Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President of the United States
Bishkek, May 6, 2010
Remarks at the Meeting with Students and Faculty of the American University in Central Asia
Dr. McFaul: Thank you, Ellen. It’s a great honor and pleasure for me to be here. I apologize that instead of 90 minutes we have to leave in 45 minutes because I’m suddenly going to Almaty today. That was not my plan. But it’s great to know that I can speak English here and that’s going to save us some time, because I can speak really fast if I need to. [Laughter]. But if I am too fast, slow me down, okay?
It is great to be back at a university. I teach at Stanford University. I’m just on loan to President Obama. I worked for him for two years during the campaign, and now I’m in the fourth year of service to him as both a candidate and as a President. But my home and my future home and the rest of my life is at the university: speaking, working, interacting with students and faculty, so this feels very natural to me in a way that being at the White House situation room for meetings to talk about your country sometimes feels unnatural to me.
The topic of my lecture, and I’m going to try to keep it brief so that we can have some time for questions, is a very blunt question. That is, does President Obama care about democracy and human rights around the world? My very blunt answer is absolutely, yes. But that’s not a good enough answer because it’s clear to me having been here for a few days now, that some of the things we say and some of the things we do thousands of miles away don’t always get articulated and translated all the way out here in Bishkek or other parts of the world. So what I wanted to do was spend a few minutes on the answer to that question first. Then second, pivot to what is the Obama approach for promoting democracy abroad. And third, very briefly talk about what that means in terms of America’s relationship with your country.
First on the question does Obama care about democracy and human rights abroad? I’ve already said the answer is yes, but I want to explain a little bit that this is a debate that we have had in my country that goes all the way back to the founding fathers. The debate, to cartoonize it in the interest of time, to twitterize it in the interest of time, is between two different groups. It has been traditionally between two different groups.
One group in the American tradition, they self-identify themselves as realists and they say we have interests, we have American national interests abroad, and we should pursue them for the economic and security of the American people, and how countries abroad are organized internally, whether they’re autocratic or democratic or run by Mullahs or run by these gentlemen [painting to pictures of Lenin, Marx, and Engels in the auditorium], doesn’t really matter because countries basically have their national interests and how they’re organized internally doesn’t matter. The people that espouse this view about foreign policy, they say: “Well, we’ve got to go out and we have to pursue these interests.” What are some of these interests? They’re things like oil, gas, military bases, transit centers, access to resources that help advance the security of American people and help advance our prosperity. That’s one tradition.
The other tradition is sometimes called idealists, sometimes called liberals, sometimes called Wilsonian internationalists after President Woodrow Wilson. They argue that the United States has both a moral obligation and an interest in advancing democratic institutions and democratic ideas abroad. Their argument is the following. There are lots of arguments, but I’m just getting to the essence because we don’t have much time. Come to Stanford, take my class on this someday. You’re all welcome.
But the essence of their debate with the realists is that how countries are organized internally impact what they do externally. That there’s a relationship between the kind of regime that a country has, say democracy, autocracy, communism, monarchy, and how they interact with countries abroad. And in particular, the one big argument that these liberals or these idealists make, is that democracies do not come in conflict with each other. That is in the history of the United States we have never had an enemy state that was a democratic state. They’ve always been autocracies, they’ve always been ruled by dictators, the countries that have threatened our national security interests.
Now to be sure, I want to be clear about this, there are some times in our history and there are some times in some places today where autocracies, we have relations with autocracies. But the argument is not that. The argument is that the enemies of the United States have always been autocracies, whereas the most stable and reliable partners throughout our history have been democracies. So that is a debate that started from the very beginning of our country, through the 19th Century it was there, less important when we didn’t have much power, because we could debate these things, but we didn’t have any power to change countries abroad and interact, so it didn’t really matter. It became a much bigger debate during the 20th Century and especially after World War II.
Where is President Obama in this debate? He actually rejects the debate as too white and black. He believes, as he’s said in many speeches, that the United States has to pursue our interests and has to pursue our values at the same time. And in particular, and I was going to quote this at length but maybe I won’t in the interest of time. When he received the Nobel Peace Prize he laid out these two arguments in the speech, so I encourage you if you would, to go get the speech off of our web site at the White House and download it and read it, where he talks about these two things. Then at the end of that he says this is a false dichotomy. Because at the end of the day, yes, we have interests in oil and minerals and bases and all those things and we also have interests in promoting our values abroad, precisely for the reasons I just said. Because in the long run, democracies are more stable partners for us in advancing these security and economic interests abroad.
