You may or may not have noticed that the New York Times brought on a new op-ed contributor today: Russian president Vladimir Putin. One of Syria's strongest allies, Russia has been key player in the ongoing chemical weapons negotiations between the United States and the government of President Bashar Al-Assad. As such, Putin is rather close to the situation. And despite the fact that recent polls show that a majority of Americans are against military intervention in Syria, Putin felt compelled to hammer home exactly why he believes bombing Syria might make things worse before they get better. In his "Plea for Caution" piece, Putin argued that the United States' continued threat of a military strike doesn't just endanger stability in the Middle East. It also undermines the leverage of international law in general.
In the article, Putin comes out swinging, rhetorically speaking, by playing America's WWII heartstrings, writing "we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together." (A curious move from a man who recently signed into law a ban on "homosexual propaganda." That doesn't sound a whole heckuva lot different than some of the early anti-Jewish legislation enacted in prewar Germany.) But Putin reasonably cautioned that a United States military strike in Syria would not only undermine the UN, but also result in new sectarian violence, kneecap nuclear talks with Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and promote new waves of terrorism.
The Russian president also noted that his opinion comes not from the fact that it has close ties with Syria — glossing over the fact that in 2012 Russia promised to veto any international sanctions imposed by the UN and has continuously supplied large supplies of arms to the Syrian army. He insisted, "We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law," and that the United States government must respect the processes of the United Nations Security Council. "The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not," he wrote.
But Putin also went on to say that there is "every reason" not to blame the Syrian government for the gas attacks in Damascus last month, despite the fact that there has been little concrete evidence to back up that assertion or otherwise. Ultimately, however, Putin's plea was one for respect of international law. "We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement."
Many readers questioned why the New York Times even gave Putin this platform. As the Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan noted in a blog post today, the op-ed was pitched to the Times by an American public relations firm that represents Putin. The editorial page editor who accepted the piece, Andrew Rosenthal, noted that he thought that although he did not agree with many of the points in Putin's article, that it was "well-written, well argued," and that "[there] is no ideological litmus test" for op-ed articles in the Times. Sullivan concluded, "Whether you agree with it or not, whether you approve of Mr. Putin or not, it could hardly be more newsworthy or interesting." (NYTimes)