I can’t say I’m outraged by Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times like some are.

In fact, I rather agree with those that he has shown an aptitude for column writing and his presence would enhance the tired New York Times opinion pages.

In the op-ed, A Plea for Caution From Russia, (via memeorandum) Putin did what Putin needed to do. In short, Putin essentially said “We come in peace,” and made a pretty convincing case of it, if you don’t look too closely into his arguments.

In nearly pitch perfect prose, Putin argued that using force against Syria is likely to hurt American interests, including negotiations with Iran and the Israeli Palestinian peace process. He argued for the need of international norms in the waging of war. All of these are great points. Superficially. Unless you realize that Putin violates nearly every single one of them himself.

Max Fisher, whom I don’t particularly like, fact-checked Putin. (via Instapundit) Adam Chandler’s “first draft” of Putin’s op-ed was sharper.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope (despite his recent troubling remarks on gay rights), will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders, which, despite two million refugees, hasn’t happened already anyway. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism like the gassing of civilians. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem (which I endorse) 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, like that time I said I wanted to hang the President of Georgia “by the balls” or unleashed a cyber-attack on Estonia.

The only false note Putin struck was at the end when he mocked American exceptionalism. I suppose having stabbed the President in the back, he couldn’t resist twisting the knife a bit. But it was an impulse he should have avoided. If his goal was to appeal to the American people, why did he mock American exceptionalism?

However many falsehoods and distortions are in the op-ed, I don’t blame Putin for writing it.

I blame the public relations firm of Ketchum for handling the op-ed. Note that the same flack who hinted to the Putin op-ed also linked to a campaign raising funds for Syrian refugees.

I don’t understand how you can make an appeal for the victims of Syrian civil war on one hand and, on the other, promote a man who is enabling the regime to slaughter and displace his subjects.

I blame the New York Times for publishing it.

Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, carried this damning quote from Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal:

I asked him about Mr. Putin’s statement that there is “every reason to believe” that the poison gas has been used by opposition forces, not the Syrian government – which many now do not believe to be true. Mr. Rosenthal said that “falls into the category of opinion.”

So I could write an op-ed that claims that the world is flat or the sky is chartreuse and by Rosenthal’s standards, they could publish it because it is in “the category of opinion.” What a remarkable standard! Any falsehood is opinion and is therefore fit to print on the New York Times op-ed page!

But there’s another disturbing aspect to the op-ed. It actually became part of the New York Times news reporting.

The New York Times reported As Obama Pauses Action, Putin Takes Center Stage:

Yet suddenly Mr. Putin has eclipsed Mr. Obama as the world leader driving the agenda in the Syria crisis. He is offering a potential, if still highly uncertain, alternative to what he has vocally criticized as America’s militarism and reasserted Russian interests in a region where it had been marginalized since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although circumstances could shift yet again, Mr. Putin appears to have achieved several objectives, largely at Washington’s expense. He has handed a diplomatic lifeline to his longtime ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, who not long ago appeared at risk of losing power and who President Obama twice said must step down. He has stopped Mr. Obama from going around the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds a veto, to assert American priorities unilaterally.

More generally, Russia has at least for now made itself indispensable in containing the conflict in Syria, which Mr. Putin has argued could ignite Islamic unrest around the region, even as far as Russia’s own restive Muslim regions, if it is mismanaged. He has boxed Mr. Obama into treating Moscow as an essential partner for much of the next year, if Pentagon estimates of the time it will take to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile are accurate.

The enthusiasm expressed for Putin is punctuated by a boast about the op-ed which, ” laid down a strong challenge to Mr. Obama’s vision of how to address the turmoil.”

Not only did the New York Times publish a demonstrably false op-ed, they cited it uncritically in a news story. The point of this article seems to be gloating over how Putin outmaneuvered Obama. I can’t imagine what Obama did to deserve this kind of treatment at the hands of the Times, which usually treats him as being above criticism. Maybe the editors really were upset about Obama’s call for military force and much prefer Putin’s version of peace.

Maybe next they’ll be pushing for Putin to get the Nobel Peace Prize.


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