Moreover, again, I encourage you to go do some homework after this, okay? I want you to go read some speeches from President Obama. I want you to go read his Cairo speech and in that speech you’ll see the first four themes are about relations between the West, the United States, and the Muslim world, and don’t skip that part, read those parts too, but the last three are about democracy and human rights and why these are universal values, not just American values.
Then I want you to go read the speech that he gave at the New Economic School in Moscow, a kind of partner, not unlike this institution that we’re in today, where he also talked about how these things are not in contradiction. Promoting our values abroad helps to defend our interest and also of course the subject of universal values that he keeps coming back to.
The third piece of homework, I want you to go read a speech that most people ignore but is very important in my opinion to your country right now, and that’s a speech he gave in Accra, Ghana in July, where he talks about the relationship between democratic institutions and economic development. Particularly emphasizing how democratic institutions are your best bet for fighting corruption and fighting corruption is a necessary condition for advancing economic growth. By democratic institutions he meant things like a free press, an independent press, an independent parliament, and opposition parties. Those are the institutions first and foremost in my country and I would say around the world that are most interested in fighting corruption. Not because they’re good or necessarily better than you or me, but if you think about it when you’re running as the leader of an opposition party, that is the person that is most motivated, or woman, man, movement, most motivated of all to expose the corruption of those in power. That’s the way it works in my country, and that institution is important for fighting corruption. Likewise, independent media. If you don’t have independent media it’s very hard to fight corruption. Third, independent courts. Again, it’s very hard to fight corruption without them. It’s all in the Accra speech, that’s your third piece of homework for today.
Then finally, if I could just say go read his United Nations General Assembly speech and the speech that I just mentioned, the Nobel speech, and you will see, it couldn’t be clearer. This is the President of the United States. This is not just some low level official like me, some propagandist speaking in Bishkek. This is the President of the United States outlining what is our policy. It could not be clearer as far as I’m concerned, that this is part of the Obama administration’s strategy. Policy. Our objectives.
So second, what’s our strategy for achieving it and how does it differ from the Bush administration strategy? After all, the Bush administration also had a strategy for advancing democracy abroad.
I would say there are four, maybe five important parts of the strategy. First, get your own house in order. President Obama on his first day as President signed a new Executive Order that has constraints on people like me in terms of what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do in the spirit of transparency and in the spirit of fighting corruption within our own government. And in other speeches he talks about - if we can’t eliminate torture, if we can’t live through our own ideals as embodied in our constitution, then we have no right or legitimacy to go to other countries and to stand before people in Bishkek and say you should do this.
So the first plank of the Obama strategy for promoting democracy abroad is actually to advance democracy and human rights within the United States and to do what he calls, to restore the example that is America.
Second is an idea called dual track engagement. This is important, especially in our relationship with countries like Kyrgyzstan. What do we mean by that? By dual track engagement, President Obama firmly believes that rather than isolating and lecturing and yelling and coercing and invading countries as a way to get them to change or as a way to get them to interact with us, he has articulated a policy of engagement with other governments all around the world. You probably read about it. This policy’s been severely criticized in the United States for some of our attempts to engage some very controversial regimes -- I’m thinking particularly of Iran, I’m thinking particularly of Russia -- where our engagement with the government is something new. Where we’re reaching out and we’re engaging with them in ways that in his view, President Obama’s view, advances America’s national interest and advances the interest of these countries.
The part that gets less attention is the second track. It’s the track of engaging directly with people abroad, irrespective of what our relationship is with their government. So engaging with civil society, engaging directly with individuals, and the kind of strategy that we’re going to do both these things in parallel and simultaneously.
So the Cairo speech, when the President traveled to Cairo, that was not a bilateral meeting with President Mubarak. That was his attempt to take the podium and to try to speak to over a billion people, directly to the people, not directly to the President of Egypt and then the President of Egypt interprets President Obama’s words to the people of Egypt and to the people of the Muslim world. That’s what we mean by dual track engagement.
