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Putin sets us straight

Reading Vladmir Putin's op-ed piece in Thursday's NYTimes put me in mind of rhetorical flourishes. Read it and notice the pivots, the advice, and the not-so-subtle tendency to point out how right the Russians have been. Case study for a class in English composition!

Of course, he has some very good points: Like, really how exceptional is America...

UPDATE: And the Times defends its publication after criticism from some readers: Here!!

Juan Cole offers an analysis of Putin's points: Arguing with President Putin.



About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Why shouldn't he point out how right the Russians have been?  They warned us not to get involved in Afghanistan, e.g., but the Republicans, after decades of red-baiting, couldn't give up the chance to further enrich war profiteers.

I thought it was a wonderful op-ed piece.  If only our country would work together with our old allies, we could do wonders for the rest of the world.  Hard for some, obviously, to bury the hatchet and give credit where credit is due. 

Well at least he avoided high dudgeon!

Old Allies!  Wow!

You must chuckle as much as I do at Putin's reference to the opinion of the Pope, his reference to God, and his his espousal of Jeffersonian /Enlightenment "we are al created equal" in God's sight. I guess he's found religion! Maybe his next Opinion piece will be an altar call!

As my British friends would say:  Doesn't HE have bloody cheek!

I wonder how you say "chutzpah" in Russian? Google translate says this:  наглость

What a statesman.  Maybe he'll be Time Magazine's Man of the Year, too. 

Let Putin [What did Dubyah call him? "Putie-Poot"???] say whatever he wants.  The whole world knows Putin is in no position to lecture any nation or people about justice and freedom.  

It must be infuriating to Putin that our Kenyan socialist President states what is obvious to the whole world:  America is the exceptional nation.

Don't you really think that everyone understands that the former KGB thug, now Russia's most recent Czar has no clothes on??? That gagging sound you hear is the rest of the world throwing-up in their mouths. 

Put your shirt back on, Vald.

Detect lots of bluster here.  Give him enough rope - he'll hang himself.  Actually, it might be good for folks such as Putin to write/publish editorials....he may actually be held to some of these statements.  Ms. Steinfels - as a first year college prof, please enlighten me on the case study on composition?

Editorials don't usually cite footnotes, references, etc.  Will give you the fact that some of his thoughts are not consistent; his thesis or is it multi-theses aren't sufficiently supported by his arguments, facts, etc.  Was the thesis just to poke fun at American exceptionalism?  We must have short memories - plenty of woods and paper were destroyed after Vietnam and our own internal debates about the US on the Hill like a golden light; debates about exceptionalism (Bush declaring mission accomplished); even as a significant debating item in our presidential elections.

But, will grant you what you state.  Best example - his opinion that the chemical weapons were not used by the regime?  Really, then why ask Assad to turn them over? 

Others point out his other inconsistencies - but, on the whole, it might be a good thing that we find world leaders being published on our editorial pages - just like folks such a Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, The Alaskan Mama.....they might be held to what they say.  What a novel idea.

Re: Put shirt back on

Vanity is a vice among alll public leaders. But Vlad is also a martial artist, a martial ARTIST!

In this instance, I agree with Margaret in that this is a brilliant piece of prose at this moment. Every culture has its strengths and the Russians are brilliant at analytic mind games like chess and as writers they are deliberate and their messages refer to histories and spiritual values. This is Putin's playground. I do not doubt his sincerity but there are layers and layers of messages and meanings.

I have read interview with Putin and it is evident that he has studied the world and the US deeply. In my opinion, I think that he knows American people are decent, generous and fair but he also know the the US government is sneaky, covert, and anything but transparent. The Russians have lived under the Tsars and under Stalin so they do not have the same innocence around government. Revelation of secret deals and Russian interest will not rock their confidence in him because, I think, he has their trust.   And make no mistake, he has carefully studied Obama and taken full measure of him. Clear revelations of US dealings authorized by Obama will rock Americans perception of him and Obama's perception of himself. His message to Obama is that he is prepared to have an open and transparent dialogue in the press, directly to the people including what America is really doing. But if his interests are met, he will o away quietly.. Your move Barack!

History in the making here and most fascinating to watch the moves.


B de H: Didn't know you were teaching. History? or English?  I read Putin's op-ed as a former editorial writer. If I were teaching a composition class, I'd make clear that opinion-editorial rhetoric is a distinct genre and work to have the students distinguish among what works and what doesn't.

Ask them to imagine this oped encompasses a set of views about the U.S. role across a range of international issues prompted by the Syrian conflict.

Ask them to ignore that the head of the Russian government is writing this. What do they find convincing, what not convincing about the piece.

They may have to do some research here or have some tutoring about U.S.-Russian relations since the outbreak of WWII (just enough for them to see that this is complicated).

