Michael McFaul, the former American ambassador to Russia appointed by President Barack Obama, appeared at Carroll College on Thursday afternoon to answer questions from students.
On a tour for his new book, "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin's Russia," McFaul fielded queries about his time in Russia (he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in person twice and neither was a very pleasant experience), gave a lecture about the difference between isolationist and internationalist United States leadership (George W. Bush was more internationalist than you'd think), said Obama's jump shot was broken, and said President Donald Trump was an extremist when it comes to foreign policy.
McFaul grew up in Montana and spent a lot of time in Butte, before going to Bozeman for high school and meeting his debate partner, Steve Daines. A Stanford University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, McFaul has been working in academia and government for decades. Currently, he is a political science professor back at his alma mater, teaching the next generation and working as a fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institute.
Also a television news commentator and known for chiming in about foreign policy on Twitter, McFaul was named by Putin during a conversation with Trump at 2018's Helsinki summit as someone the Russians would like to interrogate about "interference" in Russian affairs. For McFaul, that wasn't anything particularly new.
McFaul said he only met Putin face-to-face twice, but the first time he did Russia was in the throes of demonstrations attacking Putin's recent reelection to the presidency.
"He blamed the United States for the demonstrations in Russia," McFaul said. "Then he told me 'some people are trying to make trouble here and we're going to stop it.'
"We're not Facebook friends," McFaul joked. "Although with what's going on with Facebook, maybe he is."
McFaul described Putin as a czar-like figure. While he might not directly own mansions or yachts, Putin has the ability to use them at any time due to his power.
"There has been a massive redistribution of wealth and property in Russia," during Putin's years in power, McFaul said.
"Putin reminds me of the streets of Butte," McFaul said. "Here are my two friends, my right knuckle and my left knuckle."
McFaul said he enjoyed the questions the Carroll College students asked.
"Better than Missoula," he said to laughs from the crowd after he finished the question and answer session.
When asked what the major issues facing the United States are in the next decades, McFaul named China, Russia and North Korea as the main foreign adversaries the U.S. would have to battle. But he also included climate change and cybersecurity, two more unusual security threats that will challenge and shape the future.
McFaul even described cybersecurity as an analogue to the "early nuclear phase."
"There's an incredible capability for horrific damage," he said.
He also offered advice for anyone able to take it. "Going abroad radically changes how you think about your life," McFaul said.