An example of dual track engagement is this very institution and you. I hear there are a lot of American exchange program alumni here. That’s exactly what we mean. That irrespective of who is the president and who is the prime minister here in Kyrgyzstan, we support independent institutions, learning institutions, we support exchanges, we support direct connectivity between the people of the United States and the people of Kyrgyzstan. Some of us, and people sitting here do this out of a sense of dedication to universal values, dedication to education. They’re moralistic people. I bet you there are some moralistic people that run this institution. Right? And that’s fantastic. I am too. But let me tell you another reason we do it.
We do it because we also think that it’s in our national interest. We believe, and most certainly the Obama administration believes that our best weapon, our best tool for advancing democracy in Kyrgyzstan or any other country is to expose you, to connect you directly to the American people, directly to American civil society, directly to institutions that make America what it is. Not just, with all due respect to my colleagues who work for the government and myself, not just interacting with people like us but directly with American civil society. We think that’s our best instrument for advancing our interests abroad. And we also think that it’s our best instrument for you to have a much better understanding of what really is America and what really is not America. Rather than let your government or even your journalists, I respect your journalists, but rather than have them tell you what’s in our national interest and what we’re trying to do, we believe that this dual track is a much better way to do it.
The third plank that I think is unique to the Obama administration, or if not unique, is just getting much more attention since we’ve come to power, is emphasizing the relationship between democratic institutions and economic development. At times in our assistance strategy, at times in our thinking about these things in academia where I usually work, there’s sometimes been a separation, there’s sometimes been an argument that over here we do our democracy work and our human rights work, and over here we do our economic work. There are some governments and some leaders, especially in your neighborhood by the way, that make the argument that you have to do economic development first and after you’ve modernized the economy, you’ll be mature enough to have democratic institutions.
We disagree with that argument. We think maybe that’s true sometimes, maybe there was evidence to support that. But the overwhelming evidence today shows that there’s an interrelationship between democratic institutions and economic development. And it goes both ways.
Especially in countries that do not have oil and gas, for you to attract investment, and I don’t mean foreign investment, I mean domestic investment. For you to have people to make long term investments in the viability of your economy, you have to give them faith that their assets won’t be sold. It’s just that simple. The only way you can do that is to have stable, legal institutions. Democratic institutions. The rule of law that says if I invest a billion dollars in this company it’s not going to change irrespective of who becomes the next President or Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan. What happens to that money. If you cannot do that, then you do not develop. That’s the history of the last thousand years I’m talking about, not just the last 30 years. Those countries that could figure that out -- Great Britain, the United States 300 years ago, 200 years ago, are the ones that are the richest countries in the world today, and those that couldn’t figure that out, those are the ones that are still struggling to this day. So the intertwine that these democratic institutions undergird economic development is one argument. But the flip side is also true. New democracies have very little chance of surviving if they can’t deliver economic development to the people that elected them. If you cannot have a democracy that delivers, that democracy fails in much greater proportion and much faster than those democracies that actually grow.
So in our new way of approaching international assistance and bilateral assistance, we’re trying to weave these two things together rather than trying to think of them separately.
Fourth, we’re trying to internationalize what I would call the global struggle for democracy and human rights. This is not an American value. President Obama says this many times. This is a universal value. Only the most arrogant American would come up before you and say democracy has an adjective before it, it’s American democracy. That is utter nonsense. Sometimes we’ve talked that way in our past. Sometimes we’ve talked about the American way of democracy, our way or the highway. That is exactly the opposite of the way President Obama approaches this question, and therefore, we are trying to in our relationship with the United Nations, in our relationship with all international institutions, try to embed the struggle for these universal values in these multilateral institutions rather than just making it an American crusade abroad.
Moreover, this is something Obama, unlike President Bush, has a strong belief in the value of international institutions more generally. This is the approach that he wants to bring in terms of our advancing democracy abroad. Because sometimes it will be negative for the Americans to be in the front line. Sometimes it will be much better to have the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union, or I would say in some countries where we have an interest in advancing democracy abroad, to have a face of America, especially if you look and talk like me, not so good. Sometimes it’s better to have Serbs, Slovaks, Latin Americans who have had a democratic transition more recently and have experiences that can be more useful and valuable in these projects. So we want to internationalize what we’re doing and not just make this an American project and an American crusade.
