Vladimir Putin’s editorial ignites American response on Syria

The United States and Russia have long been bickering over how to deal with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s violent use of chemical weapons in his country’s civil war. So it came as a huge surprise to everyone when Russian President Vladimir Putin reached out to the United States in a seemingly unprecedented way: he published an opinion piece in the New York Times. In the article, Putin criticized not only the threat of a United States intervention in Syria, a country in which he questions America’s “long term interest,” but also continued on to criticize President Obama’s claim that “the United States’ (foreign) policy is what makes America different,” and then pointed out the dangers of the American traditions of interventionism and “exceptionalism.”

Instead of a United States military strike, which politicians such as John Kerry and John McCain have previously called for, Putin also lauded the new multinational effort to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal through diplomatic action and international law. This caused a wide range of reactions from a number of surprised readers. There were several interesting responses to be found on the NY Times message board. Lindsey from Pennsylvania claimed, “As much as I disagree with President Putin, I’ll admit that he has a much clearer message than Obama … It’s pretty worrisome when the public starts to trust Putin more than the U.S. President.” John C. from California exclaimed, “What a crazy world we are living in when Russia sounds more sane and responsible than our own government on a serious international crisis.”

An anonymous reader from Texas claimed, “This reaching out is unprecedented. Surely our country and our leaders cannot ignore this gesture from the Russian government.” This particular observation highlights a number of questions about the issue. Is this really an unprecedented use of media by a politician? Will this actually have any impact on the decisions of the leaders of the United States?

There is ample reason to believe that Putin’s use of American media, however unique it may seem, may not be that effective. Aside from the qualms that stem from the ulterior motives behind Putin’s editorial – and there is plenty of reason to believe that the dictator’s article wasn’t written for humanitarian reasons – there is great likelihood that his article will do little to sway anyone’s decision. Much of the populace takes deeper stances that aren’t easily swayed by singular media pieces. This can be seen when analyzing the views of some of DePaul’s political groups.

“The U.S. and other able nations need to step up and deal with this issue (of Syrian refugees),” leader of DePaul’s chapter of Amnesty International, Liam Mackin said. “We should be devoting at least some resources to aiding displaced Syrians. It’s not okay to let this slide under the radar.” “In addition, Putin has next to no credibility in the human rights world” Mackin said. “His article did not influence our views whatsoever.” Similarly, Tom Bostwick, a member of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a libertarian political group, shared his group’s stance on intervention in Syria. “In no way are American interests benefited by a military strike in Syria,” he said. “America does not need to police the world and waste resources on other countries when parts of our own country are falling apart. These stances are rooted in deep ideologies and principles.”

Opinions about Syria are generally determined by pre- existing personal ideologies. The one way in which Putin’s piece may suceed is that it forces us to examine our own nation’s misdeeds with a deeper light. Michael Conklin, Depaul professor and former writer for the Chicago Tribune, reminds us that “the U.S. is no less hypocritical (than Russia) in some ways. We protest the Syrian government’s use of deadly chemicals and yet we used Agent Orange in Vietnam. Are our drone attacks any worse when we are off-target and kill innocent civilians? It’s a slippery slope for everyone.” But will the piece have any impact on what actually happens in Syria? When asked whether media actions could have any sway on the negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, Conklin bluntly responded, “None whatsoever.”