Russian President Vladimir Putin, already established as a prominent artist, singer, and judo master, has now added New York Times contributor to his resume. As the U.S. steps back from a plan to bomb Syria, Putin decided " to speak directly to the American people" in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday evening. After reminding America of the good times — "[we] defeated the Nazis together," he writes — Putin launches into an argument for "caution," claiming that a U.S. strike against Syria could "throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance." Here's more:
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.
Of course, the Russian president is already addressing an American public skeptical of any plan to intervene in Syria, and that might be the point: as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad tried to do in an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week, Putin is likely sensing the direction of the wind of U.S. public opinion here, and trying to appeal to it. That's even as Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Russia to work on a possible diplomatic solution to the Syrian situation. And while he's at it, Putin weighs in on what he thinks America stands for in another key passage:
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
At the same time, Putin inserts the latest version of an argument that's led to the country's repeated use of a veto on the U.N. Security Council against pretty much any resolution condemning the Syrian government, especially after the August 21st chemical attacks. "There is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army," Putin writes, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists." Russia has been one of Syria's strongest allies through the conflict in the country.
Putin also finds room to close with a criticism of American Exceptionalism, a notion President Obama gave slightly more than a dog whistle to in his Tuesday address to the country:
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.
He closes with an appeal that, one might suspect, will fall flat to the ears of any of Russia's LGBT residents, who currently face a series of highly restrictive laws supported by Putin and his government: "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."