James Matlock at a meeting at the RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow in April 2013. (AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

At a meeting of the National Press Club this month, James Matlock — former ambassador to the Soviet Union and “one of the Cold War’s wise men” — criticized the Obama administration for publicly denigrating the Russian leadership rather than striking a conciliatory tone in the conflict over Ukraine.

Former State Department adviser James Carden writes at The Nation:

While NATO’s decision to bring in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as full members in 1999 (the same year, incidentally, that NATO undertook an aerial bombardment of Russia’s ally Serbia) would have been damaging enough to US-Russian relations, things got worse (as they tended to) under the second President Bush. Matlock reminded the assembled that President Putin was the first world leader to call Bush after the attack of 9/11 to offer support. The administration’s decision to withdraw from the AMB Treaty was his repayment. Instead of working to minimize the mistrust between us, time and again, the Bush administration pursued policies that magnified it.

This, Matlock was at pains to point out, was the exact opposite approach taken by his former boss. For all his manifold faults, Reagan knew that as long as there was “distrust between us” it would be impossible to find common ground on issues as diverse as arms control, nuclear proliferation, the environment and emigration. Reagan, unlike his predecessors, knew that “we were too upfront on human rights” and that a private not public approach would yield more results. Reagan “never denigrated any Soviet leader by name…and dealt with them with respect.” 

Today we have a President and Congress who routinely insult the leader of Russia. Yet Matlock warns: “you don’t set up a public duel if you want to solve a crisis.”

Read more here.

Hear Matlock explain, in a much-viewed and much-discussed appearance on “Democracy Now!” in March, why he views Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior amid the Ukrainian uprising as reactive.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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