Surprise would probably be the best word to describe the reaction last night when the New York Times published an op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin titled “A Plea For Caution From Russia.” Both the content and the venue were largely unexpected even by seasoned political observers as Putin directly addressed the American people. The main point of Putin’s piece was his opposition to strikes in Syria.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Pretty reasonable point – war has uncertain outcomes. No one has been able to say what step 2 is after we bomb Syria or why it is in our interest to do so in the first place.
Putin then went on to make the point that probably killed the idea in Congress – the opposition to Assad are not people friendly to America.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Remember Al Qaeda? The organization we are still at war with that justified killing American citizens without a trial. Drone strikes? Anyone? That’s who we are empowering with a strike on the Assad government.
Putin also went on to note the charges being made that the opposition may have been the ones who used the gas as well as saying if Obama broke international law he would actually encourage the spread of WMDs.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
North Korea has one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world, why isn’t Obama talking about bombing them unilaterally? We all know the answer.
The final point in the op-ed is probably one of the more interesting ones. Putin critiqued the idea of American Exceptionalism directly.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Despite making a solid argument, we should never forget that Putin is pursuing his own agenda. And it is impossible for me to not think about the horrendous discrimination against gay people going on today in Russia when President Putin talks about human rights. Nonetheless, compared to Obama’s speech on Syria this op-ed is refreshingly coherent.