Putin schools Obama

Furthering his bid for a Nobel Peace Prize, Vladimir Putin steps forth as a prince of peace in the New York Times op-ed column “A plea for caution from Russia.” Putin seeks to inject a dose of sweet reason into what he refers to as “events surrounding Syria.”

Putin’s column implicitly characterizes President Obama as something of a cowboy in the sphere of international relations. Putin deems President Obama in need of a tutorial on the rationale of the United Nations and its role in the resolution of conflict between and among nations. Putin has come to give Obama the short course. It’s The UN for Dummies:

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. 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.

What could President Obama have been thinking? Thank goodness Russia has a leader like President Putin to set President Obama right, and that President Obama has placed himself in a position where he has to listen.

President Obama must be a bit disappointed. He thought that President Putin was his friend. Obama couldn’t wait until he was reelected so that he would be afforded the “flexibility” needed to neuter American assets in service to Russian desires.

Putin seems to be intent on ripping off the fig leaf of respectability from the “assistance” Russia has offered. It must be something of a shock for Obama to have Putin step forward as Vlad the Impaler. Putin now publicly humiliates Obama in Obama’s favorite newspaper.

Obama must now sense that Putin is a merciless man, even to one as well intentioned as Obama. Weakness is apparently not conducive to respect. Analyze this:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

There can be no greater indignity in Obama’s eyes than to be presented as the true successor to the foreign policy of President Bush. So that is of course exactly what Putin does. Putin demonstrates a somewhat better understanding of President Obama than President Obama does of Putin. Putin has Obama’s number. President Putin patiently explains:

[F]orce has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

Last week Obama instructed us on what “the world” had to say about Syria. This week President Putin returns the favor. I wonder if all this follows up on their discussions at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg. We can only guess.

President Putin even pauses to take issue with President Obama’s tepid, indeed pathetic, statement of American exceptionalism Obama’s speech on Tuesday night:

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. 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.

In a twist on the Declaration of Independence, President Putin seems to assert that all countries are created equal. President Putin presents himself as a savant of multiculturalism. Who knew?

The doctrine of the equality of nations is lacking in truth. Some are better than others, as President Putin’s column itself suggests. As for America’s being no better than any other country, and possibly even a bit worse than most — one senses that President Putin and President Obama will be able to find common ground on this point when they sit down to hash things out.

As for the prince of peace shtick, does Putin himself walk the walk? That, I am afraid, must be a subject for another day. At this point President Obama cannot afford to give President Putin back what he deserves.

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