- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

McFAUL

State-owned media in Moscow are reacting warmly to the news that President Obama plans to appoint his top adviser on Russia as the next U.S. ambassador to the Kremlin.

Michael McFaul, the Russia specialist on the National Security Council, was a top political adviser to Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. He also is widely credited with the so-called “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, which some conservatives fear signals a softer approach to Moscow on issues ranging from national security to human rights.

McFaul is a young man, very close to Obama and a devoted support of his policy,” Alexander Konovalovof Moscow’s Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis told Rianovosti, an official Russian news agency.

“Since McFaul is a person from the presidential staff, his appointment would show that Washington pays special attention to Russian politics.”

Rianovosti commentator Dmitry Babichadded that Mr. McFaul, 47, “is not a career diplomat, but a former Stanford University political science professor” and expert on Russia. He added that Mr. McFaul is noted for proposing “creative solutions” to U.S.-Russia problems.

“Creative solutions are what U.S.-Russian relations have lacked over the past 10 or 15 years,” Mr. Babich wrote. “If the new U.S. ambassador offers them, his mission to Moscow will be an undeniable success.”

Other observers have been wary of Mr. McFaul’s new approach to Moscow since Mr. Obama named him as his chief adviser on Russia.

Human rights activist Oleg Kozlovskycriticized Mr. McFaul for adopting the approach of “many Realpolitik-infected diplomats, who call on the West to turn a blind eye on Russia slipping down to dictatorship.”

In an October 2009 interview with the newspaper Kommersant, Mr. McFaul described talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, that included Mr. Obama’s new approach to Russia.

Asked about Mr. Obama’s views on human rights there, Mr. McFaul was quoted as saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect, too, and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling the Russian-American partnership.”

News began to leak earlier this week that Mr. Obama plans to nominate Mr. McFaul, but the White House has not confirmed the appointment, which would require Senate approval.

SAY IT IN SWAHILI

Another of President Obama’s political appointees is making news in Kenya, where retired Air ForceMaj. Gen.Scott Gration is impressing local reporters as the new U.S. ambassador to the key East African nation.

“I love Kenya and … I’m happy to be back in a country I consider my second home,” he told the Standard newspaper in Nairobi.

Those were fairly routine words for a new diplomat, except Mr. Gration did the interview in Swahili. He learned the official language of Kenya as a child of missionaries in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo, the former Zaire, where Swahili also is widely spoken.

Repeated uprisings in Zaire forced his family to evacuate twice to Kenya, where he later met his wife, Judy, a native Kenyan. Mr. Gration, a former combat pilot, also spent a tour training Kenyan fighter pilots.

Mr. Gration told the Daily Nation newspaper that he would pursue many of the policies of his predecessor, Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, who completed his positing earlier this month. Mr. Ranneberger often irritated corrupt politicians with his denunciation of official graft.

“We are different personalities, but I think you will see some similarities in the messages that Michael Ranneberger brought up because those messages were not his. They were from our government,” Mr. Gration said.

A former Republican who supported President George W. Bush, Mr. Gration embraced Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.