Master manipulator Putin presses all the right buttons in NY Times op-ed

Over the decades, the New York Times has published op-eds from princes, potentates, sheikhs, thugs, dictators, and holy men. In fact, it hardly matters most of the time what they say, but rather the Times cashing in on their notoriety.

Who's hot right now? Vladimir Putin, Russia's former Communist, former KGB President who pleads with the American people not to strike Syria because it would violate international law...or something.

Actually, Putin's screed is a master stroke of manipulative propaganda. It's obvious Russia has been paying very close attention to the debate in the US about using force against Syria because Uncle Vlad hits every single hot button issue that right and left have used to dissuade the president from going to war with Syria.

The problem isn't so much that Putin is parroting the anti-war line in America. They are good arguments and stand on their own - without Putin's help - in making the case against war. 

But do we really need a guy who wants to jail homosexuals to lecture us about "international law"?

After laying out a fairly accurate portrait of the opposition to President Assad, Putin gets into the meat of his argument:

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. 

"The Pope! How many divisions has he got?" sneered Putin's godfather Josef Stalin. My how times have changed. And while Russia has expressed a desire to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, their actions haven't matched their rhetoric. Despite widespread agreement in the international community to impose strict economic sanctions on Iran, Russia has sought to stymie this effort at every turn.  

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. 

Russia has been singularly unhelpful in building a consensus at the UN for any kind of action at all against Syria, including sanctions that would put pressure on Assad to come to the negotiating table. No one believes the fairy tale that Russia isn't protecting their client Assad by running interference for him at the UN. Putin's disingenuous statements about "international law" ring hollow, indeed.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack - this time against Israel - cannot be ignored. 

Actually, "there is every reason to believe" that we aren't sure who used the gas. It's true no one doubts the rebels are capable of using the gas (if they have any). But Islamists prepping an attack against Israel? We wouldn't put it past them but the same argument used to questions Assad's use of gas applies here. Why would the rebels attack Israel when their response would devastate their ranks?

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." 

We'll drop a line to the Georgians and ask them about military intervention. Or the Ukraine, or any other nation of the former Soviet Union threatend by the Russian army. "Those who live in glass houses..."

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. 

So speaks the old atheist. But will it play well in Peoria? As for American exceptionalism, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. Even though God created us equal, that doesn't mean that equal outcomes will be achieved.

It should be noted that when thugs and dictators go off the reservation, they don't call President Putin to do anything about it (although that may change in some respects if the Syria deal goes through). When there's an earthquake in Pakistan or typhoons in Bangladesh, or some tinpot dictator starts murdering his own people, the world wrings its hands about nothing being done while hoping that the US will pick up the slack. That doesn't mean we have to respond to every crisis, or intervene in every conflict. But it does place an "exceptional" burden on the US that Putin currently doesn't have to endure.

Well played, Vlad.