Russian president Vladimir Putin agitated many Americans when he published an op-ed in the Sept. 11 edition of The New York Times.
Putin’s article, which discouraged American intervention in Syria, was met with general disdain. See, for example, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, who said the op-ed made him want to vomit. Within a day, Putin’s piece had been fact-checked and annotated by The Washington Post.
It was refreshing to see so critical an eye turned to a political text. Commentators highlighted Putin’s dubious facts, cited his omissions and expressed doubts regarding the sincerity of his motives. Due to Russia’s tenuous relationship with the U.S., it seems natural to be wary of Putin’s advice. There is a simpler reason to examine his article, however; at the end of the day, Putin is a politician. Like others in his line of work, he will say whatever he can get away with, provided it increases his popularity.
Imagine how the political atmosphere of the U.S. would change if the American public inspected President Barack Obama’s words as carefully as it did those of Putin. Obama’s Aug. 31 speech on the Syrian situation made much of the Assad regime’s “mockery of the global prohibition on chemical weapons.” The president, however, failed to remind his audience that the U.S. military utilized deadly chemical weapons such as white phosphorus and depleted uranium to wage war in Iraq. This was done despite the fact that such armaments are prohibited by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
Apathy is the great enabler. The words of Putin and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have been under careful watch, as is only appropriate. But it’s easy to forget that every state, and every politician, has an agenda. As the crisis in Syria moves forward, it will inevitably continue to receive international attention. As democratic citizens, it will be our duty to stay critical, curious and informed in order to play a smarter, more responsible role in the events that will unfold both at home and abroad.