All the Very Serious People are up in arms over the "hypocrisy" of the Russian leader for taking the US to task for rushing to war in Syria. It was the timing that rankled them: the foreign policy cognoscenti have only just barely gotten over their palpable disappointment when Congress and then the President backed down in the face of vocal outrage emanating from out in the cornfields. And now this!
If the revolt of the hoi polloi depresses them – how dare those un-lettered ruffians in flyover country interfere with their fun (and their career plans)! – the decision by the editors of the Times to publish Putin energized their moral preening instinct and reconfirmed their conviction that they represent humankind’s last best hope. They point to Putin’s 1999 Times op Ed – yes, this is his second – wherein he purported to explain Russian intervention in Chechnya – what hypocrisy, they cry! Of course, many on Twitter made the mistake of actually linking to this piece, in which Putin presciently speculated that Islamist radicals might one day attack the United States:
"I ask you to put aside for a moment the dramatic news reports from the Caucasus and imagine something more placid: ordinary New Yorkers or Washingtonians, asleep in their homes. Then, in a flash, hundreds perish in explosions at the Watergate, or at an apartment complex on Manhattan’s West Side. Thousands are injured, some horribly disfigured. Panic engulfs a neighborhood, then a nation."
A few years later, Americans didn’t have to imagine it, because they experienced it. At the time the piece was written, however, Putin was at pains to point out:
"Russians do not have to imagine such a calamity. More than 300 of our citizens in Moscow and elsewhere suffered that fate earlier this year when bombs detonated by terrorists demolished five apartment blocks."
The Chechen rebels were and are supported by the West, and I’m not just talking about our Russophobic media: the US and British governments have granted asylum to the worst terrorists imaginable. When Ilya Akmadov, the Chechen rebels’ "foreign minister," applied for asylum in America, the Department of Homeland Security protested – the man, after all, was complicit in the slaughter of almost 200 schoolchildren at Beslan, alongside his leader, Chechen commander Shamil Basaeyev, when Chechen jihadists attacked a Russian school.
Ah, but "the children" don’t come into the conversation unless it serves the purposes of the foreign policy elite. That elite gave its ringing endorsement of Akmadov’s asylum application: Madeleine Albright, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezkinski, Ted Kennedy, and of course John McCain – the jihadists’ best friend – all signed a letter appealing to Homeland Security, which promptly backed down. Akmadov was not only granted asylum but also a plum position with the misnamed "US Institute of Peace," a government-funded entity that does its best to justify America’s wars.
Now yet another US-backed jihadist crusade is threatening Russian interests in the region, this time in Syria: flying the black flag of Al Qaeda, they’re slaughtering "heretics," burning down churches, and eating the livers of Syrian government soldiers on YouTube The cause of these cuddly rebels has been taken up by all the usual suspects, with Senator McCain carrying their bloodstained banner in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the American media describing them as innocuous Syrian "activists." After a months-long campaign to come up with some alleged atrocity that would trigger US intervention on their behalf, as in Libya – a public relations effort rife with hoaxes so crude that not even the American media could bring themselves to fall for it – they finally came up with a good one in Ghouta, a village outside Damascus where someone indubitably did deploy some kind of poison gas.
The liberal moaners, led by Samantha Power, and the outright Russia-haters left over from the cold war, such as Bill Kristol and his neocon cabal, joined hands and jabbered in unison that the US has a "responsibility to protect" (as Power has phrased it). For well over a year, the chorus of Washington-centered voices had been caterwauling for some "action," and with Ghouta the shrieking reached a crescendo: War! War! War!
A visibly reluctant President Obama finally caved, and the news media drooled at the prospect of more Shock-&-Awe: any day now, they averred, and the bombs would be flying. Oh goodie! Except they forgot about one important factor in the equation: the American people.
That figures, now doesn’t it? These Wise Men (and Wise Women) live in the Beltway Bubble, where paeans to the glory and divine sanction of American military power are an obligatory rite of entry into the exclusive club of foreign policy "experts." It’s a place where a 26-year-old with a fake "doctorate" can be cited by the War Party as an Authority on the vaunted "moderation" of the jihadist "opposition" while working for the pro-rebel Syrian Emergency Task Force and living high off the hog on government contracts. It’s a place where the neoconservatives, who brought us into what the late Lt. Gen. William Odom called "greatest strategic disaster in United States history," are still respectfully listened to.
The American people, in the view of this self-anointed priesthood of Ares, are to be steadfastly ignored when it comes to foreign policy: their ill-informed opinions only matter around election time, and then only marginally – since both candidates usually reflect the foreign policy priesthood’s own interventionist bias. This time, however, Americans didn’t politely defer to their betters: against the tide of "expert" opinion, and all the moralistic jeremiads of paid shills and other exemplars of internationalist virtue, they rose up and delivered a resounding "No!"
