Masha Gessen is energetically promoting her new book, “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin“, which is apparently yet another daring and edgy exposé of the man who is featured – complete with face – on the cover. Presumably psychic, Gessen is fond of characterizing Putin’s facial expressions as, for example, “a thuggish smile” when she was not even present at the event described, as if Putin’s face changes colour like a mood ring so that you can tell when he is thinking brutal thoughts. Not to mention the difficulty associated with displaying any kind of smile when you don’t have a face. Surprisingly, fellow Russophobe Amy Knight – who is nearly Gessen’s equal as a disingenuous hack – gave it a somewhat rocky review in the Globe and Mail. Although the sisters of the coven agree that Mr. Putin is “corrupt and ruthless”, Knight discourages the”speculation” introduced by Gessen that the FSB was responsible for the bombings of apartments in Moscow, that Putin acted in concert with the terrorists who took hostages in Beslan and Moscow in order to “maximize bloodshed” and ordered the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, because Gessen “provides no new documentation”. Knight then goes on to speculate – without introducing any new documentation – that Putin is reportedly worth !!!Billions!!! and is the unacknowledged owner of the palatial Black Sea mansion supposedly built for him by his friends with secret funding. There is no substantiation for either, or Knight would have cited it.
Anyway, we’re not going to spend any more time on batty Masha Gessen or Amy Knight; I merely needed the title of Gessen’s book for the lead-in. If Vladimir Putin is without a face – and wouldn’t mind looking like Michael McFaul – Russia’s new Ambassador for the United States of America is a man of many faces, and could doubtless spare one.
For instance, there’s the Michael McFaul who, as co-author of “Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy Toward Russia After the Cold War“, seemed to explicitly acknowledge the United States had made a pledge in 1990 that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO…and the Michael McFaul who is an expert in NATO expansion and dismisses the notion of “spheres of influence” while declaring that a great power “does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries”. The same Michael McFaul who stresses that the United States has “consistently and adamantly defended Georgia’s territorial integrity while also providing critical political, economic, and defense-related support to the Georgian government,” knowing well that Georgia is maneuvering into a position whereby NATO will defend its actions militarily. There’s the Michael McFaul who is “open and friendly” and “so familiar with Russia” according to the Carnegie Center’s Masha Lipman…and the Michael McFaul who was a senior adviser to the National Democratic Institute, a Director of the National Endowment for Democracy – both NGO’s who assumed a prominent role in the “Colour Revolutions” which brought pro-western governments to power in Georgia and Ukraine, and which acted as sugar-daddies to GOLOS in the recent Duma elections in Russia – and a member of the steering committee of Human Rights Watch whose interests include regime change in non-democratic states. There’s the Michael McFaul who snickered at Boris Fyodorov as the finance minister resigned, when he predicted the “new course” would result in economic collapse and skyrocketing inflation rates, saying, “A year later, this nightmarish scenario has yet to unfold. Backing away from earlier threats, Chernomyrdin has refrained from reintroducing price controls. Meanwhile, privatization has marched furiously forward, transferring 100,000 enterprises into private hands by the end of 1994. A booming stock market suggests that not all of these privatizations are mere paper transfers. Perhaps most surprisingly, inflation rates remained in the single digits for most of the year. Admittedly, industrial production continues to decrease, gross domestic production is contracting, and serious enterprise restructuring has just begun. Nonetheless, the performance of the Russian economy in 1994 has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations”. And there’s the Michael McFaul who looked pretty foolish when Fyodorov’s Hammer fell 3 years later and the Russian economy imploded exactly as he predicted it would. Not, however, before inflation leaped from 5.73% in July to 84.47 in 6 months. There’s the Michael McFaul who “looks forward to engaging with Putin“, and the Michael McFaul who argued that Putin basically coasted through his previous presidency – that his autocratic tendencies, in fact, hindered things from being even better than they were, which would have happened anyway whether Putin governed or played the balalaika. High oil prices, you see. Elementary, my dear Watson.
Well, let’s take a closer look at that. How about we compare Russia to another autocratic power that has nothing going for it but lots of oil, what say? Can you think of one? I know!! How about Saudi Arabia? The USA – and by extension, Michael McFaul – loves Saudi Arabia, it’s a trusted and treasured ally, with a King and everything. Of course the government is autocratic: he’s a fucking King, weren’t you listening?
Here’s Saudi Arabia’s inflation rate between 2000 and now. Here’s Russia’s inflation rate between 2000 and now. One nation had Putin in charge, one nation had The King in charge. You probably noticed right away that one country had an inflation rate that trended steadily up from nearly nothing to about 5.5%. You’ll likewise notice that the other country’s inflation rate trended steadily down from a truly scary 28% to about 3.8%. Which is better for inflation: up or down? Come on, help me out here, I’m not an economics major. That’s right: down is better.
Now, let’s look at Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, as a function of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Here’s Russia’s. Here’s Saudi Arabia’s. Pretty close; Saudi Arabia is a little higher, about $3000.00 above Russia’s. Now, look where Saudi Arabia started from in 2000 – about $18,000.00. In 12 years The King of Oil And Pretty Much Nothing Else managed to raise his country’s PPP about $5000.00. In the same period, The Proud KGB Spy In Charge Of Oil And Pretty Much Nothing Else managed to raise his country’s PPP about $13,000.00.
