Putin's Op-Ed: Joke or Masterstroke?

Russian president's Syria piece riles up Human Rights Watch, others

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 12, 2013 1:57 PM CDT

(Newser) – If nothing else, Vladimir Putin's New York Times op-ed certainly got people talking. Here's what they're saying about it:

  • Human Rights Watch Associate Director Anna Neistat calls the piece "worrisome," mostly because of what Putin didn't say. He neglected to mention, for example, "the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government," or "Russia's ongoing transfer of arms to Assad." His pleas to use the UN Security Council "sounds great, until you remember that, from the very start of this conflict, Russia has vetoed or blocked any Security Council action that may bring relief to Syria's civilians."

  • Yet the piece makes clear that Syria is "absolutely a diplomatic win by Putin right now," one Brookings Institution expert tells CNN, likening it to "judo, which is of course, Mr. Putin's favorite sport." Another expert says that given how many Americans are confused about Syria, "the arguments that Putin is making so clearly could be used in the domestic debate."
  • But Andrew Sullivan thinks it's a sign that Obama's the one with judo chops. Let Putin preen. "If the end-result is that Putin effectively gains responsibility and control over the civil war in Syria, then we should be willing to praise him to the skies," Sullivan writes at the Dish. If that means letting Putin call Obama weak, so what? "Obama can take it. He's gotten used to being a pinata."
  • Lawmakers were not pleased. John Boehner tells Roll Call that he was "insulted," while Robert Menendez said the piece almost made him vomit.
  • The White House chose to ignore Putin's jabs at American exceptionalism. "That's all irrelevant," an official tells Jake Tapper at CNN. What matters is that Putin "is now fully invested in Syria's CW (chemical weapons) disarmament. … He now owns this."
  • The Week, meanwhile, rounds up the best reactions from Twitter. "That riff about exceptionalism in the Putin op-ed does for the art of trolling like 'Sgt. Pepper' did for the rock album," Dave Weigel quipped. Jeffrey Goldberg added, "I hope President Obama submits a pro-gay marriage op-ed to RT.com tomorrow. Not that they'd post it."

Vladmir Putin's op-ed has everyone talking.   (AP Photo/Maxim Shemetov, pool)
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