Egos are wonderful things in presidential beings. And the bigger they are, the more important it is that they continue to expand and that everyone knows from whence their divine gift flows. That, in part, is the personal ballast behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s letter to the American people published in Thursday’s New York Times.
His perception that President Obama is foundering on the shoals of the Syrian mess provided him the opportunity to do what he has long desired, which is to lift his profile internationally and to do so by lowering the president’s.
Or so he thought.
It wasn’t difficult. Most Americans are opposed to the president’s declaration that he would order a strike on Syria in response to the alleged gassing of innocent Syrians. Most Americans want no part of a conflict in a Middle Eastern nation embroiled in an unwinnable civil war.
Been there. Done that. Didn’t work.
Mr. Putin also made good use of the argument that the world should be guided by laws and the need for the world’s superpowers to exercise restraint; that it is better to be united than divided, otherwise order fails and chaos ensues.
The Russian president, obviously wanting to be seen as the diplomatic elephant, among the sheep, could not resist the opportunity to lecture, which triggered the predictable American response. Mr. Putin is hardly in a position to lecture others about conduct, or about democracy, or about most anything related to personal freedoms, or governmental adventurism.
Thus, the immediate rebuff by those who seized the opportunity to blast Mr. Putin for meddling in our affairs when he cannot take care of his own. And there is the hypocrisy of it all. After all, Russia did not ask for the United Nation’s permission to invade Afghanistan.
There are some things you just don’t accept, and being lectured by the likes of Mr. Putin is among the counted.
Except when the lecture can be turned to one’s advantage.
If Mr. Putin wants to take the lead in Syria, by all means, let him. Not only should we let him, but the president should graciously welcome his role and then say the United States will stand behind him. Mr. Putin is the man. Let him know his lead role is one we will watch carefully and that the world will judge him based upon the results accomplished.
Our role should be one of simply supplying and then verifying the facts. And one of those facts is that if Mr. Putin wants Syria to be a more peaceful place, it will need to stop supplying Mr. Assad with heavy weapons. It will need to rain in Mr. Assad’s bloodthirsty, vengeful ways.
Mr. Putin is best positioned of any leader in the world to force Mr. Assad to the negotiating table. It would be a first. Instead of President Obama being the scold, and inviting the predictable, knee-jerk opposition of the Arab world, Mr. Putin can share the burden.
We should care less about who takes credit and more about what it takes to restore some semblance of sanity to this part of the Arab world. Mr. Putin knows full well, his articulated thoughts to the contrary, that Mr. Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks on his own people. As the evidence becomes more compelling (our role to make it so), Mr. Putin will need to tell Mr. Assad to avoid making him look foolish on the international stage.
If Russia believes Syria will honor its pledge to give up its arsenal of chemical weapons (something it once denied having), then, by all means, let’s allow Russia to play the policeman’s role and guarantee this promised behavior.
It was the concluding paragraph or two that was pure Putin and the rhetorical nugget that made the letter the emotional missive it’s become.
“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”
One would not have to dig too deeply into the archives of Putin’s Russia to find similar claims of Russian exceptionalism. He’s long regretted the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the distinction it once had as the United States’ only equal. He would like it back.
But Americans should treat it as a throwaway line. It changes nothing. It cannot alter who we are, or how tightly we value our democracy, or how our melting pot of immigrants from around the globe has made us into who we are. Our “exceptionalism” is a value system, and one, by definition. that invited consensus and openness and tolerance.
The president of the United States has given the president of Russia (unwittingly or not) the chance to reshape a troubled part of our world. He will need to embrace many of our values to succeed.
It’s a gift we should not allow our own egos to devalue.
—Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger