Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Former Top U.S. Diplomat Michael McFaul Tells Thinking CAP Podcast: ‘We Don’t Need the Saudis for Anything’
Press Release

RELEASE: Former Top U.S. Diplomat Michael McFaul Tells Thinking CAP Podcast: ‘We Don’t Need the Saudis for Anything’

Washington, D.C. — This week, Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 and current Stanford University professor and contributor to The Washington Post and NBC News, joined Thinking CAP to discuss a wide range of foreign policy issues facing the United States, including his historical relationship with Vladimir Putin; the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; President Donald Trump’s views on democracy; and McFaul’s book, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.

Regarding the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia in light of the Trump administration’s response to Khashoggi’s disappearance, McFaul said:

We don’t need the Saudis for anything. This argument that somehow we need them to contain Iran or we need them for oil—those are really outdated ideas that may have been true 30 years ago, but they’re not true today. First of all, the Saudis need us a lot more to deter Iran than we need the Saudis. Let’s be clear about that relationship. And second, with respect to oil, oil is a global market today. We’re not dependent on the Saudis for imports of their oil. It’s already down to less than 9 percent. We need the Canadians a lot more than we need the Saudis these days.

When asked about parallels between Trump’s America First policies and Putin’s Russia First policies, McFaul said:

To oversimplify a complex idea, it’s basically that Putin has decided that the West is too decadent, too liberal, too multilateral and that he is—in his definition of conservatism—the last conservative left on the planet. And he has taken it upon himself to battle the liberal, decadent West. At first, it was just a set of ideas about things that he did internally to battle decadent things that he thought the liberals were trying to infuse into Russia—LGBT rights, for instance, or even liberal democratic ideas that he says were too foreign to Russian culture. And then several years ago, he went on the offensive to try to export these ideas. Through the use of television and social media, he has been investing literally billions of dollars to try to propagate these ideas, and he’s won some successes with like-minded nationalist, nativist, anti-mulitlateral individuals and organizations, and now even government leaders in Hungary, in Italy, and a part of the Trump administration. I call it the illiberal international, where Moscow is the center of gravity for it. Now you have social movements first and foremost in Europe and here in the United States—there’s lots of parallels between Putinism and the alt-right movement [and] similar sets of ideas. Now it’s gone global: You see leaders trying to mimic Putin and mimic Trump around the world.

Thinking CAP is a weekly podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Leger and Ed Chung. Now in its second season, the hosts continue to speak with influential leaders within the progressive movement from here in Washington, D.C., all the way to California. Guests this fall have included: Clint Watts, Vanita Gupta, Jason Kander, Nayyera Haq, Jeffrey Toobin, Dan Pfeiffer, Wendy Sherman, Valerie Jarrett, and Ike Barinholtz. New episodes are released every Thursday and are available to listen on iTunesSpotify, SoundCloud, and CAP’s website.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @ThinkingCAPpod.