It never feels good to hear a negative critique of yourself—especially when the criticism rings true. While its often said, and often the case, that those closest to us can hurt us the most, it seems that the voices that often stick in the back of our head the longest are the disparaging words of our enemies. I think it’s because not only are the words hard to hear, but they’re coming from a person we loathe. Perhaps this is why politicians from both sides of the aisle spoke out so strongly against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Op-Ed in the New York Times. In a piece published September 11 (the timing seeming all too planned), Putin made his case why the United States should not be pursing violent military intervention in Syria.
Putin’s letter is hardly explosive. He begins by being honest about the sometimes rocky political relationship between the U.S. and Russia since they were allies during WWII. He explains that the organization started to prevent another world war, the United Nations, should be taking the lead in matters of international conflict. Making an argument from history, Putin argues that America acting unilaterally on the international stage undermines the UN, and “no one wants to see the United Nations suffer the fate of the League of Nations.” For the non-historians among us, the League of Nations was the forerunner to the UN, spearheaded by then US President Woodrow Wilson after WWI in the hopes of preventing another world war. Well, sure enough another world war did occur, and the League of Nation was basically impotent in part because of the refused participation by the United States.
Putin doesn’t deviate much from the facts beyond, highlighting that the conflict in Syria is not “a struggle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi religious country.” He also twists the knife a bit painfully for any American politician reading this piece when he points out that Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly good examples of American interventionism, which leads him to make the point that
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.” Can anyone really disagree? In my own lifetime, I can think of the first Gulf War, Somolia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq again. Putin does assert that the poisonous gas used in Syria was done by the opposition forces—NOT the Syrian regime—in order to gain international support. While this seems a bit convenient for Putin, since Russia is an ally of Syria, the United States doesn’t have a good track record on weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Remember how the Bush administration had “no doubt” that Iraq possessed WMD’s? And historically, there is precedence that a leader might allow harm to their people in order to possibly swing the balance of power (Churchill, Lusitania).Putin does get a bit over the top when he asserts that Russia has been advocating peaceful dialogue “from the outset,” and when he claims that Russia is not protecting the Syrian government, but rather “international law.” Please. While Putin is hardly the “white knight” he tries to portray himself and Russia as in this piece, he does make a fair point—why should America keep acting unilaterally, doing whatever it wants, whenever it feels like it? Basically he’s saying, what’s the point of international law if the US isn’t going to follow it? And since America is basically THE financier of the UN, why should we keep funneling US taxpayer money into it if we’re going to ignore it? (Republicans, I already know where you want to go on that...)
It’s however Putin’s last paragraph which proves to be his strongest—and that which stings the most. Putin writes in direct response to President Obama’s claims that America is exceptional that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Try to disassociate for a second the fact that Putin made his comments in regards to America. On a personal level, I think we can all understand the problems when people walk around thinking their better than everyone else. Simply put, in the eyes of the rest of the world, America is like that good looking, rich kid, high school football star who thinks he’s better than the rest of the school. He’s not wise to the fact that the whole school hates him. (Besides, we all know that that same kid just ends up being a college-drop out living in his parent’s basement while still trying to ride out the glory days of high school ten years later). Take a deep breath, like it or not, Putin is right.
While Putin may not be the best person to deliver these critiques, we should take them to heart. It’s telling that most critiques of Putin’s Op-Ed have been regarding Putin the person, not what he actually wrote. It’s always easier to discredit a source rather than analyze the content of their message. Like I said earlier, the truth hurts, especially when it comes from someone we don’t like. So, rather than owning up to the reality that a lot of the world doesn’t like us, America has chosen to “shoot the messenger” rather than actually analyze the message itself. Seems like the perfectly American thing to do.