Putin's Letter to Americans a Guilty Pleasure for the World (de Volkskrant, The Netherlands)
"Outside the West, many will have read his epistle with pleasure: finally, a taste of their own medicine. ... Putin's contribution to The New York Times wasn't written by Googling, as some busy pastors appear to be doing for their
Sunday Sermons. Putin clearly gave it a lot of thought. ... he got to the core
of the American problem: the fact that America claims to derive separate rights due to its uniqueness - and doesn't understand that others doubt its selflessness, because
American principles often serve as a cover for U.S. interests."
fury Vladimir Putin's letter brought about says
something about the singular way America is accustomed to being treated writes
Thomas von der Dunk: "Always ready to send,
never to receive."
is big news on the sidelines: Jaap
de Hoop Scheffer, known for his submissive visit
to Bush and his period in hiding as NATO secretary general, appears to have
become a wise man.
On Sept. 7, De Hoop Scheffer
commented in the NRC Handelsblad
on possible Dutch agreement with the-then-still-possible U.S. attack on Assad: "You
support a military action that solves nothing, that pushes the political
solution away rather than bringing it closer." If only Jaap
had thought that way ten years ago when he blindly rushed into Iraq behind Bush.
Jaap's comments on that now: "I fell into
a pit of manipulated information."
won't happen to him again - even though there is an important difference
between Iraq then and Syria now: Obama would have only reluctantly gone to battle, whereas
the clique around Bush was all too eager to do so. Joschka
Fischer, at the time not convinced by the Colin Powell show, wrote in his
recently-published memoirs that Washington wanted to seize the opportunity of September
11 to settle accounts with up to 60 countries.
would like to share another wise comment of De Hoop Scheffer
with you: "I think there should be talks with Russia and Iran. We missed a
great opportunity at preventative diplomacy. With friends there is no need to
talk. It is enemies we need to convince. One will never have stability in Syria
without Iran and Russia. So you have to keep talking to these countries. For the
Americans, this is a bridge too far."
was another thing that recently proved a bridge too far for the Americans: a letter from the Russian president to a U.S. newspaper
addressed to the American people. Not that Putin would pursue the contrary, but
he called Americans out on something they feel entitled to do: interfere in the
politics of other countries.
Touching a nerve
Kremlin did manage to touch a nerve last week. Putin's letter focused on
America, but in passing, Putin's
spokesman criticized the British after Cameron's defeat in the House of
Commons, calling it "a small island no one listens to." Once upon a
time, such a sneer would have presumably been shrugged off with a stiff upper
lip, but in Westminster now - they were furious.
"I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a
bigger heart or greater resilience." He also mentioned Britain's role in
the struggle against fascism and slavery and praised that it "invented
most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played
around the world."
oh yes, "we are not an island, but a collection of islands" - in case
people in Jersey or the Shetlands started feeling shortchanged. The fact that
his use of such a pedantic correction as a rebuttal is so comedic apparently
never occured to him.
Putin a Brute
American reaction was no less than the British. Putin is a brutal scoundrel,
but I must admit that his letter was brilliant - especially given the
astonishing fury it resulted in. This says something about the singular way
America is accustomed to being treated: Always ready to send, never to receive.
Outside the West, many will therefore have read his epistle with pleasure:
finally, a taste of their own medicine.
"I almost wanted to vomit," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob
Menendez, who doesn't seem to have the stomach for such medicine. "I worry
when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what's in our national
interest and what is not." But hasn't America been doing just that for
decades? Isn't it legitimate criticism for Assad to hit back, "don't tell
me what's in our national interest."
contribution to The New York Times
wasn't written by Googling, as some busy pastors
appear to be doing for their Sunday Sermons, according to the August 30 edition
of De Volkskrant.
Putin clearly gave it a lot of thought.
"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict
between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few
champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough al-Qaeda
fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government." There is
no flaw in that - even if democracy in his own country isn't Putin's greatest
passion, and the growth of extremism in Syria is partly due to his earlier
refusal to support the moderate opposition.
recalls the ruinous outcome of Western intervention in Afghanistan, Libya and
Iraq - again, all true. Then on U.S. intervention "drift": when the
principle of non-intervention of states may be compromised, "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." As an analysis,
this is entirely correct.
most virulent poison pill was left to the end. It concerned "American exceptionalism," which Obama had also invoked: "U.S.
policy is what makes America different. It's what makes America exceptional."
Putin: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as
comment on American exceptionalism in full was: "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."]
Putin got to the core of the American problem: the fact that America claims to derive
separate rights due to its uniqueness - and doesn't understand that others doubt
its selflessness, because American principles often serve as a cover for U.S.
am often reminded an anecdote from the 1945 Yalta Conference. In
order to make a new world war impossible, Roosevelt proposed universal
disarmament - except for one country, because obviously only one country was
capable of remaining a neutral arbitrator. You can guess which one that was.
Unfortunately, the facial expressions of Stalin and Churchill weren't recorded.
*Thomas von der Dunk is cultural historian and columnist for Volkskrant