The new U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, left Stanford to help advise and now implement the Obama Administration’s policy vis-a-vis Russia. His approach is designed to shake things up, and as the NYT reports today, he’s doing just that.
“Not only is my style going to be different, but the methods I’m going to use might also be different,” said Mr. McFaul, a Russian speaker who has lived here for long stretches. “I have a lot of things from my past that may be constraining, but one thing I know how to do, or I think I know how to do, is get up in front of 500 20-year-olds.”
Mr. McFaul’s open, passionate manner will serve American interests, said Sergei A. Markov, an old friend and co-author. Mr. Markov, now a Putin loyalist and a member of United Russia, the governing party, recalled his arguments with Mr. McFaul as some of the loudest of his life.
“Diplomats are cold and McFaul is warm; that is the difference,” he said. “A spirited person representing America is always good for America. America is a very spirited country.”
There are risks, too. Some in the opposition cringed at the footage from outside the embassy, saying it gave credence to the government’s arguments about United States interference. And Mr. McFaul’s job will require him to build ties with all parts of Russian society — including its leaders, some of whom genuinely believe that the United States is working to undermine Mr. Putin, said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and an old friend.
“He will be under tremendous pressure,” Mr. Trenin said. “He has extremely good assets that he could use to become perhaps the best American ambassador to this country — to the Russian empire or the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation. Or he can be a disaster. The difference in how you handle yourself can be very slight.”
Although Ross Douthat was aiming at candidate skills, his understanding of what is required for an effective leader in the U.S.political system is helpful in thinking about other arenas, as well. He suggests the skills of management, persuasion, and demagoguery. He describes each skill set as follows [my headings, Douthat’s prose after the ellipse]:
Manager: … [the] C.E.O. of his or her campaign, with a flair for fund-raising, an eye for talent, and a keen sense of when to micromanage and when to delegate. This is the arm-twisting, organization-building, endorsement-corralling side of presidential politics, and not surprisingly it tends to favor insiders and deal-makers and old Washington hands.
Persuader: …the more public, rhetorical, self-advertising side of politics….The great manager is unlikely to be a great persuader, capable of seducing undecided voters with his empathy, or inspiring them with what George H. W. Bush (who lacked it) called “the vision thing.”
Demagogue: …capable of demonizing his enemies and convincing his supporters that they stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord.