Russian President Vladimir Putin has opined a public letter "A Plea for Caution" in regards to the Syrian conflict-- particularly addressing American military posturing and intervention, its implications to further widespread conflict and how it plays within the United Nations Security Council international law framework.
It is extremely well written and thought-out and convinced me that President Putin is one of the smartest domestic and international politicians of our time.
As a former KGB guy in the Soviet regime, Putin moved up the ranks eventually with Boris Yeltsin appointing him head of the KGB successor agency, then deputy prime minister, and Yeltsin's endorsement to run for the presidency. When Yeltsin stepped down, Putin became acting president, forgave any potential corruption charges on Yeltsin's family, then ran in the election three months later which he did and handily won in the first ballot with 53%.
From 2000-2008, he remained president with a 71% vote in 2004. Due to Russian law, similar to American term limits, Putin could not run again, but was appointed by his successor, Dimitry Medvedev, as prime minister. Medvedev did not run again in 2012 but Putin did and here we are again.
It is rare for leaders to return to high office after a stint away. In Canada, John A. Macdonald, Arthur Meighen, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Pierre Trudeau have done it. The United Kingdom has seen many returning PMs in its long-standing democracy, but the most recent being Churchill.
One could argue the Americans have been dominated by the Bush and Clinton families, especially with Hillary expected to make a run in 2016.
Putin has danced with the idea of extending terms to six years and many have deemed this undemocratic. But look at the American election cycle every four years. The fundraising and quiet campaigns before the primaries begin a year after the last election, then the year of lead up to the primaries, and then the election itself. BILLIONS were spent. Americans are exhausted of these cycles. And I haven't even discussed the midterm congressional elections every two years for portions of the house and senate. Elections have become a massive industry in the U.S. In Canada, not even close, and I prefer that--short and sweet, and in all honesty, we really haven't had a truly, really bad prime minister. I'm basically saying we get good value for the little amount of cash we put into it here.
So, in this sense, it would be hypocritical for Western democracies to criticize Putin for making the return to power within the Russian democratic framework, despite strong allegations of widespread election fraud--not that a similar approach with voter ID isn't happening in the U.S., and me personally seeing questionable practices in Canada as a scrutineer.
As such, Putin is dead right in arguing against President Obama's claim of "American exceptionalism". You can hear the rest of world right now in agreement with Vlad, including many Americans who didn't buy it either. I have certainly argued a similar stance.
As much as I travel in the U.S. for work and enjoyment, and have American friends in the military and in political groups, including elected office, I believe Canada to be even more exceptional than the U.S. Is it bias? Damn right it is! But that's my point. Too many times I hear "America is the greatest country on the planet ever". Is it? I haven't seen one single global ranking that says so. Their cities and quality of life, as much as I really enjoy many of them, fall behind other countries, including Canada. There's no doubt of America's economic #1 ranking, but their government is so beyond debt, they'd have to dismantle the government and start over to get back in the black, whereas Canada has been the ranked #1 in government finances for six years running.
Anyway, I digress. My point of this blog post is not to delve into all the detail of the Syrian conflict--it's beyond complicated. My point is to highlight the boldness of Vladimir Putin in his political career. He just doesn't seem to ever lose at anything. There are countless more examples. I don't trust Vladimir Putin one bit, especially in his political dealings with my family's home country of Ukraine, but he continues to win. His letter notably points out all the Middle East conflicts where the American military hasn't really won.
Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" is littered with applicable quotes to this conflict:
- "The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities... It is best to win without fighting."
- "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle."
- "When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
- "There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare."
- “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory is won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”
We all know the Russians arm the Syrian Assad government, but Putin's logic flaw is implying that terrorists were the ones who staged the chemical weapon attack, not the Assad government forces.
If that's the case, then why is it necessary to work out a deal to confiscate and destroy those weapons from the Assad regime?
The U.S. still feels compelled to respond and punish Assad's use of chemical weapons, whereas Putin knows the UN Security Council isn't going to do anything here anyway because he has a veto on it.
Either way, Putin still wins, Obama loses.
And that's why my friends, like it or not, Vladimir Putin is the smartest politician of our time.