Op-Ed: Putin offers valuable insight on world
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 01:09
When the president of Russia is teaching the United States about democratic values, it’s worth taking note.
That’s exactly what happened on Sept. 11 in an article penned by Vladimir Putin and submitted to the New York Times’ opinion section. In it, the Russian leader warns the United States of the dangers of its emerging tendency to deal bluntly with international issues, citing America’s recent proclivity to opt for an attitude of “you’re either with us or against us.”
Mr. Putin makes the case that this new focus on military force as the go-to diplomatic tool in the American repertoire has left the United States worse off than it was before the adoption of this relatively new strategy, claiming that “millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force” — ‘a shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude that’s seriously damaged the United States’ credibility on the world stage.
Pretty jarring stuff to hear, coming from the former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
What’s even more remarkable: he’s not wrong.
American standing in the world has markedly declined since its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — at least when speaking in terms of international credibility and diplomatic capital. By taking a largely unilateral approach to these two conflicts, the United States’ calls on other nations to restrain from using force and instead make use of diplomatic channels when issues arose seem shallow. By ignoring international law and pursuing its wars regardless of their legality, America’s demands that other states work through the parameters of international law in times of difficulty feel hollow. Make no mistake: in the eyes of the world, America’s streets now are paved less with gold and more with bricks of hypocrisy.
Now, Mr. Putin is no stranger to hypocrisy. His country’s consistent Security Council vetoes have been a hindrance to unilateral international efforts for a host of issues, and its arms dealing to Syria are the cause of this crisis in the first place. But in this one instance, he has the upper hand. While President Obama steps away from the table and asks the American people to wait for Russia’s proposal to allow international power to take control of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal on the condition that the US promises to withhold its military strike, Putin makes his move on the American populace in his Times article. While President Obama is seen as wringing his hands as he pursues the new, Russian generated diplomatic avenue, Americans find themselves struck by the uncomfortable notion of Vladimir Putin lecturing them on how to behave as a democracy.
It’s a trap that Americans had best get used to unless the nation’s outlook changes. The United States today stands on the awkward fault line between two distinct foreign policies. On one foot, we rest on the classic, conservative, democratic peace theory-fueled notion that democracy (or a potential democracy) is always worth fighting for. On the other foot, we stand upon the more recent desire to steer clear of entangling conflicts and instead favor international law and multilateral approaches — the result of more than a decade spent in the dual quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Woven throughout these two ideas is the overarching American desire to maintain its status as the definitive world power. What results is a confusing hodgepodge of policies that contradict and counteract each other and lead to actions justified by citing ‘democracy’ and ‘American values’ without ever taking the time to clarify what those terms actually mean — a dangerous playbook to be reading from in a world as volatile as ours.
America needs a leader who will tackle this contradiction, who will define these terms and determine what role the United States will play in the world going forward. And we need it done soon because the system we’ve got now, the Batman villain-esque hypocritical two-facedness — one moment the world police using force to support ‘democracy,’ the next the champions of the same international law that we’ve trampled on — simply does not work.
And until we take the time to establish what we’re really spending all this time, money and human capital pursuing and what we want to gain from it, we’ll be stuck listening to a Cold War era holdover lecture us on democratic rights and responsibilities.
What a long way we’ve come in a few short decades.