Some people are gracious winners. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not one of those people. After humiliating President Obama before the world when he pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire regarding Syria (a move, incidentally, that turned a leader of a third-world nuclear nation into a Middle Eastern power broker), Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to rub Obama’s face in his embarrassing failures.
In stilted, but still effective language, Putin chastised Obama for his bullying and his ignorance, and even managed to throw Obama’s own words back in his face.
First, Putin gave the United Nations’ loving Obama a little history lesson:
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.
Next came a veiled threat about the imminent collapse of world stability should Obama continue to ignore the United Nations (something, incidentally, that George Bush never did):
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. [Paving the way, Putin implies, for World War II.]
Putin takes Obama’s “humanitarian plea” (e.g., we’ve got to do it to save the children of Syria) and turns it upside down, by reminding him that escalating a war ends up with more deaths rather than less:
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.
(Incidentally, while Putin is correct, sometimes a nation, fighting in its own defense, needs to inflict punishing damage against its enemy in order to save itself. Here, of course, Obama only half-heartedly and belatedly made the argument that America has a dog in the Syrian fight.)
After giving a rundown on the Syrian war, Putin puts himself and Russia on the moral high ground, without bothering to mention that he’s pouring money into Russia’s empty coffers by selling weapons to Assad’s government:
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.
Having established to his own satisfaction Russia’s subordination to the rule of law, Putin goes in for the kill, castigating Obama’s American policies in the harshest terms. There can be no mistake but that Putin is saying that Obama is simply a repeat of George Bush, the man against whom Obama is still running, five years after the 2008 election:
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.”
I think the expression that applies here is “bitch slap.” President Putin just bitch slapped the president of the United States of America.
Putin wraps up his peroration about both international law and order and about Obama’s failure to meet those norms by throwing Obama’s own insulting language about American exceptionalism right back in Obama’s face.
Back in 2009, while speaking at a NATO summit, Barack Obama completely trashed the notion of American exceptionalism:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
In his schizophrenic speech on Tuesday night, which was part war mongering and part pathetic gratitude to Russia, Obama sang a different tune:
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Putin sneers at Obama’s reference to American exceptionalism, and does so in words that must deliberately echo Obama’s earlier snide and dismissive take on America’s unique devotion to the cause of freedom:
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.
And that’s a KO in the final round, folks. Putin’s practical and rhetorical victory over Obama is complete. For an pathologically egotistical American president who has long believed that he has only to speak magic words to make things happen, to have Russia’s leader (and, increasingly, its dictator) run rings around him on the ground and in the war of words must come as a horrifying shock.
That the White House doesn’t know how to deal with this reality is reflected in its tepid official response to the opinion piece: “That’s all irrelevant.” Right, because it never matters when the American President demeans himself and the nation before an opponent delighted to glory in his victory.
(This piece originally appeared in slightly different form at Mr. Conservative.)