Putin arrives in Krymsk in January of this year. (Reuters/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Pool)
Instead of embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to save Washington from another disastrous war—his plan would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroy them—influential segments of the American political-media establishment are bent on discrediting him and thus in effect the alternative to war he represents. Still worse, purportedly liberal and progressive voices are playing a full-throated role in this mindless denigration of Putin, notably on CNN and MSNBC.
They seem indifferent to what is at stake, especially now when the Obama administration should be an eager full partner in the Putin option. Even a “limited” US military strike against the Syrian regime would almost certainly kill still more innocent people without eliminating Assad’s chemical weapons capacity; again incite Muslim and Arab passions against America; make negotiations on Syria’s murderous civil war even more difficult; undercut Iran’s recently elected moderate president; establish yet another US precedent of unsanctioned unilateral war; provoke other weak states to redouble their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in order to prevent such an American attack; further diminish the UN as a peacemaking alternative; and worsen the perilous drift toward renewed cold war between Washington and Moscow.
Nonetheless, Putin-bashing on the right and the left, featuring mostly irrelevant, baseless or hyperbolic allegations about his political record, continues unabated with scarcely any countervailing voices in the mainstream media. It ranges from characterizing Putin as “a KGB thug” whose policies at home are akin to those of Saddam, Stalin and Hitler to claiming that his entire foreign policy, past and present, consists of the “restoration of the Russian empire” and “poking America in the eye.” (Do these commentators know that Putin did more to assist the US ground war in Afghanistan after 9/11 than did any other head of state and continues to facilitate the supplying of American and NATO forces still fighting there? That he backed harsher sanctions against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and refused to sell Teheran a highly effective air-defense system? Or that his agencies shared with Washington counter-terrorism information that might have prevented the Boston bombings in April.)
There are other Putinophobic follies—in addition to mocking a photo of him bare-chested on horseback and alleging that he stole a NFL championship ring—most of them trivial, preposterous and self-debasing. A Democratic senior senator tells CNN he “almost wanted to vomit” when he read Putin’s New York Times op-ed explaining his peace proposal. Republican John McCain was equally contemptuous of the article, dismissing it as “Orwellian” and Putin as a “mammoth ego.” And a liberal magazine’s Russia expert assured viewers that Putin really doesn’t care what happens in Syria, only about his own self-aggrandizement, and, anyway, most of his supporters at home are “chubby women over fifty”—this to the appreciative chuckles of the other chic women on the CNN panel. (So much for senatorial statesmanship and respect for older women.)