Dear Mr. Putin,
Of all the people Americans heard from on September 11, 2013, you, sir, take the cake.
And of all the things we wanted to hear about, we enjoyed your lecture about us being exceptional the most.
But that’s old news. Instead we can focus on what’s happened since your promising Op-Ed was published. To start, LGBT rights continue to be trampled upon in your country; Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who was arrested for speaking out against the government, is now protesting prison conditions; and Greenpeace members were detained for protesting Russian oil drilling. In response to these abuses and to the exploitation of workers preparing for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Human Rights Watch has created an alternative route for the Olympic torch that highlights human rights abuses throughout Russia. Not to mention the hundreds of NGOs you, sir, insist are unlawful “foreign agents” because they promote things like democracy and environmental health.
Oh, and congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize nomination. (Since you are nominated for preventing military action against an abusive Syrian regime, maybe the Syrian president should be nominated as well for agreeing to give up the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons?)
Never mind your current ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” which has been ruled “impermissible” under international law by the UN Human Rights Committee. And never mind that you yourself wrote that international law is “still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.” Does this statement apply to Syria’s horrifying transgression?
Both you and Bashar Assad have accused the opposition forces—the “terrorists,” as both of you call them, hiding behind semantics instead of the fact that Syrian civilians make up the majority of Assad’s opposition—of using chemical weapons. Assad kept simply repeating to Charlie Rose that “this is reality,” somehow believing that using the word “reality” a total of ten times during the interview would persuade the skeptics. He even laughed his sheepish little laugh when he attempted to innocently dodge explaining the difference between nuclear and chemical warfare.
This is the company you keep. Your Op-Ed piece to the American people only shows us that Assad and Friends—or would you rather it be Vlad and Friends?—needs a “reality” check.
These alternate universes created by your cohort have led activists like US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to call for intervention beyond the monitored destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. As long as Assad is receiving your support and the help of Iranian troops, he does not need chemical weapons to continue oppressing the opposition.
In his speech in Washington on September 10, President Obama was holding the United States to a standard that sends a message about human rights violations. The world has a habit of turning a blind eye to such violations because fighting for human rights is unfortunately not always politically advantageous. He sees an exception to this norm—intervention, whether military or diplomatic—as a way to eventual peace. You apparently agree on the diplomacy aspect.
The lives of two million Syrian refugees are on the line. The most vulnerable population, Syria’s one million child refugees threatening to become the next lost generation, is counting on the grown-ups. If our experienced, accomplished leaders stand by a human rights violator—whether through indifference or through tangible support—what future awaits these children?
Iran’s newly elected president Hassan Rouhani also chose your method of appealing to the American public with his own Opinion piece in the Washington Post. He stresses the importance of diplomacy, telling leaders all over the world that “we all need to muster the courage to start conveying what we want—clearly, concisely and sincerely.” That is the only way diplomacy can work. If you and your global counterparts are all as exceptional as you should be, diplomacy can do more than merely oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. More importantly, it can even stop a dictator who continues to kill his own people.
I would like to believe that your message for Americans is a genuine gesture. If you are holding out your hand to our President because you sincerely wish to put politics aside and to use your friendship with Syria to reach a positive and speedy end to the violence (not just the use of chemical weapons), we will not only meet your hand with ours—we will hold you to your word.
With no exceptions.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.