ussian President Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in Thursday's New York Times, urging the American people and their representatives to exercise caution in Syria.
It's a mixture of high-minded idealism ("No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations"; "We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement"), lecture on international law ("We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.... Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council"), and appeal to self-interest ("There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters.... Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?).
There are also special shoutouts to various American political constituencies ("...Strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope..."; "Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored"), a dash of obfuscation ("There is every reason to believe [poison gas] was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons..."), and just plain button-pushing ("In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes").
It is, in some ways, a masterpiece of political persuasion. Then there's Putin's parting shot:
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.... 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.... We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal. [New York Times]
The White House put a positive spin on Putin's op-ed, with a senior White House official telling CNN's Jake Tapper that most of the Russian president's bluster is "irrelevant," but that his committing in ink to stripping the Assad government of its chemical weapons (CW) is a big deal:
He put this proposal forward and he's now invested in it. That's good. That's the best possible reaction. He's fully invested in Syria's CW disarmament and that's potentially better than a military strike — which would deter and degrade but wouldn't get rid of all the chemical weapons. He now owns this. He has fully asserted ownership of it and he needs to deliver. [White House official, to CNN]
It's fair to say that most commentators didn't see Putin's message to America in such a rosy light. Here are some of the best responses to Putin's op-ed, dished out in 140-character ripostes:
Putin just won the world champion belt in concern trolling http://t.co/tBPbQP56FC— AdamSerwer (@AdamSerwer) September 12, 2013
Putin now just basically doing donuts in Obama's front yard http://t.co/YuN2SdfMkd— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) September 12, 2013
That riff about exceptionalism in the Putin op-ed does for the art of trolling like "Sgt. Pepper" did for the rock album.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) September 12, 2013
Putin's next act of Obama trolling: a series of Youtube lectures on Constitutional Law— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) September 12, 2013
At least Russia is the kind of free, open society that will allow President Obama to respond in their biggest newspaper. Oh wait.— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) September 12, 2013
I hope President Obama submits a pro-gay marriage op-ed to http://t.co/XKoKnOyCwP tomorrow. Not that they'd post it.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 12, 2013
I hope Putin has taken adequate protections. Now that he is a Russian journalist his life may be in grave danger!— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) September 12, 2013
Putin has NYT op-ed out tonight and is also working on 20 Russian bears who would be so disappointed if you bombed Syria for BuzzFeed.— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) September 12, 2013
Putin also working on his @NewYorker cartoon caption-contest submission this week.— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) September 12, 2013
Meh, I'm holding out for Putin's Modern Love column.— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) September 12, 2013
Putin op-ed really does read like the action movie villain speech about you idealistic Americans and your "freedom" at the very end— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) September 12, 2013
Between rejecting force trigger in French proposal & lecturing America on peace/democracy, Putin's making it real easy for Congress to act— Bill Scher (@billscher) September 12, 2013
New theory: Putin's trying to annoy Americans into supporting a disastrous attack— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) September 12, 2013
Last paragraph is jaw-dropping. Putin dismissing US exceptionalism. On 9/11. Stunning after Obama's speech last night http://t.co/I7DiX3YQ7m— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) September 12, 2013
It's a good thing Vladimir Putin followed the letter of international law when it intervened in Georgia. Wait....— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) September 12, 2013
Putin's op-ed, invoking God and international law, is just a work of art. Reminds of the old "the devil can quote scripture" line— Stephen Saideman (@smsaideman) September 12, 2013
Putin could have made a strong, substantive case for non-intervention. The case he actually made, however, is pretty laughable.— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) September 12, 2013
Like most clever propagandists Putin combines half truth and half lies and is very good at it. His comms staff are top notch.— joshuafoust (@joshuafoust) September 12, 2013
So according to Putin, rebels used chem weapons. So he'll solve problem by collecting Assad's CW. When you lie at least make sure it fits.— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) September 12, 2013
"You know I think does the gassing? It is not not Bashar. It is, what his name, Newman from your show the Seinfeld."— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) September 12, 2013
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy
- Why would a young person today be religious?
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Attack of the invasive species
- Why Good Friday is so important to Christians
- Which states get screwed worst by the Electoral College?
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week