The Rock and the Hard Places: Obama, Putin and Syria: Why We Are Exceptional People

Just yesterday, The New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, asking the American people to refuse military action against Syria. I read this piece and find it rather amusing that Putin, who has long been selling billions in arms to Syria, while also opposing peaceful U.N. strategies, would suddenly implore the American people to find a peaceful resolution to the unfolding Syrian crisis.

Yeah. Well, the pot calleth the kettle black.

As recently as May 2013, three of the most powerful statesmen in the western world: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,  British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all implored Russia to cease providing Assad with arms, missiles and yes…weapons meant for offensive, rather than defensive strategies. As TIME magazine correspondent, Simon Shuster, stated succinctly, “The U.S. and its allies have done just about everything short of getting down on their collective knees and begging Russia to stop delivering weapons to the Syrian government.”

Presumably, according to statements issued by the Russian government, these weapons were meant to defend Syria against potential Israeli strikes, not for conflict. But in the hands of Assad, who can really say where or how he’s using or will use them? Clearly if Assad is willing to victimize and attack his own people, through bombs, bullets, rapes, tortures, imprisonments, executions and chemical weapons, it seems plausible that enemies of Syria might also someday be attacked offensively the same way.

Explaining the rationale for these arms sales and deliveries, Russian diplomat Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign-affairs committee in the Russian parliament, told TIME magazine, “When we see these bombings taking place in Syria, which seem by all accounts to be coming from Israel, we realize that a sovereign government has the right to self-defense,” he said. “In our understanding, these deliveries do not violate any international agreements. Rather, they forbid any aerial attacks against Syria from taking place with impunity.”

To that, every last man, woman and child on the Planet should be asking, “Where is the self-defense when chemical weapons are used?” “Why are we allowing impunity for actions that may one day impact the entire world?”

The diplomatic strategies available by the U.N. Security Council, that might have lessened some of the fighting, (such as weapons embargos) were vetoed by Russia and China in every attempt in the past two years. In fact, these vetoes in U.N. Security Council have virtually rendered the Council powerless to stop the escalating violence.

In a press conference on September 09, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Two and a half years of conflict in Syria have produced only embarrassing paralysis in the Security Council.”

In the Op-Ed, Mr. Putin, even stated, “No one wants the United Nations to suffer the same fate as the League of Nations.” If that is the goal, then peaceful actions should not be repressed, as these make the Council useless.

While I am certain the American people respect Putin’s words asking for peace–make no mistake.

We Americans are a bruised, rather divided lot, given to quarrelling among our own these days—but we aren’t stupid or terrible people.  In the end, we are a rather amazing Nation. Not the bullies some suggest, but the leaders of freedom and democracy.

However, tie our hands at peaceful strategies, refuse weapons embargos and sanctions, arm those opposed to peace, and render impotent the very Council that could have limited this violence in Syria and we’ll find alternative ways to protect the world from dangers that threaten lives and freedom.

In 1962, the world waited for 13 long days, in the coldest cold sweat of the Cold War. The thought of violence and the ramifications of nuclear warfare was enough to table what might have turned into WWIII.

In 2013, the thought of violence and the ramifications of chemical warfare might just be enough to turn the tables on what might have turned into WWIII.

We are keenly aware that our actions or inactions today, most assuredly will affect the future. And so, in recent weeks, we Americans have learned about the people of a tiny country half a planet away.  Their customs, demographics and methods of waging war and avenging causes are widely discussed and evaluated on social networks, in Congress and the news.

I’d be willing to bet most of us didn’t know the name of Syria’s ruler three weeks ago, given how little Americans are current on foreign affairs.

But suddenly, all these events and distant people and places do matter.

The truth is– they have mattered all along. We are a global society and hostile people in other lands do have a way of impacting us, whether through direct attacks on our nation or attacks on our allies or simply by waging a cold war chemical weapons shell game. Deep in our hearts, each of us knows this.

Twenty-eight months ago, when Assad took a hard left turn and began the widespread bloodshed, we should really have paid attention. Repressed people have a way of getting angrier and angrier. Crazy and evil dictators have a way of becoming yet more insane and evil. Things escalate.

But our nation is paying attention now.

And what’s more, through President Obama’s wise stance, he’s made the world pay attention, as our other peaceful attempts have been foiled.

Like Mr. Putin, we don’t want bloodshed. But we also don’t want impunity for chemical weapons.

A peaceful way to solve this has always been our Country’s goal. It has been our President’s goal. Regardless of how each member of Congress votes on this topic, peace is their goal, too.

Hopefully, without strikes, attacks and escalating violence, this can be resolved.  If that strategy includes removing every last bit of Sarin, as well as other deadly chemical and biological weapons, we welcome Russia or any other country to take that away and destroy it. Please go get it and you have our collective blessings.

In the NYT article, Putin stated that there are few champions of democracy fighting in Syria right now. If that’s so, why provide either side with billions of dollars of weapons?

Any country that wants peace should also cease arming those that wage wars of terror.

Any country that truly wants to be known as a global leader of peace should ensure that peaceful actions by the U.N. are not blocked or stymied.

And one more thing:

Mr. Putin stated at the close of his article, that we (Americans) were not an “exceptional people.”  To quote his words, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

Rather eloquently Putin stated, “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.”

I beg to differ with some of that reasoning. We are damned exceptional as a Nation.And for that matter, we have an exceptional leader in President Obama. What makes Americans extraordinary People is that we see all people as exceptional, unique and guaranteed certain inalienable rights- whether they live in the United States or in other regions of the world.

All those unique, diverse exceptional people of the world have just as much right to self-defense against future chemical weapons attacks, as a “sovereign government” has a right to self-defense from enemies. Future chemical weapons attacks must be prevented to the best of our ability, so that all people on this Planet can be assured they are created equal and all lives have the same value. No government is more worthy of sanctity than its people.

We agree on this—all nations must act together to keep peace.

That, Mr. Putin, is how we roll.

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