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.But 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 country.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 his work.No wonder many Russian writers and reporters feel tamed, afraid to go too far in hurling criticism at their president. But Putin’s 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 opposition.”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 people free.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 experience.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 possibility.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.