A recent op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin has prompted me to respond. While his position that the Syrian conflict can and should be settled through a political and diplomatic solution is correct, virtually everything else in his writing should be taken to task. So I shall.
I begin with Mr. Putin’s disagreement regarding the exceptionalism of the United States of America. I could not more strongly disagree with him. While he is correct that God created every human being as an equal in His eyes, clearly the results of each of our efforts on this earth, individually and collectively, are not equal.
America’s exceptionalism is rooted in our founding documents and values. From the rights granted by our creator, but guaranteed by our Constitution. We should not shy away from saying so, especially when our actions are in keeping with this exceptional founding, as they were this week in our debate over going to war in Syria. Our constitutional checks and balances were on full display, largely resulting in the at least temporary halting of a rush to war.
Mr. Putin’s second mistake is to focus on the speck in the eye of the United States, while ignoring the plank in his own. He accuses the United States of alarming interventions in foreign countries. While I certainly have my bone to pick with our foreign policy over the last 15 years, the Russian President is the least qualified person I can think of to make this argument with a straight face.
We went to war in Afghanistan because they were harboring those who attacked us on 9/11. Mr. Putin’s cohorts went to war there three decades earlier for no legitimate reason.
The United States until now has resisted arming one side of the Syrian civil war – all the while the other side has been armed by Russia.
The United States has used diplomatic pressure to attempt to resolve the ongoing situation with Iran – Russia has just announced a large arms sale that will escalate tensions in the region.
Being lectured to on foreign intervention by Mr. Putin would be comical if it weren’t such a serious example of a lack of self-awareness.
Nevertheless here we are. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or at least my temporary ally. As Mr. Putin correctly pointed out, the United States and Russia banded together to defeat the menace of the Nazis a generation ago. And both countries certainly face real and present threats from Islamic extremists, both at home and in areas of strategic importance.
American should not act militarily in Syria because it cannot and should not join the same side as Al Qaeda. Russia cannot and should not continue to support militarily the brutal Assad regime.
And so, the dialogue that began this week must go forward, and it must be given a chance to succeed.
The issue of course, is with the participants and the details of the plan. Asking us to “trust them” is clearly not a palatable option, and we cannot act naively simply to bypass war. Any diplomatic solution must involve a clear plan to rid Syria of these weapons, with strong verification and enforcement mechanisms. As Reagan used to put it, Trust but Verify.
So while I welcome the engagement of the Russians, and the dialogue Mr. Putin this week attempted to begin with our country, I remain to be convinced of the details.
And I respond to him directly with the statement that yes, American is indeed exceptional. Our history has proved it so. While we all share the same Creator, we do not all share the same richness of history regarding human rights, freedom and democracy. There has been in the past 200 years a city on the hill that has shone brighter than all others. We will not be ashamed of that. May God allow us to continue to model this example to the world in these difficult times.