Vladimir Putin spoke to the American public directly yesterday.i This is an important event for a number of good reasons.
I. This letter stands as proof that communications between the two governments have failed, in such a way and to such a degree that further attempts to remedy or repair are not worth anyone's time. This is a point of fact. If it weren't a point of fact, Putin would not be writing letters to the American public via the New York Times any more than you ask to see the manager when you're doing just fine with the shop clerk.
II. This letter stands as proof that the Russian President does not consider Obama legitimate or representative. If Putin thought I was the legitimate representative of the American public, he would have written the letter to me. If Putin thought John McCain, or Billy Mays, or Edward Snowden were the legitimate representatives of the American public, he would have written the letter to McCain, or Mays, or Snowden. Thus it is fact, not speculation : as far as Putin is concerned, the current USG is illegitimate, in exactly the same way, and in a greater degree than for instance the Assad government is illegitimate. As far as Putin is concerned, if he has something to say to Iran he may write to the legitimate representative of Iran, who exists, but if he has something to say to the US he's stuck writing to the newspaper. Because no legitimate representative exists. Full stop.
III. This letter is an ultimatum. The following passage controls :
But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together.
This appears to say, to the untrained, illiterate, casual reader, that Putin thinks of the United States as a recent ally. This actually says, in point of fact, "we have defeated the Nazis once before, and we shall defeat the Nazis again, irrespective of whether you choose to be part of "we" or part of "Nazis"." Again, full stop. This is what the later reference to cultivating exceptionalism underscores, this is what the repeated references to international law bring to the discussion. There's nothing more to be said here, because Putin has said it all : if America continues on the course its (perhaps illegitimate, perhaps unrepresentative) current president pushes it towards, America will be defeated in the field, and the costs of defeat will be extracted from the skin and flesh of its women, its children and everyone else.
The letter is then a humanitarian act. A humanitarian act, because while Hitler, sheltered from all hardship or difficulty as he was all through World War Two, at least had the integrity to commit suicide at the end, there's no doubt in anyone's mind that Mr. Prompterhead Gollywog will eschew even such last-moment attempts at maintaining honor. What honor ?
The message is simply that some random nobody with absolutely no skin in the game is rolling the dice for you people, and he's rolling for keeps. Snakeyes or boxcars, que sera sera, whatever will be will be and you're going to be paying for it. All of it, no deals, no special treatment, no exceptions. Millions dead, tens of millions missing, maimed, raped, enslaved. It's what wars do to people, especially to weak, defeated people. Which is what America is, whether it finds the reality palatable or not, acceptable or not. Time to pick, are you going on your knees suckling foreigner cock willingly or are you doing it beaten black and blue ? Those are the options, and Mr. Putin believes in your heart of hearts you'd prefer the former, even if Mr. Obama acts as if you in fact would rather the latter. So, which is it ? Make up your minds, and quick, for lash and yoke wait for no one.
IV. Putin has done the math, and he's coming out ahead. What this letter ultimately does, through the convenient venue of point III above, is cut out Obama's retreat. He can no longer pick and choose, he's lost the strategic initiative in the field. His options are either to forge ahead or else to admit, publicly and quite on the permanent, indelible record that he's subhuman, a rag toy for superior white Europeans to play with. Which is perhaps his destiny, but he does not strike me as particularly reconciled with it.
The fact of the matter is that Putin wouldn't have made this move if he didn't do some sort of math and come ahead. You don't burn the boats of the enemy unless you are absolutely positive of such crushing superiority as for there to be no recourse possible. Supposedly Russians are good at math, supposedly Putin is a great chess player. I confess I don't see what the fuck he's added and where to get this result, but then again I've been out of the business for so long I'm about as rusty on the topic as your average American business man is when it comes to doing business.
There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that in retracing the history of the past war we are currently somewhere between Sudetenland and Kwestia Polska. Is there any doubt in yours ?———
- Here's what it said :
Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.