psyched.

Blake Hounshell is Web Editor of He has been blogging this week from the Salzburg Global Seminar session on

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