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Russia's Thumb in the Eye

As if Barack Obama and the United States haven't been embarrassed enough lately, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to plead his case directly to the American people. Was this all part of Obama's plan too?

The op-ed appeared in the Times shortly before John Kerry left to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Putin made his case directly to the American people, warning of the consequences of action without the United Nations. He warns, “A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism … It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.” Putin insists, “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.”

While Putin's seemingly new-found appreciation for international law and diplomacy is welcomed, many view it as hypocritical. But when it comes to hypocrites, Putin pointed the finger back at the United States: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest?” Is it sad that Putin is asking this question and not Obama? He says he appreciates his relationship with Obama, which he describes as “growing trust.” But then Putin goes on to write the following:

“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.”

Ouch. Vladimir Putin just called out American exceptionalism on the world stage. Some on the right will argue that Barack Obama actually agrees with Putin's world view on American exceptionalism, despite his remarks on Tuesday. But either way, it is bold for Putin to make such a declaration. It speaks to the perceived weakness of this president and calls into question this Russian re-set Obama and Hillary clearly failed to achieve.

Putin's op-ed comes in a series of hostile pokes in the eye. Not that long ago, Putin called John Kerry a liar on the world stage. He's moving war ships into the Mediterranean as we speak. He's offered missile shield protection for Syria in the case of a U.S. strike, and he has vowed to provide arms to Iran. What has the United States done in the face of such posturing? Hymmed and hawed, swayed and waffled, made gaffes and spoken without clarity.

This whole Syrian debacle started with ambiguity over the “red line.” Now, the proposed solution is equally mired in ambiguity – Did John Kerry make a mistake? Was this Washington's plan all along? Would this plan even exist without U.S. threats? Can we trust the Russians to execute this plan? Here's what we do know: According to a Russian television interview (take that for what you will), “Syria’s decision to cede control of its chemical weapons was the result of a Russian proposal, not the threat of U.S. military intervention.” So the administration's PR spin of this being all because of Obama's pinprick saber-rattling is toast.

So now in light of Putin's op-ed, the administration's new position is to make Russia own this proposal … that was supposedly John Kerry's idea and the White House had been working on it all along. Yeah, right. A senior White House official told CNN, “Putin is now fully invested in Syria’s CW (chemical weapons) disarmament.” The official goes on to say, “[Putin] now owns this. He has fully asserted ownership of it and he needs to deliver.” Is the goal then to pin any potential future blame on Putin if the plan fails? What if it succeeds, will it suddenly becoming Washington's plan again? Ultimately, Putin has much more to gain from this scenario than the United States. The United States is playing not to lose. Putin is playing in order to keep an influential ally in the region (Assad) and to boost his geopolitical credibility. Seems like he is getting the upper hand.

According to a report on the Hill, lawmakers are dreading a long, drawn out process involving the securing of Assad's chemical weapons. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee called the complexities of enforcing these inspections “massive.” Today the Syrians submitted data on their chemical weapons stockpiles. While the official acknowledgment that Assad has chemical weapons is a breakthrough, it still does not answer the questions about the weapons arsenal of the rebels. Reports continue to unfold showing that the U.S. does not have definitive proof that Assad was responsible for the attack which garnered this international outrage. Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports today that the CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria. This is the support that the administration promised back in April. It is now September. Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta told NBC this morning that it is in our country's best interest to back the rebels, joining a host of others like John McCain pushing to support the opposition. I remain concerned about the true nature of the opposition and its radicalism. In a country where the opposition is now steeped in radical jihadists with links to al Qaeda, how can we be sure that we are arming and supporting the “right” people?

And finally on Syria I will leave you with this: An improv group has created a video highlighting the liberal hypocrisy of supporting Obama on Syria. They call it “Help Kickstart World War III!”