Another Perspective

Hitting Us Where It Hurts

Putin is a flawed messenger with an intelligent message.

By 9.16.13

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Hate to say it -- but some of the best advice on Syria comes from Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, in his September 11 op-ed appearing in The New York Times.

While America may bristle at being told it is not “exceptional,” we must remember that President Obama has in the past implied that there is nothing exceptional about the United States. At a G-20 conference in 2009, President Obama dismissed the idea of American exceptionalism, stating “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In the spirit of relativism, he might as well have added North Korea and Iran.

Putin’s op-ed will strike some as disingenuous and outrageous, coming from the leader of a repressive country that is the unashamed sponsor of the rogue Syrian regime.

However, what is exceptional about a country with an incoherent foreign policy toward the Middle East? A country whose Congress and people do not back the president’s desire for a military strike in the name of our national security? A country whose elected officials cannot produce a budget, let alone a balanced one, for over four years? A country addicted to indebtedness and to oil from unsavory regimes? A country that will not ferret out the truth about what happened before, during, and after the siege of the U.S. mission in Benghazi and where its leaders were and what they were doing then? A country that cannot seem to manage its classified activities -- and is seemingly powerless against the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange? A country whose Attorney General is held in contempt of the House of Representatives and whose revenue collection agency abuses citizens based on political inclination? Sorry, but many must think our government does not merit the public trust.

Granted, Putin does not offer proof to support his assertion that it is reasonable to believe it was the Syrian rebel forces that used poison gas. And since the messenger is a former KGB officer, presumably skilled at the rawest of methods, one should be skeptical of his motives.

However, Putin’s op-ed, with this one major caveat, is otherwise effective. It well-written, presidential in tone, and reflects a knowledge of history -- and its ironies such as the combined effort with the United States in World War II. His op-ed too, is a teachable moment, noting that the multi-faceted Syrian opposition is hardly sponsoring democracy. Remarkably, it rises above the tumult, addressing the American people with a seemingly believable message in a way that President Obama would like to do. It should not be dismissed because of its source.

America’s exceptionalism lies in its victory over fascism twice, and its triumph over the Soviet Union without firing a shot. Its exceptionalism is based on its vast diversity and ability to assimilate, sometimes with difficulty, many ethnic groups -- with the possible exception of Canada, it is hard to name a country that does this better. It is rooted in the way millions of people aspire to emigrate to America in spite of its shortcomings and well known weak primary education system. It derives from an enormous and high quality higher educational system, leadership in patents and brand innovation, its scientific establishment and information technology, and from the most extensive credit and equity markets in the world. It is supported by the most competent and capable armed forces the world has ever seen. And America’s exceptionalism is demonstrated by its philanthropic infrastructure and record as a provider of humanitarian aid in times of crisis -- especially to poor countries hit by natural disasters.

Rossiya-Matushka, also known as Mother Russia, has none of these things.

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About the Author
Frank Schell is a business consultant and former international banking executive. He serves on the Dean’s International Council of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago where he is a lecturer.