Fifth and finally, related to the last point that I just said, this project in President Obama’s view is one that is long term, it is not short term, and requires a great deal of humility and patience to succeed. I don’t know if you know his background, but he’s a grass roots activist. He’s an NGO leader. That’s where he came from. He worked in the city of Chicago to do community development projects. You have to be a man of patience and humility to believe that the tiny little steps that you’re taking to try to improve the lives of the people of Chicago will have any difference. It’s a long, long term strategy. He believes the same about democratic institutions. You just can’t buy them off the shelf. You just can’t bring some expert from America and “voila” you have democracy. It’s something that takes time, that we have to be in the business of nurturing. But ultimately we need to stand behind you, you the people that are trying to build democracy in Kyrgyzstan, not in front of you, and to be patient and have humility about the limitations of what we can do to help you in your struggle.
I think I could just end there. I hope what I’ve just outlined resonates in terms of what that means for what we do here in Kyrgyzstan. Let me just say a couple of things in closing about what it means here in particular, though.
First of all, if somebody tells you all we care about is our base or our center and we could give a damn about democracy in Kyrgyzstan, it’s simply not the truth. It is not the President of the United States’ view. When I happened to be traveling with him to Prague, the Czech Republic, during the events here and flying back on Air Force One we had a long discussion about events here in Kyrgyzstan, and the result of that long discussion, by the way, was he told me I had to come here and see with my own eyes and report directly to him about what’s going on here. That’s why I’m here today.
But I want to be clear. The President of the United States in what he says has been absolutely clear in all the major speeches he’s made about how we’re going to do these things together and in parallel. Advancing our interests and values. This is not a choice. We are not going to make a choice between those two things. We think they are integrated, not separate.
Second, the notion of dual track diplomacy, dual track engagement, that’s exactly what I’m proactiving right here. I spent several days meeting with the provisional government, listening to their views, finding out ways we can assist in this very difficult democratic transition that they are trying to guide. But I also spent a lot of my time meeting with civil society leaders, members of the independent press, and now you. That is dual track engagement as we practice it, and we’ll continue to do that irrespective of who wins the next election, irrespective of how the referendum comes out. We will hold those people accountable in the same way and we will engage directly with you. That is the policy of the Obama administration.
To do that, I just want to emphasize we haven’t cut our money, we haven’t cut our budgets for advancing democracy, what we call democracy and governance here in Kyrgyzstan. Those funds have remained robust during this transition.
Third, the democracy and development story. We believe fundamentally we have to do both here, and with conversations with the government, we have talked about ways that we can speed up economic assistance to the provisional government in this very troubled time. But at the same time we’ve spent a lot of time talking about ways to fight corruption. Because without doing that in a very profound way, together, as partners, none of this economic assistance will ever matter if it’s not allocated in a proper way.
And by corruption and transparency, I also mean what we do here in your country. We want to advance as much transparency as possible in what we’re doing here. We think that’s in your interest and in our interest.
Fourth and finally regarding international institutions, I just came from a lunch with representatives from the World Bank, from the IMF, from the OSCE, from the United Nations. As we work here during this difficult democratic transition that you're in right now, we believe that partnering with these organizations rather than going off on our own is the best way for us to interact both with them and with you. So we’re trying to translate these lofty words from President Obama’s speeches into very concrete policies here on the ground as we move forward.
With that I’m going to stop and I’ll take your questions for the next 15 minutes. I hope I wasn’t speaking too fast.
Question: My name is [inaudible]. [Inaudible]. [Inaudible] has written an excellent work on liberal and non liberal democracies. So if you take Africa, Ghana, the foremost democracy of the Caucasus, Georgia. If you look at Central Asia you don’t see any country that can conform to these expectations.
My question is, does it much matter for the United States which way Kyrgyzstan goes? Liberal or non liberal democracy building? Because if you look at our neighbors, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, they all can be characterized as non liberal democracies. But to me it really matters if we go the liberal way. Thank you.
Dr. McFaul: That’s a great question. Did everybody hear and understand it? Good.
Yes, it does matter. It matters in a couple of ways, and then I’m going to say some things historically, too.
What happened in your country just a few weeks ago was a tragedy. A real tragedy. When people’s lives are lost, there’s no other way to describe it. But from that tragedy has a real opportunity to build what you’re calling a liberal democracy. I believe it’s real. And I want to tell you, thinking comparatively and historically about other countries around the world and as well as in your neighborhood here, these opportunities are very rare. They don’t happen very often, and they’re oftentimes squandered. They oftentimes lead to bad results. So one has to seize the moment and use it, if for no other reason than for the honor of those that died just a few weeks ago.
