Several Webner House readers and friends have asked me what I think of the op-ed piece from Vladimir Putin that was published in the New York Times. If you haven’t read it, it’s here. I’ve got several reactions to it.
First, I’m amazed that some people are questioning the decision of the Times to run the piece at all. As a fan of the First Amendment, I firmly believe that more speech is better than less. I’m glad the Times ran the piece, because it did what free speech advocates expect — it provoked lots of comment. The Washington Post, for example, ran a response that annotated and “fact-checked” the Putin piece. In my view, all of the discussion — about the role of the Russians, what American policy is and should be, and is the piece a pure propaganda effort — is a very good thing. The more people become aware of competing views, the better.
Second, I think the piece was a carefully crafted bit of propaganda from a foreign leader who is following his own agenda. So what? There is still value in being exposed to the views of other actors on the world stage. I’m also not troubled by the criticism of American policy. We’re big boys, and we — and our leaders — should be hardened to the rough and tumble of a world where others are pursuing different agendas. If there are members of the Obama Administration who are feeling bruised by the criticisms of Vladimir Putin, they really need to get over it.
Finally, although I agree with Putin’s notion of America working within the framework of international law and international organizations to resolve the Syrian crisis, I completely disagree with one of his broader points. He thinks its dangerous that many Americans view our country as exceptional, I think exactly the opposite. Most of our ancestors came to America precisely because they believed it was exceptional — and it was, and is, exceptional. It is the place where Old World class, religious, and ethnic divisions are shed and where freedom allows people to advance and prosper no matter what village they come from or what religious faith they follow. The opportunity and freedom found in America is not found in Putin’s Russia or countless other countries.
Sorry, Vlad! You’re wrong about America. We are exceptional, and the world is a better place for our exceptionalism. In the gush of reaction to the Putin piece, I’m hoping that many Americans — including President Obama — focus on that reality as well.