President Vladimir Putin penned an Op Ed in the New York Times that seems to have outraged everyone but, perhaps, President Obama. In his interesting piece he makes a number of perfectly reasonable and basically true observations: he wanted to communicate to the American people as communications between Russia and the U.S. have not been as good as they should be (true), the U.S. should proceed with caution against Syria as the result of our attack might well lead to terrible consequences (true), an attack by us on Syria would be illegal and in violation of international law (true), no one wants to see the UN fail, as did the League of Nations (true), he gets along well with President Obama and respects him, and so on (perhaps true). I thought his remarks made sense and were pretty mild compared to what he might have said. But two of his remarks seem to have hit sore spots with many Congresspersons, (1) when he suggested it might have been the rebels who used chemical weapons (perhaps not true), and (2) he warned us that our belief in American exceptionalism could be dangerous (true).
As to the first point, most people seem to believe that it was Assad that used them, although there is as yet no absolute proof of this allegation made repeatedly and commonly by Kerry, Obama, and others. On the other hand there is no proof the rebels used them either, but Putin is clearly in the minority here. I guess when he remarked that it was unwise for any nation to claim exceptionalism that was more than some could take. Boehner said he was insulted, Menendez said he wanted to vomit, McCain said it was an insult to the intelligence of every American, and so on. In a more sarcastic vein Reid suggested Putin just wanted to show off his Super Bowl ring. Senator Inhof complained about having to read this stuff (I wonder who made him do it, and I am pleased to learn that I guess he maybe can read. His abysmal ignorance about other things like global warming has made me wonder about this). Although I can’t cite them I’m pretty sure others made similar remarks even less intelligent than these.
Remember, Putin did not say the U.S. was not exceptional. He merely said it was dangerous for any nation to claim to be. If you reflect upon where our claim to exceptionalism has taken us in recent years I think Putin’s opinion is worth considering. I do not dispute that Americans have claimed to be exceptional for years, but I have little idea of what our so-called exceptionalism entails. Unless you mean we have an exceptional military establishment I doubt any other such claim. As far as I am concerned the only thing exceptional about the U.S. is its absolutely mindless surrender to a military/industrial/political complex that thrives on permanent war, overproduces all kinds of basically useless military equipment that the armed services in many cases don’t even want, and thus sucks money away from infrastructure, health care, education. Research, and everything else our nation desperately needs. We are exceptionally stupid in this regard.
What he said was mostly true, but they were things said, including many truths, that we did not want to hear. This has given some an excuse to vilify Putin himself, saying he cannot be trusted, he has done worse things than we have, he’s a known killer, and etc. I guess Bush/Cheney, and now Obama, are not killers, having killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan (and other places), and now sending drones to do even more killing. Our response to what Putin has said has been basically childish, something you might expect on a fourth grade play yard when someone told you that so-and-so doesn’t really like you. I thought his Op Ed was relatively gentle as such things go and I suggest we should take what Putin actually said, in his attempt to communicate with the American public, with the grain of sand it deserves but pay attention. And yes, he sometimes appears shirtless doing remarkable things, but I have never seen him cutting brush on an ex hog farm (claimed to be a ranch) while he should be attending to business. And he did a marvelous rendition of Blueberry Hill. President Putin is the elected leader of an enormous and powerful nation, he should not be denigrated with cheap shots anymore than President Obama should. So lighten up, listen, and pay attention.
The ability to compromise is not a diplomatic politeness toward a partner but rather taking into account and respecting your partner's legitimate interests.