For you just to go back to normal, to me that would not be right. That would not be to honor what happened to those people. Nor would it be right for us just to go back to the ways of before. We also have to seize this new moment to try to help build here what you call liberal democracy. And it matters in several respects.
One, it matters because it’s our policy and we believe that this is part of who we are as the American people. This is what we’ve done for a long time to be engaged and supporting these kind of values.
Two, let me be very blunt, democracies are more stable allies and partners. Autocracies can be good friends of the United States. We’ve had some good friends. But there are two problems with autocracies. There are two problems with dictatorial regimes. One is they can change their mind overnight because they don’t answer to you. They can just change their mind. So today they’re a buddy and a friend of the United States and tomorrow they’re an enemy. Saddam Hussein comes to mind in my historical experience as somebody who one day was a great ally of the United States and the next day he changed his mind. There are some others in the neighborhood. There are other historical examples.
The second problem with autocracies is they’re not stable. They don’t last. Because they don’t have a mechanism for handing over power in a peaceful normal process.
My favorite example of this, although one can think of your country too, but my favorite example is Iran. Iran for 28 years was a fantastic ally of the United States with the Shah. Just fantastic. Couldn’t ask for more. But that 29th year when he fell from power, it was not such a great outcome. We’re living with the consequences of investing in that autocracy and not thinking about that to this very day as a result of that mistake.
So those are the two problems with investing in autocracies as long term allies. Therefore we have a national security interest in seeing stable democracy take hold here in Kyrgyzstan.
The last thing I would say, just more historically, and forgive me, I’m an academic and I sometimes go back and forth. When I hear people say well, we don’t have any democracies here so it can’t work here in Kyrgyzstan. I’ve heard people say that to me over the last couple of days. I just want to remind you about the history of democracy. That statement everywhere around the world at one point in time was always true. So there was a time in Europe when there were no democracies, it was all monarchies or something else, and so those that said we should have a more liberal, back then that was the used more, a liberal system of government, they would say well, that’s not the British way, that’s not the German way, that’s not the French way, that’s not our culture, that’s not the way it was. Right? At one point in history, that was true.
At one point in history not too long ago it was accepted as true and American academics wrote this. They wrote about German culture and they wrote about Japanese culture as being fundamentally supportive of the strong man, of the autocratic ruler, right? That seems like a little bit of a silly theory today looking at the history of those countries.
Only 30 or 40 years ago, and one of the principal authors of this idea was my colleague at Stanford, there was a theory that Catholic countries could not be democratic because at the time most Catholic countries in the world -- all of Latin America, Spain, Portugal, Italy was a very difficult democracy, not very stable, there was a whole theory, therefore, that if you were a Catholic you didn’t want to live in a democratic system because you liked authority and structure and the Pope and all that. That is a pretty silly theory today if you think about it.
I could go on and on about why that was the case. The point is, yes, the argument always can be made, but when I look at these cultural arguments they constantly fall down, and I’m sure, just knowing what I know about your country, that at some point there will be liberal democracy in Kyrgyzstan. On that I’m absolutely positive. When has always been the question. And to me, right now is a really historical moment to actually answer that question in the affirmative and to say that when is right now.
Question: I am on an international research and study board. I think [inaudible] really in Kyrgyzstan there are many people who have gained an education abroad. Like we have programs that are funded by U.S. State Department, but unfortunately in recent years, there was a decrease in funding and a decrease in the number of such programs that have taken place. Are there any prospects that in the future it will increase? I understand that for Kyrgyzstan right now we need fresh ideas. Like people who have gained education abroad to be in the government, to [inaudible] of democracy.
Dr. McFaul: Great question. The short answer is yes. But I want to tell you why. There are a couple of reasons.
First of all, I want to make one point, and this is more of a personal point, but I think I can generalize it to be policy, which is to say exchanges are important not only because some of you, I hope some of you I’ll see in my classes at Stanford some day. There are ways to fund it privately, too. So we can talk about that off-line. And I believe, I’ve had lots of students over time from other countries. There’s no doubt about it, that education changes their lives.
But I want to emphasize two other things. Exchanges also change Americans. They change Americans. I’m a product of exchanges, right? I grew up in a place called Montana. It’s about as rural and far away from the international world as you can imagine. Through an exchange program a gazillion years ago, I went for the first time abroad to study in the Soviet Union.