What do they think the author (presumably a U.S. pr firm writer, approved by the Russians) is trying to do for the Russian position?

Sentences I might ask them to analyze for accuracy, emotional appeal, conviction:

"Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together."

"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."

"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria."

"Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?"

"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."

"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?"

"We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."  David Paskinski has already raised an eyebrow about this.

If students were able to distinguish among feints, accurate statements, inaccurate ones, authentic concerns of the Russian government, and spin, they might acquire some sense of how such statements/editorials/opeds, etc. convince people or not.

Tell us how it turns out!

Some not so great things about Putin/Russia:

 - Putin's connection with the Orthodox Church and its leader, who's said by some to be former KGB ....,8599,1622544,00.html

 - the homophobia  ...

 - problems for women  ...

 - freedom of speech/expression  ....


The so called anti-gay legislation is in part intended to block homosexual propaganda supporting sexy with minors. I think this is not a bad thing. NAMBLA has been sidelined by many LBGTQ groups as well in recent years. As the movement gained ascendancy, and the issue of sexual abuse of minors began to be widely reported, NAMBLA was a liability. I don't think anybody will weep for their demise and I, for one, would not be opposed to laws forbidding their propaganda.

As for free speech and the so called crack down on it, Putin addressed this issue in a wide ranging interview with journalist at RT (a good source)


Vladimir Putin: No. Well, every opposition can prove useful. You just mentioned Occupy Wall Street. At a certain point we saw the police cracking down on the Occupy Wall Street activists. I won’t call the actions of police appropriate or inappropriate. My point is that every opposition movement is good and useful if they act within law. If they don’t like the law, they should use democratic ways to change those laws. They should win voters on their side, they should get elected into legislatures so that they have a chance to influence the laws. This is the way to change things on the ground. If there are people who act outside the law, then the state must use legal means to impose law in the interests of majority. That’s the way it’s done in the US, and that’s the way it’s done in Russia. 

Truth be told, we are grilled for that, but when the same thing happens in the US, it is considered to be normal. Never mind, these are double standards and we have got accustomed and pay little attention to it. 

Margarita Simonyan: When it happens in the US, RT grills America. 

Vladimir Putin: Way to go! Everyone must be treated in the same fashion. Because these situations are identical. The only difference is that our diplomatic missions don’t actively cooperate with 

Occupy Wall Street, and your diplomatic mission works together and directly supports Russian opposition. I think this is wrong because diplomatic missions must forge ties between states and not meddle with their domestic politics. 

Getting back to popular movements. Reckless behavior is not appreciated by people. If these activists are breaking the law, then it’s illegal. If they express their will by legal means, without breaking the law then they are fully entitled to do that. Then it would be beneficial to any state because it’s a way to provide grassroots feedback on state policies – social, domestic or foreign ones. 

Note, that he particularly mentions how American (the question was asked by an American) diplomatic mission directly support Russian opposition. This of course is wrong and is precisely what the Soviet Communists used to do in the United States!

Why should the US trust an ex-KGB colonel who has suppressed the press and free elections in his own country?  If you want to know what he's thinking, ask:  what would perpetuate his own power and safety?  Those seem to be hisi goals.

George D,

The Russian law, though it's titled as a prohibition of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, makes it  .....

"a criminal act to hold any sort of public demonstration in favour of gay rights, speak in defense of gay rights or distribute material related to gay rights, or to state that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships.   International human rights organisations and the governments of developed democracies have condemned the Russian law. The United Nations and European regional institutions have called for it to be repealed, making clear that the Russian law in question as well as other infringements of LGBT rights in the country are a direct violation of international human rights law, including the right of children to receive proper information, and of Russia's international obligations."  ....

   I don't see how working for the equal rights of LGBT people in Russia should be construed as promotong NAMBA.



And the world should trust the US because.......?

Maybe this is beating swords into ploughshares time. Tough to do but have to start somewhere.

Good explanation by the Public Editor and good comments below.  


If we're going into literary criticism of his piece, how about asking him to write a review of "Animal Farm." Would love his insights on some animals being "more equal than others."

Thanks, Ms. Steinfels....short answer, history.  Okay, appreciate you taking the time to explicate - your suggestions, questions, directions are excellent and now I understand what you were saying.

Will incorporate your suggestions.

Also, never answered you on an earlier post - the book I was referencing was later cited in a review by Fr. Komonchack....July, 1914.



Ms. Steinfels - two other additions.  Watched both Rachel Maddow and EWTN last nite (well, for a few minutes).

