Presidents Obama and Putin delivered barbed speeches to each other at the UN. But who's right?
Presidents Obama and Putin both delivered barbed speeches at the UN on Monday. Both leaders laid their cases against the other, and both did so passionately. Having watched both speeches, and dissected them, the opinion stated here may be very unpopular with progressive readers. It may even sound controversial, so buckle down: I think Putin was right.
If your head hasn’t completely exploded, or you haven’t violently closed your laptop and tossed it out of the nearest window, then allow me to explain. The honest opinion I hold, based on the two speeches given, is that Putin seemed more accurate in his portrayal of events in the world than Obama. This opinion is based on several factors.
The disclaimer of course is that, in no way, do I hold affection for Vladimir Putin. He has been an autocrat in ways, and has played into Russia corrupt oligarchy to preserve his power. Russia also did violate Ukrainian sovereignty by annexing Crimea and supporting East Ukraine rebels. Russia is also propping up the Assad regime in Syria. While this is all true, it has little to do with the content of his speeches at the UN. We have to analyze the reality, both past and present, and this reality points more towards Putin’s facts than Obama’s.
When Putin asked the question, “do you realize what you have done”, he asks this in the broad context of US foreign policy. While Putin did not reference the US specifically, it was clear who he was referencing. The fact is, US foreign policy in the Middle East and across the globe has been volatile and often tragic.
Let’s take Syria for example. While it is true Assad’s forces have engaged in many atrocities, and his regime is a dictatorship, we must not forget the context of the region. Pretty much no government in the region is an ideal Western democracy, and while Assad has murdered his own people, so have US allies.
It can’t be emphasized enough, but Saudi Arabia is a top US ally. The Saudis have a regime far more authoritarian than Assad in Syria, and in many ways share many morals with groups like ISIS (our enemies). Saudi Arabia executes its citizens left and right for senseless reasons, among them being selling drugs and apostasy. A Saudi citizen is set to be executed by crucifixion, a rather barbaric form of death one would argue. Saudi Arabia also lashes people very often for lesser forms of similar crimes.
Obama can talk about tens of thousands being murdered by a dictator, even when a government his nation finances does so on a regular basis. Hypocrisy is not overrated in this case. It is essential to breaking down Obama’s argument.
How can Obama and US foreign policy architects talk about murdering civilians and democracy when its top ally in the region is a maniacal regime that oppresses its own people far more brutally than Assad’s Syria ever did. Yet, we send billions every year to prop up the Saudis and never utter a word about their horrific government.
While Assad has been bombing targets in Syria, Saudi Arabia has bombed Yemen into the Stone Age, and has choked the country into desperation. All done with our support, and possibly our money. It seems so convenient for Obama to ignore these facts, yet he does, it seems. There is no room for nuance here: Saudi Arabia is a bad regime. A bad regime we support.
What Obama failed to present was an honest case at the UN. While he chided Russia for its “propaganda” and manipulation of information, he speaks in a way that would have made a professional propagandist proud. He offered no specifics, no real facts to counter Putin’s charges. Instead he offered veiled rhetoric about Russia’s aggression, without offering cases in which his argument would be true. He talked vaguely about Russia supporting Assad, and its incidents in Ukraine, yet he offered nothing but heated talk.
Putin, for all his faults, did offer specific examples of where US policy has failed and created crises. It is true that Obama’s administration did spend millions of dollars to train Syrian rebels in Turkey to fight Assad, training sixty of them. Many of them did buck out and join ISIS. Only five of the original sixty still remain on the field fighting Assad and/or ISIS. Many of those that were trained by the US were given US made weapons that now are used by ISIS in Syria. This is a fact, and no amount of vague rhetoric can dispute this.
The US also has created more problems than solutions, especially in Iraq and Libya. It cannot be ignored that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the beginning of a domino effect that could not be easily contained. We ignored all international treaties and charters when we invaded Iraq under false charges, which led to the rise of Islamic extremism to flourish and eventually the rise of ISIS. Iraq is now practically a failed state, and exists only with US (and Iranian) support.
Libya was also a disaster. While Ghadafi was a dictator with potential to murder his people, this doesn’t really give us good reason to topple him. Putin is right again. The US and NATO did ignore the UN resolution, which allowed only for a No-Fly Zone. US and NATO aircraft were only to shoot down Libya aircraft if they were perceived hostile to civilians. The US took that as carte-blanche to bomb any and all government targets in Libya, which the resolution did not allow for. The resolution did not allow for regime change, yet we did so anyway.
The US has caused more harm than good in its Middle East operations, which makes Russia’s activities seem minuscule by comparison. While I am sure a flurry of nay-sayers will call be a Putin apologist, this still proves nothing. Even if I was a paid Putin troll, which I am not, it still does not diminish the facts of the matter.
What Putin said at the UN seemed more factual than Obama’s. Obama appealed to empty talk rather than facts supporting why Assad must go and Russia is such an aggressive and dangerous state. Obama is defending an imperial agenda that has been imploding the world, and it is tragic it takes someone like Vladimir Putin to point this out.