That experience totally changed my life. So I want to emphasize, that when we say exchanges it’s generally the back and forth that is good.
The other thing is as a teacher, as an educator, I’ve had Kyrgyz students in my classes, and it is fantastic to have those people in the classroom with me teaching about these very issues we are discussing. You bring a perspective to my classroom that helps to educate American students. I would say that about any exchanges that we have. We gain so much from having you there, that don’t underestimate how good it is for us, just purely from my self-interested point of view.
The last thing I would say on this, we have an ally in this argument right now. His name is Barack Obama. Where did he come from? Who was his father? His father was an exchange student. Without exchange students, President Obama does not exist. I just tell you that because he firmly believes in everything I just said. Government moves slow, and we should have done this faster, we’ve only been around for about 15 months now, 16 months. But it is the top agenda item from the Cairo speech and from other initiatives that we want to expand the exchanges, particularly of people at your age. So it’s our responsibility and I hope we’ll do it sooner rather than later.
Question: I am a graduate of [inaudible]. We are familiar during the election Mr. Obama utilized modern technology and internet. What do you think about initiatives during promotion of e-government? The second question is what do you think about the utilization of [inaudible] for political stability during a short period? Thank you.
Dr. McFaul: Thank you for your question. It’s another major initiative that we’ve undertaken at the White House on e-government. In fact I think what I should do is get together this information in one place and get it to our embassy so that we can transfer it to you all because we have a whole bunch of things that we’re doing in the name of transparency in the United States. E-governance, e-humanrights.gov, e-data.gov. We’re trying to put everything on the web to empower people to know how their taxpayer money is being spent. It’s something that President Obama believes in very strongly.
Second, we have begun some initial engagements with governments abroad to share this experience already. We have, for instance, for the first time ever in the United States government a guy whose name is Aneesh Chopra, and his job is Chief Technological Officer for the United States government. Usually you have chief technological officers in companies in the Silicon Valley where I live. We now have one in the United States government. And in a series of exchanges, most recently with Russia, Aneesh has traveled to Russia to talk to their government about how to use these technologies to increase transparency. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t do that here in Kyrgyzstan as well.
Then on the second side in the spirit of dual track engagement, when Aneesh traveled to Russia he went with several CEOs of some major American high tech companies -- Twitter, Mozilla, eBay, several others, and they took one movie star, by the way. Ashton Kutcher, who has his own foundation for using social networking to advance civil society. Believe me, I was real skeptical about this Ashton Kutcher guy going on a U.S.-sponsored trip. It turned out he was the most serious guy of all in advancing these technologies. In fact you can read about it if you want. I can help you. They Twittered, they had 17 million people following their trip by the end of their trip in Russia, and through that trip they met with people like you, they met with university students, but they also met with a lot of NGOs to how to leverage their new technologies to just help advance what you’re already doing. And I’ve already talked to the State Department folks that led this trip. We want to try to do a trip like this very soon here in Kyrgyzstan. I commit to you we’re going to try to make this happen.
The gentleman, by the way, that ran that program out of the State Department, is a former student of mine, so I have a little bit of leverage with him, and I’ve already been in touch with him since his trip. We’ll make sure they come here to your university as well.
And we’ll try to get Ashton to come, too.
Question: My name is Bermet, I’m Vice President for Academic Affairs of this university. We are really thrilled to have you at ACA. Many students in our politics department have read your works and articles. Most of the faculty of the politics department, including myself, have used your works and articles for personal research. I have lots of questions but I’ll ask just one which may be interesting to all of the audience here.
You said that President Obama has sent you here to see it with your own eyes and report back to him. So what would you report to him?
Dr. McFaul: In a word, I’m going to bring back a message of optimism. I have to say from afar, when you read about the reports and when people are killed it’s always, like I said, I don’t want to be flippant about that. You read about the government, you read about all the fighting, this guy, that guy, that gal, they can’t get along, they’re awful, that’s how journalists tend to report about those things. And I want to be clear, I’ve only been here for a few days. I don’t claim to be an expert. But what I’ve taken away is there’s a lot more to work with in civil society. When I say that I mean this as well, right. There’s just so much more going on in Kyrgyzstan than most people know. Including I would say myself.
