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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Maybe Putin Was Right

Calum Hayes |
September 13, 2013 | 8:30 p.m. PDT


Many Americans reacted negatively to Putin’s article, probably because they know he’s right. (poniblog; Neon Tommy Flickr)
Many Americans reacted negatively to Putin’s article, probably because they know he’s right. (poniblog; Neon Tommy Flickr)
The initial nationwide reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's New York Times op-ed questioning President Obama's handling of the Syria crisis was to disregard the piece as a whole because of a handful of lines we disagree with.

Unfortunately, that reaction not only blinds us to what was a well thought-out piece, but also to what has been a string of events in which Putin has out-thought Obama.

Earlier this week, Putin outlined a proposal in which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his regime would hand over their stockpile of chemical weapons. This came after weeks of President Obama advocating a military strike against Assad that surely would have killed innocent civilians because… I can’t answer that because.

Why are we only capable of seeing the military option in these situations? Jon Stewart spoke to this perfectly the other night: when will we as a country realize that just because we’re a super power doesn’t mean we have super powers? We’re like the super hero who keeps ripping his work clothes off, only to discover he’s just standing there naked.

Many Americans reacted negatively to Putin’s article and I can’t help but feel its because we know he’s right. Why are we so eager to use military action when the last ten years have shown us how ineffective it is? We have sent thousands of Americans to go die in Iraq and Afghanistan, created tens of thousands of new terrorists who hate the United States and failed to achieve nearly all of our goals. Even before Putin offered Obama a diplomatic way out of the military corner he had backed himself into, the English offered a similar lifeline, a lifeline Obama ignored.

The English House of Parliament resoundingly told Prime Minister David Cameron that England would not use military force in Syria. The United States' biggest ally refused to go to war alongside us and even then our leadership wouldn’t take the out. Instead President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry kept digging their hole deeper. First it was a transparent attempt by Kerry to emotionally hook American citizens by means of describing exactly what crimes were being committed by Assad’s regime, while ignoring any potential wrongdoing by the rebels. Then it was President Obama trying to squirm his way out of his “red line” comments by saying it was the world's “red line,” even though he was clearly the only one to speak in those terms.

Rarely did I ever think I would agree with “former” KGB members, but where is Putin wrong in his assertion that if the United States refuses to play by United Nations rules everyone else should feel threatened? If you lived in a different country how would you feel about the United States not caring what the UN says? The purpose of the UN is to create a coalition that governs the world together, not to create a group of countries that have to follow whatever we say. Where is Putin wrong when he says if the United States refuses to follow international law, we are encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons? If we’re that wild card country that will bomb you regardless of what anyone else says or proves, why wouldn’t you arm yourself to the teeth? We walk around trying to figure out why these countries we call “unstable” want nuclear weapons. Could it be because they don’t trust us to fulfill our international obligations? 

I acknowledge President Putin’s last point, “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” as a fantastic piece of trolling. However, one statement on equality from a man who doesn’t believe in gay marriage does not undermine what is otherwise a well thought-out piece. Putin says there is no evidence Assad used chemical weapons on his people, something President Obama says there is evidence of. While I am inclined to believe the man I voted for nine months ago, I can’t get the words “WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION” to stop flashing in the back of my mind.

We’ve been down this road before. We’ve tried to convince other countries to go to war in the Middle East based on potentially questionable statements of who has what weapons. The general reaction to Putin’s piece was similar to the one I have when someone tells me I messed up. I find all the little problems in their argument where I’m sure I didn’t screw up so I can keep delaying the moment when I have to admit I was wrong. 

Do we really want to keep pushing that moment back? Our leadership and us as a nation have been thrown multiple lifelines to keep us from bombing Syria; isn’t it time we took one? Much like my efforts to avoid admitting when I screw up, the reaction to Putin’s piece revealed our embarrassment at having been wrong, at having been outsmarted. It revealed our embarrassment that President Putin created a plan to prevent an escalation of violence while our Nobel Peace Prize winning president continued to advocate solutions to do just that. President Obama may have been calling for a limited strike in Syria, but Vladimir Putin is the one dropping bombs this week.


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