Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2008
taken by premier.gov.ru
All-round “he-man” President Vladimir Putin loves the spotlight. He runs around shirtless while hunting and riding a horse so often that you wonder if he’s going to come out with his own calendar. That would explain why all the unrestricted images on the net have him with his shirt on.
He projects himself as a master in judo, fishing, hunting and politics. Oh, and I think car racing might be in the mix somewhere, although I haven’t seen hard evidence of it.
Now he seems to be venturing into public relations.
He did an op ed piece for The New York Times yesterday, entitled “A Plea for Caution From Russia“. It is a rather articulate piece, I’ll admit, and if you do more than a cursory reading, it hopefully will make some people think. The cynic in me, however, is not willing to hold my breath waiting for a lot of people to do that.
What better time for a PR piece, anyhow? He just won a major public coup by taking up Secretary of State John Kerry on his word that all that would be needed would be for Syria to give up their chemical weapons and open up to inspections.
I have no illusions that the op ed isn’t one-sided. It is obviously biased, but if we clear through the propaganda, there are some troubling things that he highlights.
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? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
I’m sorry, but he has a point. We squandered our resources in the “war on terror” campaign and invaded Iraq (even before finishing up in Afghanistan), thus throwing off the balance of power in the region that kept Iran at bay. For what? Is Iraq better off? Are we? Have we really defeated al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Have we even dealt with the problem at all, seeing as Pakistan has obviously been harboring some of them including Osama bin Laden himself!
However, I want to hone in on a specific comment he made because there are sometimes debates about this even in our own country, and it is a debate that bewilders me most of the time.
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.
Let’s not conflate the fact that people are born of equal footing before God with the fact that people are not born with the same opportunities. America is exceptional, no matter how much the liberal ostriches in this country want to hide from it! In fact, the UK is pretty exceptional as well, although it leads us in decline (in some areas, at any rate).
However, that is not the only thing I want to take exception to! No, far from it! Let’s make sure Putin got President Barak Obama’s words correct!
Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.” Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Really? Is it really our “ideals” and “principles” that make America exceptional?
To put it another way: Is our sense of morality so much better than anyone else’s that it gives us the right to use force against those whose morality we do not agree with?
Hardly. We engage in covert operations to prop up dictators, and then we talk out of both sides of our mouths when they fall. We spy upon our own citizens and claim that freedom is our most cherished value. We allow chemicals and frankenfood to poison our citizens and our children, and we wonder why so many illnesses, mental and physical, prevail. We preach to the world about human rights and torture people and keep people without charging them rather than dispense justice at Guantanamo Bay.
Interestingly, one of the charges critics have leveled at Obama in the past is that he did not agree with American exceptionalism. He once famously stated, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism”.
As another of The Washington Post articles, “American exceptionalism, explained“, points out, that wasn’t all of his statement, though. He sort of, kind of, upheld American exceptionalism, but along the way he attempted to redefine it:
We have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional…. I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.
I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to see why Putin has such a problem with American exceptionalism.
We were given our freedoms and liberties, as well as an overabundance of physical blessings, by God Almighty. All of these definitions that try to take away from what He has provided is nothing less than stealing glory from Him!
Yet, like ancient Israel, we have collectively forgotten that, haven’t we? When Israel turned to God, they prospered, but when they turned away, they suffered the consequences.
10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
11 Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
14 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
Sounds just like us, no? Israel was exceptional because God blessed them, and America is exceptional because God blessed us. However, we have forgotten God! Instead, we trust in our own innate goodness. The problem is, human beings are not innately good. Rather, this is how the Bible describes the human condition:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
~ Jer 17:9
One thing is worse than not acknowledging American exceptionalism, and that is not acknowledging from whence it comes!