Seizing on the White House’s failed message on Syria, 61-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin used the New York Times op-ed page to advance his propaganda to the American public. When public opinion over Syrian air strikes headed South for President Barack Obama, Putin managed to save the day with his plan to de-fang Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal. While sidestepping the issue of chemical weapons in a Sept. 9 interview with PBS and CBS News’ Charlie Rose, al-Assad cleverly ducked responsibility for Aug. 21 Sarin nerve gas attack. When the world cringed watching stacks of shroud-wrapped asphyxiated child-corpses, al-Assad coolly diverted attention to U.S. aggression. When Putin got his way persuading Obama and the U.S. Congress to give his peace plan a chance, the wily Russian president saw fit to speak to the American public.
Jaded by years of senseless Mideast wars, Obama had no margin for error when he faced the nation in a primetime speech Sept. 10, making his case for air strikes against al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Barack impeached his own credibility trying to convince the public that air strikes were in the national security interest of the United States. When his speech fell on deaf ears, Putin seized the chance through his New York publicist, Ketchum, to tell the Kremlin’s story. “The idea came up at very short notice. The latest edits were done last night,” said an unnamed Kremlin source, hinting that Putin aid Uri Ushakov helped pen the piece. Putin’s op-ed touted himself as the peacemaker, painting the U.S. as warmonger, something resonating with Europe and Asia since Sept. 11, 2001. What al-Assad wouldn’t admit to Rose about his chemical weapons, he confessed to the Russian president.
Al-Assad told Russian TV that he backed Russia’s plan to place his chemical weapons in U.N. custody, denying that U.S. threats prompted his decision. “Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The U.S. threats did not influence the decision,” said al-Assad, receiving an ultimatum from Putin. Putin told an American audience that the U.S. should abide by international law, vesting only the U.N.’s authority to order military strikes. Secretary of State John Kerry knows that Putin vetoes all U.S-backed use-of-force resolutions against Syria in the U.N. Security Council, making approval impossible. “He says we are all God’s children. I think that’s good. I hope it applies to gays and lesbians in Russia as well,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), pointing to Putin’s hypocrisy lecturing the U.S. about promoting human rights.
When Putin launched military action against Georgia in what’s known as the 2008 South Ossetia War, he didn’t seek U.N. approval for the Red Army decimating Mikheil Saakashvili’s army to allegedly protect a small Russian community. Forget about the fact that Putin wanted to punish Saakashvili for allowing the 1,768 kilometer Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan [BTC] Pipeline to bypass Russia’s oil monopoly to get Caspian Sea oil to Western Europe. “I was insulted,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), saying he didn’t trust Putin’s motives from brokering peace. Boehner’s right that Putin is all about protecting Russia’s clout and business relationships in the Middle East, not whether or not he spares a few Syrian lives. Putin talks in his NY Times op-ed about Syrian rebels—not Bashar al-Assad—using poison gas doesn’t explain why al-Assad blamed Israel or its agents for the atrocity.
Putin gives some important facts about Syria’s civil war, including heavy backing by what he refers to as “patrons,” without mentioning names, especially Saudi Arabia. It’s true that many terrorist groups, including the al-Nusra Front, the Levant and Islamic State of Iraq, seek to topple al-Assad. It’s also true that Free Syrian Army’s moderate Brig. Gen. Salim Idris—who has the backing of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)—also seeks to rid Syria of al-Assad. Putin’s op-ed offers the Russian view, especially when he calls American exceptionalism dangerous because it’s essentially arrogant and chauvinistic, asking Americans to show more patience when it comes to budding democracies, including Russia. U.S. officials bristled at Putin’s slap on American exceptionalism, dismissing the idea that Obama takes a stand when a U.N. member uses weapons of mass destruction.
Putin’s commentary points to the ugly reality of sectarian war in Syria. What it doesn’t say is that al-Assad was responsible for the Aug. 21 Sarin nerve gas attack that asphyxiated hundreds in Damascus suburbs. While Putin wants Americans to believe that terrorists seeking to topple al-Assad launched the attacks, he doesn’t admit that al-Assad’s first instinct to cover up blamed Israel. Lecturing the U.S. about budding democracies or commenting about “God created us equal” mirrors the kind of Orwellian thinking that prevails in Putin’s Russia, where racial, ethnic and gender discrimination are rampant. “Put me down as extremely skeptical,” said McCain, referring to Putin’s plan get al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. Putin bought al-Assad some time but it’s unclear whether or the dictator is ready to give up his poisoned arrows as he fights for his survival.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neural commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.