The Conversation

Putin's Op-Ed Sounds a Lot Like Senator Obama Circa 2007

Putin is a strongman at home and a bad actor on the international stage. He is also diabolically clever.

Yesterday, in an op-ed published by the NY Times, the Russian tough guy known for judo and shirtless horseback riding claimed the mantle of populist defender of peace and multilateralism. In fact, in several places he seemed to be channeling Senator Obama circa 2007. 

Here's Putin yesterday:

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.

And here's Obama in 2007, speaking about a possible strike on Iran:

"George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear loud and clear from the American people and the Congress: You do not have our support, and you do not have our authorization, to launch another war."

Putin: 

There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations.

Obama, 2007

"The war in Iraq has never been better for al-Qaida. They're gaining strength."

Putin:

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.

Obama on Iran, 2008:

"if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around the world."

Putin:

Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

Obama, 2007:

a consequence of the Administration’s failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran’s strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril...Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric.

Putin:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest?

Obama, 2007:

"My decision making, with respect to military options versus diplomatic options, a containment strategy versus a strike strategy, is going to be informed by how is that going to impact not just Iran, but how is that going to impact the stability of the region and how’s that going to impact our long-term security interests."

Putin on seeking the bomb:

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you.

Obama discussing Iran's regional anxiety (note: not a direct quote but an excerpt):

[Obama] asserted that Iran’s support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear installations.

Putin:

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust.

Obama on Iran, 2007:

They issue veiled threats. They suggest the time for diplomacy and public pressure is running out, when we haven't even tried direct diplomacy.

Putin:

I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

Obama, 2009 (Obama took a lot of heat over this at the time):

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

Putin is putting on the populist, multilateralist, anti-war tone of the 2008 Obama campaign like a used shirt. It's extremely doubtful Putin believes a word of what he is saying, but it is undeniably clever from a political standpoint.

By using Obama's own themes against him, something he has already seen work in the belated decision to go to Congress for approval, he makes it difficult for the White House to respond. The White House's prickly, awkward response would seem to confirm this. President Obama can't criticize what Putin said without implicitly criticizing Senator Obama who held very similar positions on issues of war and peace in the Middle East.


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