When I wrote about Vladimir Putin’s op ed in the New York Times, I said:
I think it was largely disingenuous, since it’s kind of obvious that Syria (which houses a key Russian military base) is an area of great political importance for Russia. It’s sad, because the reasons Putin gave for opposing America rattling the sabre of war were pretty good.
Most politicians are proficient at saying the right political thing. However, many of those same politicians fail completely at doing the proper moral thing (or acting for good moral reasons). I don’t think the reasons Putin gave for averting war were the reasons he held at heart, which is a pity because they would’ve scored him some points with me. It would not have scored him enough points to wipe away the massive point deficit he has built up with policies against gays and the suppression of liberty in his own country, but it would’ve been a start.
Because the reasons Putin gave (though I don’t think they were sincere) were good, it left Obama and his push for military intervention looking quite bad. Obama, ever the diplomat, missed the opportunity to point out that Putin’s own style of government suggests (actually, it screams it from the rooftops) that President Putin isn’t exactly the type to be made sick by death and injustice. Instead Obama brushed off Putin’s criticisms while his press secretary said that such a piece would never fly in Russia. For the most part, he was correct. John McCain, however, did not brush off Putin’s remarks and the publication Pravda has quite bravely published McCain’s retort. Suffice to say that Senator McCain did not mince words.
Here’s his opening:
When Pravda.ru editor, Dmitry Sudakov, offered to publish my commentary, he referred to me as “an active anti-Russian politician for many years.” I’m sure that isn’t the first time Russians have heard me characterized as their antagonist. Since my purpose here is to dispel falsehoods used by Russia’s rulers to perpetuate their power and excuse their corruption, let me begin with that untruth. I am not anti-Russian. I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today.
A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered. President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values. They don’t respect your dignity or accept your authority over them. They punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They harass, threaten, and banish organizations that defend your right to self-governance. To perpetuate their power they foster rampant corruption in your courts and your economy and terrorize and even assassinate journalists who try to expose their corruption.
They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule.
Sergei Magnistky wasn’t a human rights activist. He was an accountant at a Moscow law firm. He was an ordinary Russian who did an extraordinary thing. He exposed one of the largest state thefts of private assets in Russian history. He cared about the rule of law and believed no one should be above it. For his beliefs and his courage, he was held in Butyrka prison without trial, where he was beaten, became ill and died. After his death, he was given a show trial reminiscent of the Stalin-era and was, of course, found guilty. That wasn’t only a crime against Sergei Magnitsky. It was a crime against the Russian people and your right to an honest government – a government worthy of Sergei Magnistky and of you.
There is a time for diplomacy, but there is also a time for saying that our discourse has gone beyond the typical white lies and obscuring inherent in political dialogue and has instead become entirely dishonest. I often think that Obama does not know where that line is, and I wish he did.
The sad thing is that McCain has nothing to gain or lose politically by calling down the heinous policies and actions of the Russian government, which makes it easy for us to see what he is capable of. I wish that Sen. McCain could do this with his own Republican party and the electorate to which he answers. It would be nice to see that integrity applied on our own soil. I would’ve voted for this man in 2008.