Thursday, 12 September 2013

Letters to Americans - Vladimir Putin's letter to United States published in The New York Times

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On the evening of September the 11th, The New York Times published a piece written by Vladimir Putin on it's Op-Ed page. The piece, entitled "A Plea for Caution From Russia" set out to settle a few things that we may have been wondering during the course of the Syria crisis. The Op-Ed has gathered praise from many Americans, claiming that Putin makes more sense and conducts more of an intellectual and cohesive argument than President Barack Obama. It has also been called a gesture of sincerity towards the American nation.

However, it can be seen as a tactical move in Putin's political operation. It is intelligent, smooth and targeting the American people directly. It's also in The New York Times, so an implied notion of credibility is attached to it's publication. By liaising with the American media, especially one such as the Times, Putin looks as if he is taking steps forward in becoming more of a friend to the nation. The whole piece seems rational, calm and a collected chain of well informed thoughts.

However, there are some who are quick to suggest that this is an attempt in subverting his own image. It distorts any pre conceived ideas we may have about the Russian president. It reflects a man eager on diplomacy and peace, and a promising international statesman. However, his regime of oppression for homosexuals and discriminatory laws, as well as the fact that his government regularly throws activists in jail overshadows his attempt at civility. Words can only accomplish so much, and Russia itself will continue to be judged internationally based on it's laws and actions. It has been an insult to American audiences to assume they won't take this into account.

Without much consideration, Putin seems to be insulting both the intelligence of the American and international audiences. The United States, of which a large part of it's citizens condemned the use of military force, does not need a lecture. It also paints Putin with a streak of hypocrisy, as he previously showed indifference to the situation and was a key obstacle in solving the conflict in Syria. This piece essentially relies on a well calculated assumption of American naivety, and preys on domestic ignorance. It is a smart move, but not a flawless one. It exploits a hostile situation in which the faith in the competence of the American presidency hangs in the balance.

A nation that stands divided by Barack Obama has now been audience to an international dismissal. Many are suggesting that the Russian president speaks in ways they wish Barack Obama could. However, the main issue with this piece for the American public is that Putin ended his piece with a statement opposing one of Obama's. He implied that the United States is indeed, not exceptional. Given that the United States prides itself on being a nation of unwavering patriotism, this annoyed many readers.

"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"

President Obama's mistake during his address this week was to try blending exceptionalism and humility, as his people stand confused on his intentions and his message to them. Unfortunately, Obama has created a political weapon through his intentions to uphold international laws following Syria's violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Putin's mistake however, is to assume that Americans will devour messages of propaganda like a pepperoni pizza.

Not only was there intended offence directed towards the US, but the particular argument that has been debated since the publication of this piece is that Putin defends the Syrian government and the Assad regime by accusing the country's insurgents of illegal use of chemical weapons. The argument stands that the Syrian rebels would then be killing their own people, and does anyone believe they have the means or capacity to pull this off? If they did, would Assad see them unpunished? Definitely not. If this were the case, would Russia have lobbied for Syria to hand it's chemical weapons over? Ultimately, we will probably never get a concrete answer, but evidence suggests the Syrian government had it's hands in the chemical weapon cookie jar.

"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."

He also argues that he wishes the crisis in Syria to be resolved peacefully. As many have pointed out, the Russian government sent almost $1 billion worth of arms into Syria in 2011. Many have also said it has taken until now for Russia to act upon Syria, and that it took the threat of American military intervention to push this move.

Ultimately, this piece seeks to break down the trust in American government. It does not boil down to an ideology of active and empowered truth seeking and demanding more from international political powers, but it boils down to preserving Putin's own self interest. I would agree strongly that valid arguments are made and some points are clear and should be digested. However, motive lies behind this piece of writing and it is self serving.

President Putin's words are elegant and persuasive, his rhetoric is simple and well articulated. But are we as citizens of a free thinking and educated lives, quick to forget a well documented history of oppression of human rights? Come on America, you know better than to fall for this one. Words are just pen and paper, forming a better smoke screen than we expected them to.

This is the thing about a wolf in sheep's clothing. They still bite.