Russian President Vladimir Putin is star-struck.
He has the American action star Steven Seagal talking up Moscow’s Crimean policies. He extended Russian citizenship to the French movie icon Gérard Depardieu, who now owns a vineyard in Crimea. He basks in the ways that Russia’s cultural and artistic cognoscenti are supporting Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.
This offers the United States an unexpected opening. If Washington really wants to wield more influence over Putin, President Barack Obama need only place one call: to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Give “The Governator” a sequel as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Compare Schwarzenegger to Washington’s most recent ambassador, Michael McFaul. A Stanford political science professor, McFaul tended to follow his academic interests — focusing on building a civil society — which rubbed the Kremlin the wrong way and often hampered diplomatic efforts. Even John Tefft, a career diplomat and the former U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine who may be getting the Moscow post, is too well-known for his tough anti-Russian stance. He is unlikely to improve Washington’s relations with the Kremlin.
But consider: Schwarzenegger, who has serious political credentials as the two-term governor of California, is also the action hero of The Terminator, Terminator II: Judgment Day and Total Recall. He is a celebrated bodybuilder, five-time winner of the Mr. Universe competition. He has a larger-than-life personality, yet played a tough-but-kind nanny in Kindergarten Cop and an endearing man-mother in Junior.
Schwarzenegger personifies all the qualities that the Russian president most admires: He could teach Putin how to be everyone’s policeman and everyone’s nurse — at the same time. And since the Russian president is an avid martial arts enthusiast, the star of Collateral Damage and Commando could probably offer a few pointers.