WASHINGTON, October 25 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – A US government program for the study of Russia and the former Soviet bloc whose recent defunding has sparked outrage in academic circles counts among its alumni the current US ambassador to Russia as well two former secretaries of state.
Michael McFaul, the current US envoy to Russia, conducted post-doctoral research in the early 1990s using a grant from the US State Department’s Title VIII program, according to his resume posted on the website of Stanford University, where he previously taught political science.
Other alumni of programs funded by Title VIII include former US secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, according to a publicly available State Department presentation from 2011 and congressional testimony from James Collins, a former US ambassador to Russia under President Bill Clinton.
A State Department official told RIA Novosti this week that it had defunded the program for the 2013 fiscal year due to budgetary pressures, a freeze that academics and former diplomats say could have a detrimental impact on US policy in Russia, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
McFaul could not immediately be reached Friday for comment on Title VIII’s defunding or his own experience with the program, and he did not respond to a request for comment sent via Twitter in time for publication.
Collins said in his March 2012 congressional testimony that the program has “thousands of alumni in both academia and government” and “undeniable benefits for the practical crafting and conduct of foreign assistance programs in the region.”
“We need only look at the place this region played as we pursued our goals in Afghanistan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, or Ukraine to validate the need for effective research and analysis that assure our policy makers the best information and understanding available as they craft our approaches to this region and its nations,” Collins said.
Title VIII proponents argue that the modest funding level for the program – around $3.5 million last year, according to one US scholarly society – is a bargain for the advanced research and language training that it yields. They say the sums constitute a pittance in the context of the federal budget but are a crucial lifeline for scholars.
The decision to halt the funding risks putting the United States on a trajectory to repeat foreign policy missteps in the former Soviet bloc similar to those it made in its military-led operations in Iraq, respected Russia blogger Sean Guillory told RIA Novosti on Friday.
“The lack of specialists for intelligence, poor links with locals, reliance on English speakers, an overreliance on technology: It’s stuff like this that contributes to things like Iraq,” said Guillory, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
The Title VIII program was established in 1983 under late President Ronald Reagan in a push to build the nation’s reserves of experts on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
It is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, a member of the US intelligence community that says its “primary mission is to harness intelligence to serve US diplomacy.”