Forgoing ordinary diplomatic courtesies, to his advantage, the Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has penned another Op-Ed piece to the New York Times, “A Plea for Caution From Russia,” now seizing the moment to portray himself as the true peacemaker in the Syrian conflict.
Mr. Putin seems to be asking today, that Americans think of him as just another well-meaning fellow with an opinion; rather than as the Head of State, Supreme Commander-in-chief, and the highest office holder within the Russian Federation.
President Putin suggests that he is speaking to Congressional leaders and to the people of the United States, now because it is a time of “insufficient" communication between our two nations, and although we were opposed to one another’s policies during the cold war, we were allied in defeating the Nazis, and that the United Nations was established “to prevent such devastation from ever happening again,” and that we must continue to try to work within the UN Charter. Our failure to succeed in this could put the hope of global cooperation at great risk:
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.
"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."
President Putin also notes that this internal conflict, is “fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition,” and that mercenaries from Arab countries, along with other militants both from Russia and from Western countries are very dangerous not only for what they do and have done in Syria, but having been educated in the killing fields of Syria they will return to their home countries to wage war – as the extremists have done in Mali after having been fiercely involved in Libya – and this poses a threat "to us all."
Worth noting, though, is President Putin’s summary statement relating to America’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, where “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.” Ironically, he makes this statement on the anniversary of the grotesquely-inhumane attack on the United States -- out of the clear blue sky -- on September 11, 2001.
Another interesting point of departure comes as President Putin challenged the concept of "American exceptionalism,” noting that President Obama pointed to the policy of the United States as what makes America different, especially the President's belief that 'The words of the international community must mean something.' Its President Putin’s belief that irrespective of one’s motivation for making such a claim, “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional,” arguing that whether one comes from a large country or a small one, whether that country is rich or poor, or may have a long-standing democratic tradition or “those still finding their way to democracy,” we are all different, says President Putin, but we were created as equal, under God.
An interesting treatment of this particular topic can be found in "American Exceptionalism and Human Rights;" and "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror," by Michael Ignatieff, based on the Tanner Lectures that he delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values:
In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish.
There is one point on which the majority of Americans and Russians are both likely to be in agreement, however, as President Putin noted:
“A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this."
Reporting for Reuters, Timothy Heritage notes the irony in some aspects of President Putin’s current argument:
Critics pointed out that Putin's 1999 article in the New York Times took the opposite tack by defending Russian military action in an internal conflict against separatists in Chechnya.
Others noted that Russia had sent troops to Georgia in 2008 without U.S. Security Council approval, although Moscow said it was responding to Georgian military action against Russians inside Georgia's internationally recognized territory. Some portrayed Putin as hypocritical in warning the United States it must uphold international law ...”
As Syria’s greatest ally, its largest supplier of arms; and as the greatest obstacle to the United Nations’ efforts to put a stop to the suffering and death of over 100,000 individuals in the last 2 ½ years since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the New York-based human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, was critical of President Putin’s opinion piece:
"President Putin should give more credit to his audience: Russia will be judged by its actions, both on the international arena and domestically.
So far, Russia has been a key obstacle to ending the suffering in Syria. A change towards a more constructive role would be welcome. But a compilation of half-truths and accusations is not the right way to signal such a change."