Will Putin?

Vladimir V. Putin’s op-ed piece in the NYTimes has set off a flurry of responses, some of them appreciative and some of them attempts at deconstruction. He definitely scored some points, and comes off looking like the diplomatic peace-maker instead of war-monger.

The question I ask is this: Will Putin permit President Obama the same space at the same media level for his own op-ed piece to Russia? If he were to permit it, which I doubt, and President Obama were to take the chance, what should he say to Russia?

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

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.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

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  • RobS

    Fascinating question, and I think it would be great for President Obama to ask about his publishing and free speech rights within Russia. I hinted (September 2nd via Twitter) that taking a diplomatic push by pressuring Russia for peace in Syria might be the President’s best play. Unfortunately, the Russians beat us to that dialogue.

    Sept 2nd via Twitter: “Flip the world on it’s head — push Russia to promote peace in Syria. You know, get crazy & earn that Nobel Peace Prize.”

    If the opportunity existed, to be able to encourage and promote future peaceful resolutions, less weapon sales to fuel the fire of conflict, and taking the high road would be key. It seems the Russian people have challenges with trust given what they’ve been through.

  • Unfortunately, I would probably disagree with Obama trying to bang the war drums to the Russian people. He doesn’t even speak for the American people on this issue. He is listening to something else. Maybe the companies that would profit off of the war. Maybe just some ideal that he doesn’t share with the American people. Whatever the case, I wouldn’t want him to try and convince the Russian people that we need to murder Syrians.

    You do have a point on freedom of speech, but I think Obama would use that freedom, if given it, for immoral things.

  • Rory Tyer

    I am especially interested in the phrase “there is every reason to believe” that it was the opposition, not the regime, that used poison gas. The administration has made just about the strongest statements it could otherwise. Somebody is not living in reality with respect to this issue.

  • metanoia

    A former KGB head giving us counsel and advice? Thanks, but no thanks. I see this attempt by Putin as no more than a taking advantage of an opportunity to make our President look weak and to increase his own presence on the world stage. He is, and should be, expected to take whatever stance he does on the basis of looking out for his own interests, and Russia’s interests, in that order. As for PresBO addressing the Russian people and spelling out his case for taking action against the Syrians? If he can’t convince Americans, I hardly think he will be successful at swaying Russian minds. The handling of the Syrian situations on the part of this administration has been dismal at best verging on the edge of disastrous.

  • While Putin might very well be a dictator, he is entirely right on that!

    If the West intervened, the islamists would take over the country. Replacing a political tyranny by a theocracy isn’t a good thing according to the words of C.S. Lewis:

    “I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

    And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication,”

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • Bev Mitchell

    Such an opportunity may be fair ball, but there is much more at stake and, as far as we can see, much still to be learned.

    Have a look at James Fallows’ piece in The Atlantic on Sept 12. “What Putin Understands That Most Americans Don’t”

    And also take him up on his suggestion to read Robert Kaplan’s amazing ‘apology’, also published Sept. 12 “How Syria Is Like Iraq”. Fallows provides the link at the bottom of his piece.

  • Patrick

    Pravda already approved a McCain rebuttal. McCain is our most bloodthirsty warmonger, so if he can’t convince the Russki to side with us in murder and assistance to al qaeda in Syria, Obama wouldn’t succeed either.