According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, those who consider the United States of America “exceptional” above other countries—including President Obama—represent an “extremely dangerous” mindset when it comes to international relations and global peace.
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The closing salvo in a sharply worded, yet conciliatory, open letter to the American people in the form of a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, Putin suggests that amid the ongoing crisis in Syria the U.S. should maintain its leadership role in the world, but drop its claim to ultimate superiority.
Though new diplomatic efforts are underway at the United Nations over Syria’s civil war, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set to begin two-day talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday—a comparison of Putin’s op-ed with Obama’s televised address on Tuesday reveals an ironic twist for some observers who note that the former KGB official and noted authoritarian is running circles around the Nobel Peace Prize laureate when it comes to promoting a settlement in the region that doesn’t include cruise missile strikes or a bombing campaign.
Putin’s op-ed—an attempt “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders,” he says—argues that the world must respect the structures established by the creation of the United Nations if it wants to avoid the horrific consequences that could be unleashed if the U.S. decides to strike Syria without sanction by the international community. He writes:
In contrast, many observers took Obama’s Tuesday night speech as a continued assault against international law when he indicated that he alone could still order a war against Syria.
Declaring he still “possessed the authority to order military strikes,” Obama also said that U.S. forces will remain on standby “if diplomacy fails.”
But, regarding his claim to have “authority” to attack Syria without international or Congressional approval, The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild called the president’s assertion “ludicrous,” writing:
In a more general statement against Obama’s push for war, Putin took the opportunity to “disagree” with Obama’s declaration of the well-worn notion of “American exceptionalism.”
In his address on Tuesday, Obama told the nation, “My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.”
Later—calling the elevated status an “essential truth”—Obama said it was because America is “exceptional” that it might be compelled to attack Syria.
Critics, however, slammed the idea.
By expressing that sentiment, argues Common Dreams contributor Pat Lamarche, “the president rolled the clock back to 1943, claiming in that particular lifetime of U.S. actions on global security, our killings have been more righteous and had better outcomes than the anticipated actions of others. And with this distorted view of the consequences, President Obama hopes once again to use bombs to set things right.”
Also writing at Common Dreams, Johnny Barber, currently in Afghanistan as a member of a delegation from Voices for Creative Non-Violence, countered Obama’s remarks by saying, “With humility and resolve Americans should deal honestly with our past, with our present, and with our dire future. With modest effort and risk we can make the future safer for all children. We can do this by simply demanding accountability of our leaders and recognizing the only thing that is exceptional about America is our inability to see other’s lives as valuable as our own.”
And Putin’s direct challenge to the idea:
And though none of this touches on the inequities and injustices found readily within Russian society—where ideas of democracy and equality under the law remain under siege—Putin’s compelling narrative against U.S. aggression in Syria is worth quoting at length:
As professor of anthropology and Huffington Post contributor Marc Lamont Hill tweeted:
And Dan Kennedy, journalism professor at Northwestern University, tweeted: