The Russian president Vladimir Putin took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times to give Americans a short lecture on history and international law and why bombing Syria without UN authorization would be wrong.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
He also took aim at the central dogma that poisons political decision-making in the US and invariably leads it into trouble, and that is that America is exceptional.
And I would rather disagree with a case [president Obama] 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.
As you can imagine, the op-ed did not go down well in certain US political circles. Politicians in the US are used to lecturing other countries, not being lectured by them. The op-ed almost caused apoplexy, with John Boehner saying, somewhat incoherently, that he was ‘insulted’ by it and senator Robert Menendez saying that it made him want to ‘throw up’. The invocation of the Lord, whom we all know is an American, by the godless commies was probably the last straw.
As The Daily Show shows in some excerpts of an interview with Charlie Rose, Syrian president Assad piled it on by reminding Americans of whose side it would be effectively fighting and the previous fraudulent cases that the US government had made for war.
(This clip aired on September 9, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)