In "American Exceptionalism and Human Rights," edited by Michael Ignatieff, his essay and introduction provides a thesis for discussion by eleven experts in international law and international relations, including: Stanley Hoffmann, Paul Kahn, Harold Koh, Frank Michelman, Andrew Moravcsik, John Ruggie, Frederick Schauer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Carol Steiker, and Cass Sunstein.
Each of the contributors explores the various aspects of the American approach to international relations, highlighting the social, cultural, and institutional basis of what characterizes the policies and principles that are uniquely American -- yet are essentially universal, in nature, in terms of their being basic human rights -- such as those characteristic of what the political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset coined "the first new nation" which essentially comprises "Americanism," an ideology that is based on the fundamental ideals expressed in the Bill of Rights: liberty and equal opportunity:
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.
The Bill of Rights -- dating from 1789 -- became the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, and are guarantees of essential rights, liberties and responsibilities that had been omitted in the original document:
Amendment I covers the free exercise of religious freedom, the freedom of the press that is absolutely critical in any system of self-government; the freedom or speech; the freedom of the people to peaceably assemble; and to petition the Government for a redress of grieviences.
Amendment II covers the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
Amendment III covers the freedom from quartering soldiers in any house in peace time; and in war only in a manner prescribed by law.
Amendment IV covers the right of the people "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures;" and the freedom from the issuance of warrants only upon "probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Amendment V covers the freedom of a person's being held to answer for "a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;" the freedom from double jeopardy; the freedom from being compelled to testify as a witness against oneself; the freedom from being deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; and the freedom from having private property taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI covers the right to "a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation;" the right of a person to be confronted with the witnesses testifying against him or her; the right to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his or her favor; and the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his or her defense.
Amendment VII covers the right of trial by jury to be preserved, "and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
Amendment VIII covers the right to be free from a requirement of excessive bail, "nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Amendment IX covers the right that "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Amendment X covers the reservation to the States or to the people of the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States."
Reporting for Reuters yesterday, Timothy Heritage notes the irony in some aspects of President Putin’s current argument, noting that in his first article that appeared in the New York Times in 1999, he argued the opposite position, in defense of Russian military against the separatists in Chechnya.
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 2 ½ year- conflict in Syria, the New York-based organization, Human Rights Watch, was critical of Russian 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.
President Putin 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."
President Putin acknowledges that although we were opposed to one another’s policies during the cold war, we were allies in defeating the Nazis, and from that experience the United Nations evolved “to prevent such devastation from ever happening again,” and for this reason we must continue to try to work within the UN Charter.
Our failure to succeed in this, he says, 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."
Another point worth noting for its irony, 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.
An interesting point of departure in his Op-Ed comes as President Putin challenges 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, there is a danger to what would appear to be such rhetorical swagger:
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.
We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
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."