So Yeah, I’m Gonna Have To Go Ahead And Agree With Vladimir Putin

This past Wednesday Russia President Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed in the New York Times. In “A Plea For Caution From Russia,” Putin urges the United States, by speaking directly to Americans, to show some restraint with events surrounding Syria. And yeah, I’m gonna have to go ahead and agree with Putin, at least on some of his points.

Vladimir Putin — 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.

Putin is engaging in a lot of the same speculative nonsense as our own President and administration. The difference is U.S. speculation revolves around other dictators and tyrants being emboldened to use chemical weapons, while Putin’s speculation is that military action in Syria will cause an escalation of violence outside Syria’s borders and expanding to other Middle East countries. In both cases, the outcome is unknown.

But while Putin is playing the same game, he is correct to point out that war for punitive purposes can escalate beyond the original military operation, even if we cannot say with any confidence how it will play out. So while I won’t play the game of speculation, it’s still true that President Obama and his administration cannot guarantee a self-contained military operation in Syria.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

Usually it’s the conservative Right in America who are the war hawks, and they typically would not be persuaded by a “rule of law” argument against getting involved in a military conflict. But that seems to be the position many Republicans are taking, which makes this situation even more bizarre, to find American conservatives and Vladimir Putin on the same side of an argument. But to be fair, there are conservatives who still proudly cluck like chickenhawks when they sense any chance for war.

But Putin is correct here. The United States needs to stop being the world police. And even by saying that, I must point out that the police are supposed to follow the law. The police should not turn into a self-appointed rogue vigilante force, handing out justice with the use of force without due process. The same is true of the United States. Unless we are attacked, we have no business bombing another country without at least going through due process, in this case the United Nations Security Council.

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.”

Alarming indeed. Why does America think the world must come around to it’s point-of-view? We are not an empire, or at least we should not be. If we say we are for freedom and liberty, then we need to stop imposing our viewpoint and our military force into parts of the world where it is not welcome. And the last time I checked, America can hardly claim to be a shining example of moral supremacy given our actions over the past dozen years since 9/11. Remember, we tortured people in the name of national security, and there are too many people in America who still think we should be. We have no place telling other nations what is or isn’t moral.

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.

This is the reality of any military action. There will be innocent victims. And in fact, even people working within Assad’s regime are not necessarily guilty. They are still human beings, even if they happen to be working for a mass-murdering dictator. What gives us the right to extinguish their lives, let alone the lives of unquestionably innocent Syrians?

And I hate to say it again, but Putin is right that continued use of force around the globe gives our foes more reason to believe they need to be armed to protect themselves. This is quite similar to the NRA stance on guns in America. The idea that deadly force is the answer, so we must arm ourselves. But this only leads to more violence and death, not a more civil society.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I’m glad we have a president in Barack Obama who can put aside differences and even a little pride to find a diplomatic solution instead of resorting to war. I’m not sure if George W. Bush was president that we wouldn’t already be watching the bombs falling in Syria.

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. 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.

Okay, so this is where Putin starts to lose me. I agree with the sentiment even if I would leave God out of the equation. And I absolutely agree with his statement on American exceptionalism. Americans would not accept anyone else in the world making such a claim about themselves and their country, but the rest of the world is supposed to applaud us and our exceptionalism? Yeah, fuck that. If you can’t see how ridiculous that is, I doubt I’ll be able to explain it to you.

But where Putin loses me is when he makes an incredibly hypocritical statement about equality while he actively discriminates against gays in his country. Putin, it’s time for you to remember we ARE all equal, including gays and lesbians in your nation.

Vladimir putin


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