After a busy day at the office last week quashing free speech and silencing
dissent, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down at his Kremlin keyboard and
pecked out a remarkable op-ed.
With nary a hint of irony, the man who
will not countenance criticism at home proceeded to launch a sanctimonious
attack on America in the pages of The New York Times, seeking to forestall a
possible military strike against his homicidal comrades in Syria.
despite employing the choicest methods of obfuscation and disinformation, which
he honed during his career in the KGB, Putin’s prose only served to remind
readers of the cavernous disparity between the US and his own
Take, for example, his opening line, in which Putin insisted
that “recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the
American people and their political leaders.”
Implicitly, and no doubt
unwittingly, the Russian leader was acknowledging the fact that America has a
free press, one so untamed as to allow a foreign leader to verbally attack its
government and its policies. Contrast this with Putin’s own country, where
journalists and dissidents who don’t toe the party line have been imprisoned,
exiled or worse.
Last August, the Kremlin dispatched two members of Pussy
Riot, a female punk rock band, to prison for daring to protest against the
Russian leader. And just last month, an artist who painted a satirical portrait
of Putin wearing a pink and white nightgown fled to France after police seized
No wonder many Russian writers and reporters feel tamed, afraid
to go too far in hurling criticism at their president.
temerity only gathered steam as his article went on. The man responsible for
leveling Chechnya and invading Georgia felt no compunction about lecturing
Washington, sanctimoniously asserting that, “It is alarming that military
intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace
for the United States.”
And then he feigned concern over the conflict in
Syria which, he said, was “fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the
Needless to say, Putin neglected to mention the piles of
weapons that he has greedily sold, and continues to sell, to the Syrian
government so that it can keep the slaughter going. In February 2012, his own
Deputy Defense Minister, Anatoly Antonov, actually boasted to the Associated
Press about Russian arms sales to Damascus, saying, “As of today there are no
restrictions on our delivery of weapons. We must fulfill our obligations and
this is what we are doing.”
So just who exactly is the one “fueling” the
conflict, Vladimir? But beyond his preachy pontification, Putin’s real putdown
came at the end of his op-ed, when he took a jab at one of the central and
underlying elements of America’s national identity.
Referring to the
speech that President Barack Obama made to the American people earlier last
week, Putin took issue with the idea that the US is “exceptional,” declaring
that, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as
exceptional, whatever the motivation.”
Sorry, Vlad, but you could not
possibly be more wrong.
America is truly different, both because of its
principles and its performance on the world stage.
In the late 18th
century, the founding fathers of the United States laid out a vision of a nation
based on a doctrine of freedom, equality and self-government. For the first
time, a government was formed based on the notion that the people have
inalienable, God-given rights, and that sovereignty belongs to them rather than
to a ruling class or clerical hierarchy.
This idea may have been simple,
but it was not simplistic.
It revolutionized the relationship between
ruler and ruled, and it has since been emulated, though never surpassed, around
the world, breaking the chains of serfdom and slavery and setting billions of
Constitutional republicanism and the integrity of the
individual are just two of America’s unique conceptual contributions to the
welfare of mankind, notions that have immeasurably improved the human
Moreover, America is the first hegemon in world history to
use its heft not for the purpose of subjugating others but rather for spreading
ideals such as peace and freedom.
Unlike Russia, the only empire that
America has erected is an “empire for liberty,” to borrow Thomas Jefferson’s
phrase, one that has steadily expanded the boundaries of human
Sure, you can disagree with American policy, debate its
course and denounce its actions. But there is no other country that has proven
so ready to pour its treasure out and spill its blood abroad to uphold an
international order based on human rights and dignity.
So yes, Mr. Putin,
America is exceptional, no matter what you might think.
And the real
danger to progress comes not in recognizing this basic truth, but in allowing
unexceptional leaders such as yourself to trample on those who cherish liberty.