US Officials Fume Over Putin Op-Ed on Syria
WASHINGTON, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – The US political establishment expressed outrage over Russian President Vladimir Putin's op-ed in The New York Times criticizing Washington's push for military action in Syria, with one senior US lawmaker even saying Putin's comments nearly made him retch.
"I almost wanted to vomit," Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, told CNN on Wednesday after Putin's piece was published on the Times' website as the two nations prepared to meet in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Russia's plan to have Syria transfer control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international monitors.
In his stern appeal to the American people, Putin chided US officials for their push for military action against Syria over an apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Putin also called US President Barack Obama's characterization of the American people as "exceptional" this week as "extremely dangerous," suggesting it is a catalyst for US unilateralism and military action across the globe.
The White House shrugged off the piece Thursday, with a senior Obama administration official telling Politico that Putin "has invested his credibility in transferring Assad's chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them."
"The world will note whether Russia can follow through on that commitment," the unnamed official told Politico.
Other influential US political players reacted less guardedly, accusing Putin of hypocrisy and disingenuousness as Washington and Moscow negotiate a Russian plan – backed by Syria – to secure and destroy the Assad government's chemical stockpiles.
"It's pretty clear the whole purpose of that was to try to weaken our resolve and to try to make sure that we would not fulfill our pledge to conduct military action if we have to," former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Leon Panetta told NBC on Thursday morning. "So I think he was trying to, in his own way, weaken the United States in the effort to negotiate these issues."
Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a vociferous Kremlin critic, was more blunt on his Twitter feed Thursday, calling Putin's op-ed "an insult to the intelligence of every American."
There was little new in Putin's op-ed, which restated many of Russia's core public positions on the Syria conflict.
These include Moscow's view that outside military intervention is unacceptable without approval from the UN Security Council and that such an incursion could embolden dangerous extremist elements currently fighting Assad's forces and "unleash a new wave of terrorism" that should spread outside the region.
Putin also outlined more controversial Russian positions, namely that the Aug. 21 attack could have been carried out by the Syrian opposition to "provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons," an assertion that flies in the face of Washington's claim that Assad's government was almost certainly responsible for the attack.
He also invoked the preeminence of international law and the concept of equality, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from critics citing Russia's own record on human rights and the rule-of-law, which is routinely denounced by Western governments.
"I think it's the height of hypocrisy for Putin at this point to lecture the United States of America," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, said in an interview Wednesday evening with Fox News.
Panetta told NBC that Putin "should be the last person to lecture the United States about our human values and our human rights and what we stand for."
Menendez, the senator who said he almost lost his dinner after reading Putin's comments, cited the Russian leader's KGB service as a cause for concern in assessing the op-ed.
"I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what is in our national interests, and what is not," Menendez said. "It really raises the question of how serious the Russian proposal is."
The piece had garnered more than 1,800 comments on the Times' website as of Thursday afternoon, many of which echoed the criticism leveled by US officials. Many of the comments, however, said that while they question Putin's motives and own record on international law and human rights, they found his arguments against the Obama administration's position on Syria compelling.
"I am shocked that, after reading President Putin's opinion, I feel that he is correct," one person wrote. "The Russian president, an ex-KGB agent, a man who has led his county on some of their own missions of destruction, suddenly delivers a message which strikes a chord in me."
Another, identified as Dmitry Mikheyev, said he is a Russian-American who spent six years as a Soviet political prisoner before receiving US political asylum and "has no reason to love the KGB and has all the reasons to love America."
"But to me, this stance on Syria makes more sense that anything else I heard from American political-military-industrial-media elite," Mikheyev wrote. " … America has to learn to live with complexities of the real world. The black-and-white thinking leads to endless wars with others. Such policy will inevitably result in self-destruction."
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