Vladamir Putin writes: 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.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
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.
Responding to Obama’s address to the nation on Tuesday, Putin challenges the president’s wisdom in invoking the supposed virtue of American exceptionalism:
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.
Even if Putin makes a number of highly questionable assertions, the main thrust of his argument is hard to challenge: the United States has a responsibility to abide by international law. It can’t credibly claim that it is defending the international norm which prohibits the use of chemical weapons, while acting in a way that undermines the authority of the primary institution for upholding international law: the United Nations.
Some of the New York Times’ readers are taking exception to the fact that op-ed space was made available to a foreign head of state in order to challenge U.S. foreign policy. Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor devoted a column to explaining the Times’ decision. She could have explained it in four words: this is free speech.
Questions could more appropriately be fired at the White House, such as: where is Obama’s op-ed?
If the administration has had trouble articulating its policy maybe it’s because it’s making it up as it goes along. Maybe they prefer videos, interviews, briefings and televised statements in the hope that few Americans bother reading the transcripts or try and analyze the content.
A picture is worth more than a thousand words when you don’t have a thousand words to offer.