And Vladimir Putin heard their cry, which he echoed and amplified in his Times piece. Touching on all the arguments critics of US intervention gave voice to – in Congress and on congressional phone lines – even Max Fisher in the rabidly interventionist Washington Post had to admit he had a point, even a fair number of points. Yes, he’s right about the illegality of the aborted-for-now military strike, yes he is correct when he talks about the jihadist element so prominent in the "opposition," and yes US intervention would risk rapid escalation and a regional conflagration, but Fisher balked when it came to the two key points that most rankle Washington. Putin wrote:
"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack – this time against Israel – cannot be ignored."
The Western media have already decided how their narrative is going to read, just as they did in the run up to the Iraq war – when the "intel" was "a slam dunk," as the then head of the CIA put it. Everyone knew Saddam Hussein was harboring "weapons of mass destruction," and anyone who denied it was … well, a "denialist." As it turned out, the real denialists were in the news media, but that was then, and this is now: as someone by the name of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad puts it in the present context, those who wonder whether the rebels themselves have possessed or deployed poison gas are "the new truthers." That this smear appeared in The New Republic – a magazine that not only accepted the Saddam-has-WMD narrative unquestioningly, but also plumbed tirelessly for war with Iraq – is hardly shocking. And while the public seems to be buying this war propaganda for the moment, it’s only a matter of time before this "intel" is thoroughly debunked.
No one doubts Assad is capable of using poison gas, given the right circumstances, i.e. given the probability that he’d get away with it. But it’s just too much of a coincidence that the Ghouta incident occurred at precisely the moment when UN inspectors had only just arrived in Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian regime to verify claims the rebels had twice used poison gas – at Aleppo and Khan al-Assal. Did they invite the inspectors just in time to witness the "atrocity" the rebels had been waiting for and hoping would motivate the West to intervene? Aside from the timing, there’s the fact that the rebels had been steadily losing ground to the Syrian armed forces: there was no military reason to use gas, especially with the inspectors a few miles away.
As it is, the UN report will not deal at all with the Aleppo and Khan al-Assal incidents, but one wonders how long the pretense of the rebels’ moral purity can be kept up. Reports are surfacing that rebels in possession of homemade poison gas had been arrested by the Turks near Aleppo, and the testimony of two journalists kidnapped and held by the rebels for months indicates the rebels were openly talking about the Ghouta incident weeks before it happened. Add to this the 100-page Russian intelligence report on the rebels’ use of homemade sarin gas – supplied by jihadists in Iraq – and the Official Narrative that disdains all others as the product of "truthers" is bound to fall apart.
Oh, those Russians, with their crazy conspiracy theories! The scoffing of the Washington know-it-alls is all over Twitter. Yet the Russians, after all, were right about Tamerlane Tsarnaev – and we were wrong. Dead wrong. Not to mention Putin saw the 9/11 attacks coming years before they occurred.
What really rankles the pundits and assembled "experts" at the Court of King Obama, however, is the final paragraph of Putin’s missive, in which he delivers what could be a fatal blow to their vanity:
"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ 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."
The mystic doctrine of "American exceptionalism" has long dominated the foreign policy consensus in Washington. It has both "right" and "left" versions, but in both cases the idea is essentially the same: John F. Kennedy gave voice to it in his 1961 Inaugural Address, when he declared the US must "pay any price, bear any burden" in the international struggle to contain the Communist Menace in Latin America and elsewhere. It was the rhetorical prelude to the Bay of Pigs disaster and our increasing military presence in Vietnam.
Although Communism was the bogeyman of the moment, the "pay any price bear any burden" mentality survived the cold war: Indeed, the demise of the old Soviet Union emboldened America’s political class to update and upgrade this exceptionalism, which supposedly gives us a divine mandate to police the post-cold war world order in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan – and now Syria. If any other nation arrogated this task to itself, it would be called by its right name: imperialism. Yet that’s what "American exceptionalism" is all about: we’re supposedly the exception to this rule.
Except we’re not, as Putin points out – and the American people agree. The US public is often characterized as being "war weary," as if they are slouches, selfish monsters who have put down this noble burden at the very moment it must be taken up with fresh vigor. Yet what they are weary of is the arrogance that engenders our foreign policy of perpetual war: the self-satisfied smugness with which our elites weave narratives that turn out to be a passel of lies. Americans are empire-weary because they see the corroding effects of imperialism on their own society – the decline in living standards coupled with the deterioration of civil liberties and the ongoing corruption of the political class.
Putin is speaking directly to them – and the warlords of Washington hate it. Which is why we should all of us love it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).