Finally, let’s look at a mover that truly gets down where the poor and middle classes live – unemployment. The Saudi unemployment rate started at around 8.2% in 2000, and trended upward to 10.5% in 2010. Since the Saudi figures stop at 2010, we’ll do likewise for Russia; you can adjust the start/stop dates yourself. The Russian rate started at 12% in 2000, and descended to about 8.2% in 2010. The Saudi rate never went below 8.2%, and spiked at 12% in 2007. The Russian rate never regained the 12% it started at, and in 2009 had gone down to less than 6%.
Keep in mind that the metrics of comparison are forced upon us. You know, and I know, Russia is a very diverse economy. But the eggheads keep telling us that all Russia has is oil and gas. When you compare it to another country that has nothing but oil and gas, it does much better on social parameters than that country, but we’re supposed to believe that had nothing whatsoever to do with the first country’s leadership, even though every one of those metrics started in a worse position under the former leadership, and dramatically improved afterward. Uh huh.
Michael McFaul was thrust to the forefront of public attention recently when he had a bit of a verbal sparring match with an NTV crew, who followed him to a meeting with civil-rights activist and “Putin Must Go” manifesto signatory Lev Ponomarev, and wanted to ask him some questions. Mr. McFaul was visibly upset although he kept his smile in place, and I guess his tongue ran away with him a little. He complained that he was being harassed by reporters, and said “Aren’t you ashamed of doing this? This insults your country, do you understand this? It looks like I am in a barbarian country. This is abnormal. It never happens in my country, in England, Germany, or China. It happens only here and only with you,” For the record, there is some discussion whether the word he used that is reported here as “barbarian” was actually “savage” or even “wild”. In any case, none of them are complimentary, and Mr, McFaul’s credibilty as an “open and friendly” diplomat who is “so familiar with Russia” has tipped over into a steep dive. The U.S. government has registered an official complaint, which is not a good start for a new U.S. envoy; it’s kind of hard to bounce back to a position of trust and friendship when it seems like your presence is kind of forced on the host country.
Was the press’s behavior abnormal? I’d have to argue it was not. And in case you think I’m biased, let’s confront both that and the assumption that it “never happens anywhere but here” at the same time with this clip of the press hounding Mitt Romney. The reporter is plainly aggressive, much more so than the NTV reporter was – but what is striking here is the post-game quarterbacking of the incident by David Shuster and Rachel Sklar. Shuster argues that it is their job as reporters to “be adversarial…our job is not to be the candidate’s friend, or his stenographer, or say whatever the campaign wants us to say”, and later, “the reporter was right”. Shuster’s opinion as an American TV journalist and former MSNBC News anchor is that as long as the reporter knows what he/she is talking about, it is his/her job to “ask the tough questions”. Reporters, in America, chasing people for the story? Happens all the time, I’m afraid; look at this clip, entitled, “The Running of the Reporters” – a seemingly endless stream of them chasing Lower-Manhattan maid Nafissatou Dialio after she bolted out the back door during testimony in the IMF bigwig Dominique Straus-Kahn rape case. Dialio had to leave her residence and go underground to avoid the international press. Here’s a funny one, involving reporters who hung out all night waiting for arrested University of Kentucky Quarterback Mike Hartline as he is released from jail; chasing him, swarming the car and shouting inanities like, “Did you do anything wrong, Mike? Did you do anything wrong?”
Never happens in England? Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling – who was driven out of her home by persistent reporters, and even had notes from reporters slipped into her 5-year-old daughter’s schoolbag at her school – would be interested in that viewpoint. She castigated the British Press Complaints Commission as “toothless”, and said it has no power to protect private citizens from rowdy reporters determined to get a story. One-time Formula One boss Max Mosely would agree; he won a £60,000.00 judgment against Murdoch’s News of the World for baselessly accusing him of a “sick Nazi orgy” in an attempt to grow a story. Speaking of Rupert Murdoch in the Country Where The Press Does Not Get Out Of Line, it should be remembered the Murdoch press hacked the phone account of a murdered teenage girl in an attempt to get a “scoop”, leading her parents to false hope that she was still alive when the reporter deleted some of her messages in order to make more room in her mailbox. That sick enough for you, Mike? Still feeling persecuted?
Granted, none of the people mentioned is a foreign ambassador. However, rather than wondering why his diplomatic immunity is not diplomatic invisibility, Mr. McFaul would be well-advised to take a look at what he’s doing that is different from other ambassadors. Like holding a meeting with anti-government opposition leaders the day after formally presenting his credentials as Ambassador. Like authoring books with titles like “Russia’s Unfinished Revolution” (informed by the insights of most of the charter members of the defunct Union of Right Forces, such as Leonid Gozman and brother of virulent anti-Kremlin agitator Vladimir Kara-Murza, Aleksey Kara-Murza, disgraced elitist economist Vladimir Mau and nutbag Lilia Shevtsova), and advertising your interest in regime change. Like setting up clandestine off-the-books meetings with political dissidents by phone, then getting a lip on when reporters ask you what you’re doing, and accusing them of tapping your phone and hacking your email. Like having your ambassadorial appointment endorsed in writing by the likes of Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman and Randy “Georgia on my mind” Scheunemann. Is it difficult to imagine that both the Russian government and major network reporters believe you’re in town to make sure Russia’s unfinished revolution picks up steam and gets back on track? I mean, since you’ve shown every sign thus far of doing just that?
You wanted attention, Dr. McFaul. Don’t squeal like a Girl scout when you get it.