What was it about Vladimir Putin’s extraordinary op-ed in The New York Times last week that so infuriated the Washington establishment? Oh, how they hated it! The whole lot of them: the White House stammered that it was “irrelevant.” Intermittent conservative John Boehner said he was “insulted” by it. Speaking from the other side of the aisle, Robert Menendez told CNN that it made him “almost want to vomit.” And the great Nowhere Man, Col. Gaddafi’s good buddy, the Madcap Maverick himself, John McCain said that the op-ed was “an insult to the intelligence of every American.”
Well, John, that’s certainly something you know about.
By the way, have you noticed the streak of masochism in John McCain? It’s not enough that he repeatedly makes a fool of himself in public. He must actively court ridicule by announcing to the world that he is going to write a “rebuttal” to Putin’s op-Ed for Pravda. I’ve always suspected that the editors of Pravda had a cruel streak. Now I know it. Imagine, inviting John McCain to write (or at least sign) a column responding to Putin’s masterly dance around the liberal pieties that inform “debate” in Washington. It’s like leaving Anthony Weiner alone with his internet-connected cell phone: you can count on excruciating embarrassment for the protagonist.
But I digress. What was it about Putin’s op-ed that so inflamed establishment opinion? In a word, it is the fact that it was a perfectly accurate mirror. The Washington nomenklatura and their liberal enablers looked into Putin’s op-ed and they saw a most hideous sight: their own rancid clichés repeated back to them in mocking, church-like tones. “A Plea for Caution From Russia” — how dare he say to us what we have been saying to troglodytic conservatives for decades? And in our paper, the New York Times. (That was Putin’s final act of genius, to publish his column in the liberals’ own Bible, where his high-horse moralistic tones — right down to his concluding invocation of God and equality — would be sure to echo most forcefully.) That pulpit had been hitherto reserved for liberal demagogues: how dare a renegade like Putin don the cassock and deliver our own sermon to us? What gall! What effrontery!
For that was his sin: saying to liberals what liberals for years have been saying to anyone who would listen. As James Piereson pointed out in a stellar column yesterday, “what President Putin said in his column is pretty much what American liberals and leftists have been saying about the United States since the 1960s.” Go back and take a look at what he wrote. If you feel your palms getting slightly moist, if there is some clutching at the back of your throat, if, like Senator Menendez, you “almost want to vomit,” it’s because your own emetic pieties are particularly noxious when they are first regurgitated by someone else. Those are those hardest to swallow. Piereson is right: “there is nothing the least bit new or controversial in anything Mr. Putin wrote in his column.” It’s just what leftists from Obama on down have been saying for years, only now someone else is saying it to them.
What, after all, did Putin actually argue in that column? Piereson cites three things:
- It is contrary to international law for a member of the United Nations to attack another country without UN approval. But isn’t that just what leftists always say whenever there’s a conservative in charge? Go back and watch some re-runs from the second Bush administration. Of course, Bush actually did get UN approval for attacking Iraq, but that’s as irrelevant as the fact that he assembled a large coalition of partners to conduct the attack. What matters is the UN-friendly rhetoric that is perpetually oozing out of leftist purlieus.
- Major powers (especially major powers called the United States) should not intervene in the internal conflicts of other countries.
- The United States is not an “exceptional” nation. This perfidious belief, as Piereson puts it, “promotes a sense that the United States is not bound by conventional rule of international conduct. Since Americans believe they are exceptional . . . they believe they can make their own rules.” That’s what Putin said. But isn’t that exactly what every left-wing government bureaucrat from Samantha Power on down has always maintained? Isn’t it exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from every tenured radical in the academy, from every over-coiffed newscaster with a multi-million-dollar contract to worry about?
Barack Obama, as Piereson observes, has at one time or another expressed support for all three of Putin’s main points:
During the 2008 presidential campaign, he said that the intervention in Iraq was illegal because it was not authorized by the United Nations. In 2009, when asked about American exceptionalism, President Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, we are all exceptional alike, just as Mr. Putin said.
Ouch. Will this large and gooey omelet splattered over the countenance of left-wing self-satisfaction make any long-term difference? Probably not. The linguistic curiosity that “shameful” and “shameless” are synonyms will doubtless once again come into play. It would, as Piereson says, be a good thing if leftists shelved for good “their doctrines about diversity, multiculturalism, and American imperialism.” But don’t count on it. The next time — and God willing, it will be soon — that a Republican occupies the White House you can be sure that leftists will once again “dust off Mr. Putin’s principles and put them into play once more.” Just wait.