The idea that Osama bin Laden's son would become a U.S. citizen and a disciple of Western democracy is about as crazy as imagining in 1958 that Nikita Khrushchev's son would do the same thing.
Fifty years ago, America's implacable enemy wasn't amorphous international terrorism but the seemingly surging Soviet Union. And its leader who doubled as the bogeyman for Americans was Nikita Khrushchev, father of then-22-year-old Sergei Khrushchev.
Obviously, much has changed since 1958. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed, spinning most recently in the past decade from nascent hopes for democracy into a post-Communist netherworld that's a blend of democracy, oligarchy and kleptocracy under Vladimir Putin.
And Sergei Khrushchev, formerly a Soviet missile engineer, is now a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. On Wednesday night, June 4, Khrushchev will speak in Portland at the World Affairs Council on the topic "Russia After Putin."
He counsels patience to those expecting Russia to become an overnight democracy.
"Even if you bring together the nine best women, they cannot give birth in one month," he said in a phone interview last week. "Americans' biggest misconception is that you can create American democracy in one year. It may take until the end of the 21st century."
His take on post-Putin Russia differs sharply from that of many Russia analysts. They fret there's no post-Putin Russia because Putin's selection of Dmitry Medvedev as his presidential successor—and Putin's move into the prime minister's post—marks a major step back toward one-man rule.
Instead, Khrushchev calls Putin's move groundbreaking—like George Washington spurning a third term—because he stepped down.
Khrushchev, who doesn't bemoan his homeland's fall from Cold War superpower status, has been a U.S. citizen since 1999.
Asked which 2008 presidential candidate he supports in his adopted country, Khrushchev gives a politic answer. He won't commit to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and says he respects Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as a "great man" who called to congratulate him after he became a citizen. But Khrushchev doesn't think he'll vote for him because Khrushchev opposes the Iraq war.
FACT: Khrushchev, who has written extensively about his father, says his father was "more of a revisionist." Of his mother, Khrushchev says, "She was a real communist."