Maddow - wonderful topic and slant on chemical weapons - she expounded on the history lesson from Kazahstan and the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Left behind was the largest Soviet nuclear testing ground (size of the state of New Jersey); complete with mines, bunkers, etc. with high value, pure plutonium.  The narrative shows how soviet scientists reached out to US scientists who engaged the US government (including the current Secretary of Energy).  Secretly, Kazahstan folks, US scientists, and Soviet scientists began a 17 yr long project to destroy, seal up, and neutralize the active nuclear wastes.  That project was completed in 2012 preventing their use by extremists.  (and, of course, during this time period Russia, etc. constantly said that everything was safe and under control - so much for believability)  Anyway - it was a nice comparison to the challenge of identifying, locating, and destroying Syrian chemical weapons....efforts at locating and destroying nuclear wastes have been going on for years and have been very successful e.g. Mexico.

EWTN, Arroyo, and Buchanan - besides laughing, Buchanan and Arroyo basically defended Assad and other dicatatorships because they provide stability in the face of terrorism.  A very simplistic analysis based upon an unnaunced, if not, partial reading of the situation.  Buchanan also supports Assad because he protects Christians and he compared this to Egypt today.  His inaccuracies were astounding:

- Christians in Eygpt were attacked by Brotherhood extremists because they thought christians supported the military.  It is the military that is now in control.  He then equates this to Assad/Syria...yet, in Syria, Christians align with Assad because he currently protects them - Assad is more like Morsi/Moslem Brotherhood; then the Egyptian military or opposition parties in Syria. He skips over the fact that Assad has violated scores of other international declarations - torture, use of cluster bombs, napalm, ethnic cleansing, etc. (but, of course, this is justified because he defends Christians - the illogic is just mind-numbing)

- Arroyo/Buchanan go on as if they are some type of John Birch Society remnant followers.  US has to support dictatorships because the whole region could be destabilized and create exactly what Hillaire Belloc preached against 100 years ago - the resurgence of a worldwide Moslem revolution that would destroy Christianity. Arroyo characterized (or caricaturized) the Arab Spring as another Moslem worldwide revolution - the sweeping generalizations to fit his narrow, bigotted ideology was again astounding.  It really is like watching a neo-con Catholic version of FOX News.  The spouting of made up opinions masquerading as facts - oh well.

Thanks for posting Juan's article .


Mr. deHaas, I must defend Mr. Arroyo from your unfair pounding.  Whatever you may say of him, he is a brilliantly innovative linguist.  It was he who reformed German phonology to make the word "Sorge" (in "Mit brennender Sorge") rhyme with English "forge" (as God, who has been called an Englishman but may be an exceptional American) intended.

And yes, before you ask, I'm contributing my own modest innovations in the field of parenthesis placement.

Margaret and Bill - I also thought the piece was pretty well targeted to NY Times readership.  I'd think  a Putin piece in the WSJ or Orange County Register might make a different set of points - perhaps fewer paeans to peace and a good deal more shoe-pounding.


I am no fan of EWTN but do watch it from time to time to see their take on things Catholic and political.

Mr. Arroyo likes to be flippant. (I watched him mimic his beloved Mother Angelica in a smart- alecky imitation and it burned me up.)   He thinks that will contribute to his appeal, I guess.

I had boys like that in class when I was teaching high school.  They spent after-school time writing 50 times:

"I will not act like a fool in Mrs. ___________'s Humanities class."

An aside: Believe it or not, these boys would come back to visti me after graduation and say; "Do you miss me?"

Jim...You may be right, BUT if so, how come so much religion? That appeal at the end sounded more Orange County than NYC. Of course, Putin may read polls showing how religious Americans are. He might have thought (or his info officer/pr contact) that "God made us all equal" was just the right note.

And then, I think there is still a strong anti-Communist streak in the NYTimes (for example, Stephen Lee Myers reporting from Moscow).

And take a look at Putin's picture in the story: looks like one of the Observers in "Fringe."

NB: NYT public editors piece mentions a PR contact for the piece.

Margaret - yes, I thought the invocation of the Almighty was an interesting touch. As a statement of religious conviction, it was from the I-pledge-allegiance school of civic faith - that may be the effect the writer was after?



From today's Times:


To the Editor:

For Vladimir V. Putin, just two thoughts:

Can I publish an opinion critical of you in Moscow’s most prominent daily?

Just F.Y.I., my grandparents did not flee the United States for Russia.

Tenafly, N.J., Sept. 12, 2013


Re:  Putin's invocation of the Almighty.  He and the Orthodox Church have been playing patty-cake for quite sometime now.  This most likely is his bow to their continued support of him and his anti-gay activities.

s/b "their" continued support ....


Puhleez ... reintroduce the "edit" feature!   Pretty please ... with sugar on it.

The invocation of the Almighty was a way to support his greater equity point and criticism that the continued encouragement of the United States leadership,including Obama's, to perpetuate the myth of Amercian exceptionalism is dangerous. I concur. 

Don't stone the prophet!


Tsar Putin is loathsome and dishonest, but I am happy to stand with Pope Francis on this issue.

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