Russian Elegies: Candide Goes to Moscow
Michael McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).
“We pressed some of these ideas, albeit not as forcefully as I would have liked, but the Egyptians – both in and out of government – had their own ideas.” –Michael McFaul
Candide, the hero of Voltaire’s 1759 satire, was educated in Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh’s castle in Westphalia. There, Dr. Pangloss taught him to believe that ours is the “best of all possible worlds.” Candide leaves the castle and travels the globe, testing the merits of his philosophy. He has his adventures in Europe, on the high seas, in the New World, and in the Ottoman Empire. Over time, he is subjected to torture, travesty, and disappointment. Chastened but unvanquished, he learns to moderate his ambition. By the novel’s end, he is reunited with Dr. Pangloss and resigned — not unhappily — to “cultivate his garden.”
This famous parable bears a remarkable resemblance to Michael McFaul’s new memoir, From Cold War to Hot Peace. Born in 1963, McFaul was educated at Stanford in California. There he was taught the excellence of democracy. He journeyed to the Soviet Union and to the United Kingdom for further study. Between 2009 and 2014, he had the privilege of serving as senior director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council staff and as the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation. While in Moscow, he was subjected to harassment, to the travesty of Putinism and to the disappointment of witnessing Russia’s slide from faltering democracy into outright authoritarianism. Chastened but unvanquished, he learned to moderate his ambition. At the end, he returns not unhappily to Stanford to cultivate his academic garden.