Opinion | Putin’s Op-Ed shows Russia is serious about Syria
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 00:09
Thank You, Mr. Putin
In a highly publicized op-ed in the New York Times a few weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin brought his case against intervention in the Syrian conflict to the American people, prompting knee-jerk Russia bashing from American political elites and the mass media. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) even went so far as to publish an op-ed taking aim at Putin personally in the pages of the Russian tabloid Pravda.ru; not to be confused with the infamous newspaper of the Communist Party, Pravda. We should all hope that such ridiculousness will subside soon. Instead of vilifying the Russian President, we should welcome efforts of the Kremlin to solve global security issues, such as the Russian-brokered proposal to remove Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons.
Allow me to preface my analysis by stating that I do not deny that Putin’s Russia continues to violate international standards of human rights, freedom, and the rule of law.
Also, it has been shown that the Kremlin’s foreign policy is conducted not solely on the basis of Russian state interests, but also the kleptocratic interests of the ruling elite. I am by no means defending Putin’s, in my opinion, grotesque, regime, but rather attempting to move the conversation past clichés and stereotypes vis-à-vis Russia in order to recognize an important development in international relations.
Let’s face it: the Obama administration has fumbled the ball on Syria over and over again, including the choice of sides, the now-infamous “red line,” and the missteps and unrealistic expectations during the Geneva process. The Obama policy following these failures was to try to wish Syria away.
Aug. 21 changed everything though. In a horrific act of violence, the Syrian regime murdered over 1,400 of its own citizens in the suburbs of Damascus in one chemical weapon attack. This caught Obama between a rock and a hard place; the American President campaigned on an anti-war, “America-first” platform, partially informed by spending constraints. Yet, he realized that America cannot simply ignore the brazen mass murder of civilians using chemical weapons. More than anything, his previous declaration of a “red line” forced his hand.
After the British parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s resolution on intervention, the ball was squarely in Washington’s court. After days of deliberation, Obama announced that he would seek Congressional approval for a “limited strike” against Syria; essentially punting the ball, along with future war-making precedent, to the same people that he and the overwhelming majority of the American public view as incompetent.
Enter Putin. Not only has the three-time Russian President presented Obama with a face-saving way out, but he has cast Russia as a serious and responsible player on the international stage in the process. We should welcome this. Unlike the American echoes currently residing in London and other European capitals, Russia is not afraid to voice its concerns about the recklessness and ambiguities of certain Western policies and actions. Furthermore, Moscow has led the push to give the developing world a greater voice in international institutions, a prerequisite if these institutions are to live up to their goals, let alone lead us to a more stable, humane world.
Obviously, the Kremlin is not proposing this way out for their health or to rescue the White House; they are protecting “their man,” al-Assad, in Syria. However, Moscow has raised valid concerns, such as the radicalization of the Syrian rebels, and has stepped up to bring about an agreeable solution for all; with the tragic exception the Syrian people.
But the purpose here is not to argue for or against intervention, but to point out that bringing Russia on board to make international security decisions, here and elsewhere, will pressure the Kremlin to reform its international behavior and constructively contribute to global security debates. This formula must be replicated elsewhere if America and the west wish to be seen as encompassing and fair, not solely self-interested.
As we move forward we should honestly seek and respect the input of other states when making decisions and choosing options. Moving away from the Bush-era practice of vilifying those who disagree with us is a necessary first step, so allow me to start: thank you, Mr. Putin.