On Friday, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul wrote an opinion piece in TIME that takes issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin's well-read editorial piece published by The New York Times earlier in the week.
In his writing, Paul makes a passionate case rebutting Putin's assertion that America is not an exceptional nation in belief or behavior. However, while making his response to Putin's arguments, Paul takes an emotional and nationalistic tone that plays rather loose with historical fact.
The most glaring example of Paul's misleading tendencies shows when he inserts a conveniently pro-American recounting of how military action in Syria was put on pause recently.
After weeks of American pro-war rhetoric by elements in both parties, U.S. military involvement in Syria was avoided for the time being with Saturday's announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the destruction of Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons would instead be pursued.
According to Paul, this diplomatic avoidance of military conflict with Syria was spearheaded by America and made possible only because of the exceptional manner of America's governmental structure.
“America's exceptionalism is rooted in our founding documents and values,” Paul writes. “From the rights granted by our creator, but guaranteed by our Constitution.”
“We should not shy away from saying so, especially when our actions are in keeping with this exceptional founding, as they were this week in our debate over going to war with Syria. Our constitutional checks and balances were on full display, largely resulting in the at least temporary halting of a rush to war.”
But while Paul readily credits congressional dissenters for avoiding war with Syria, he fails to mention the role Russia played in this current push for diplomacy. In doing so, he fails to accurately recount how momentum for an alternative to war actually came about over the past week.
John Kerry was in London on Monday as part of his international tour to garner support for American military action. He was asked at a news conference if there was anything the government of al-Assad could do or offer to prevent a military strike by the United States.
In response to this question, Kerry offhandedly remarked that al-Assad could “turn over every bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.”
He then quickly dismissed such a notion by adding, “he (al-Assad) isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously.”
The Russians quickly capitalized on these remarks. In less than 24 hours – and shortly before President Obama was set to push for military action on national television - Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov turned Kerry's sarcastic comments into a concrete proposal to pursue just such a weapons agreement with Syria.
At first the White House dismissed Kerry's comments as rhetorical. However, under pressure, President Obama conceded to pursuing such a proposal.
So while Senator Paul maintains that it was congressional debate such as his that led to diplomacy over Syria, it appears that cleverly applied Russian pressure on the White House after Secretary of State Kerry's remarks in London are what actually stopped American war drums.
In addition to Senator Paul's questionable version of what actually led to the current hold on American military intervention in Syria, his opinion piece also skirts fact when he paints Russia as an aggressor in Syria and America as a party that has been neutral on the whole matter until just recently.
“Mr. Putin's (second) mistake is to focus on the speck in the eye of the United States, while ignoring the plank in his own,” writes Paul. “He accuses the United States of alarming interventions in foreign countries. While I certainly have my bone to pick with our foreign policy of the last 15 years, the Russian President is the least qualified person I can think of to make this argument with a straight face.
“We went to war in Afghanistan because they were harboring those who attacked us on 9/11. Mr. Putin's cohorts went to war there three decades earlier for no legitimate reason.
“The United States until now has resisted arming one side of the Syrian civil war – all the while the other side has been armed by Russia.”
While it is true that overt lethal aid from the United States to Syrian rebels was not known publicly until recently, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration has been sending military aid, including arms shipments, to rebels through the CIA since as far back as August.
The United States has also been providing financial and other aid to the Syrian rebel groups for over a year already, with total amounts now estimated to be reaching $1 billion dollars.
Senator Paul's insinuation that American contributions to the rebels' warfare capabilities did not begin until this week insults his readers' intelligence.
Paul finishes his TIME piece by painting America as the historical model of goodness that other nations should strive to emulate going forward.
“And I respond to him (Putin) directly with the statement that yes, America is indeed exceptional,” Paul writes. “Our history has proved it so. While we all share the same Creator, we do not all share the same richness of history regarding human rights, freedom and democracy.
“There has been over the past 200 years a city on the hill that has shone brighter than all others. We will not be ashamed of that. May God allow us to continue to model this example to the world in these difficult times.”
It is surprising to see someone as scholarly as Paul rely on simplistic and somewhat vague patriotic rhetoric to make his case for American exceptionalism.
It is also disappointing to see someone who knows the history of the Syrian conflict contort its history and America's role in it to upstage the Russians in his personal cold war of editorials writings.
In the context of his probable 2016 presidential aspirations, Paul's piece in TIME comes across more as campaign speech than intellectual rebuttal.