I was here last in July and I met with civil society leaders and government leaders and already the difference between Kyrgyzstan and your neighbors was apparent. And countries have their own paths, they need to choose their own ways, and it’s not for us to judge. I want to really emphasize that, because that’s the way President Obama talks to other leaders around the world. He is not sitting in judgment of other leaders and saying you should do this, you should do that. It’s just not his way. What I’m going to take back from this trip is this incredible historic possibility that you’re now living through. Most people don’t get to live through it, by the way. I want to empathize that. I have friends from Iran, for instance, that have the same aspirations about democracy and human rights of many of the leaders and NGO leaders I’ve met here, but their moments and opportunities are constrained. You have this great historic opportunity with lots of dangers, with lots of difficulties. But the main message I’m going to take back is that the situation is more stable and more optimistic than I would have said had I not come on this trip. That’s a good lesson for us all. Before you pass judgment on things to actually do your homework, interact with real people, and not just read briefing papers that come to us at the White House. So I’m cautiously optimistic. That’s the message I’ll take back.
One more question.
Question: [Inaudible]. Recently people are saying that Russia was much to do in Kyrgyzstan and there are many youth who are dependent on Russia. If this in fact happens, what would the steps be taken by the United States? There is a fear that Russia has a very big influence on Kyrgyzstan and there are many who depend on Russia.
Dr. McFaul: I know my geography, I know my history, I read opinion polls about the people of Kyrgyzstan. Russia plays a major role in your history and in your economy and in geopolitics. That’s a statement of fact. That’s not an opinion, that’s just a statement of fact.
Now what could be different is rather than seeing that influence as something that the United States needs to fight and check and have a great struggle over who has more influence over whom, that’s something we can change. That’s something that President Obama does not believe in. I’ve been in every meeting that President Obama has had with President Medvedev. He’s met with him several times. He’s spoken to him on the phone several times, including as I alluded to just a few weeks ago in Prague. In the very first meeting that we had, it was April 1, 2009, we met in London, and we talked about your country back then. President Obama laid out an argument where he said basically, look, there was a time in history, he referred to the 19th Century, but I think he could have said the 20th Century too, where my country and Russia, we viewed the world as spheres of influence. We were two super powers, empires, and we wanted to have influence and compete all over the world. Right? Kyrgyzstan, Angola, Latin America, Cuba. There was this super power game.
President Obama fundamentally rejects that world view about spheres of influence, and somehow the notion that we, if we score points somehow, right? Two points for America means minus two for Russia, and plus five for Russia means minus five for the United States. He fundamentally says: that’s the 19th Century, that’s not the 21st Century.
Instead, in the 21st Century we have a lot of common interests, so let’s just take one that’s in your neighborhood. The extremist forces in Afghanistan. We believe, we have a strategy to try to address that threat. Why? Because they attacked us. They attacked us on September 11th. We have a military strategy and we have a development strategy, by the way, we have a multi-prong strategy to try to deal with that threat. And in our conversations with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, President Obama asked, now isn’t that a threat to you too? Those same people. If they’re not killing our soldiers, wouldn’t they be trying to kill your people? And I would say that about the Kyrgyz people, too. Do we not have a common interest in addressing that threat? President Obama’s answer is yes. It’s not zero sum. It’s a win/win solution. That is, we have a common set of interests in dealing with that threat. He says that about non-proliferation, he says that about Iran in his arguments with the Russians.
Now it’s early in our relationship, the Obama administration’s relationship with President Medvedev and the government of Russia so I don’t want to be naïve in predicting how this relationship will over the next three years and inshala over the next seven years when we win the next election. I can’t predict that. [Laughter].
But what I can report to you is that I’m optimistic. We again talked about Kyrgyzstan in Prague with President Medvedev, and I see a different way of talking about United States relations with Russia in relation to places like Kyrgyzstan because of this new dialogue that President Obama has tried to bring. That is to get out of the mindset of spheres of influence, which fundamentally don’t make any sense anyway n the 21st Century, and to look for win/win solutions rather than zero sum solutions.
I know that’s our policy, and I’m cautiously optimistic that President Medvedev also embraces that kind of thinking. In fact at the press conference in Prague speaking about the new START Treaty at the press conference, he spoke in English for the first time ever and he used the phrase, “This treaty is a win/win solution for the United States and Russia.” That’s one treaty, just one time. There will be places where we’ll compete. But to me, that gives us hope that we can have a different kind of relationship with Russia that then I think means a different kind of relationship between Kyrgyzstan, Russia and the United States.
Thank you all.
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