Praise for Putin Is Misplaced, and Dangerous

It seems fashionable in some circles to praise Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, for being some sort of a hero for world peace and justice.

The most recent instance of this Putin-praise came in the aftermath of Mr. Putin's speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he suggested that the world really ought to find a solution to the war in Syria.

What? This, coming from Mr. Putin?

In fact, the world made a tremendous effort to stop the war in Syria back in 2012 at a time when this would have prevented enormous human suffering. The United Nations proposed a resolution for ending the violence, but Mr. Putin vetoed the resolution. That veto opened the gates for the ruthless Syrian regime to wage the worst aspects of the war against its civilian population.

At the time, Susan Rice, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, said she was "disgusted" by Russia's veto, and that Russia would have "blood on its hands" for the violence in Syria that would ensue.

So let us not ignore the blood of war covering Mr. Putin's hands as he stands before the world and admonishes us to seek peace.

Also, the main impediment to peace in Syria is Mr. Putin's intractable support for the brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria. Mr. Assad could not remain in power without Russia's support, and his removal would lead to negotiations for a peaceful transition of government.

So let us not have any illusions of Mr. Putin somehow being a profit for peace in Syria.

The other major instance of Putin-praise came back in 2013 when Syria used chemical weapons against its own civilian population, thereby crossing the "red line" set by United States President Barack Obama against the use of chemical weapons. Mr. Putin was hailed as a hero for "proposing" that Syria surrender all of its chemical weapons in order to avoid United States military strikes for having crossed this "red line."

What? How in the world was Mr. Putin praised for this? It was like the world had fallen down a rabbit hole into some sort of alternate reality.

In truth, it was Mr. Putin who allowed Mr. Assad to conduct this atrocious war against his own civilians in the first place, including allowing Mr. Assad to use chemical weapons. Mr. Putin could have preemptively warned and prevented Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons. And when Mr. Assad actually used the chemical weapons, Mr. Putin could have immediately dropped his support for Mr. Assad right then and there.

But no. Mr. Putin continued to support this monster, Mr. Assad.

So Mr. Putin's "proposal" for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons was not motivated at all by any sort of compassion for the citizens under attack, or by a desire to spare the innocent civilians from Mr. Assad's brutal repression. No. Mr. Putin backed Mr. Assad's brutal repression all the way, and still does.

Rather, the reason Mr. Putin was willing to surrender the chemical weapons was so Mr. Assad could remain in power, and thus continue the brutal repression.

Mr. Putin knew full well that if the United States began military strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons, this would likely spell the end for Mr. Assad. Mr. Assad was struggling just to hang-on against only the rebels, and thus a United States military intervention would likely devastate Mr. Assad.

The example loomed large of the fate of the dictator in Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, who met his demise not long after the United States intervened in Libya. Mr. Putin could see the writing on the wall for Mr. Assad.

So the act of surrendering the chemical weapons was no more than an act of basic self-interest and self-preservation. It was hardly an act worthy of any sort of praise.

In fact, Mr. Putin's "proposal" did not even come from Mr. Putin. The proposal had come from Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Kerry had been asked if there was anything Mr. Assad could do to avert the impending United States military strikes, and Mr. Kerry responded that, yes, Mr. Assad could surrender all of his chemical weapons.

So Mr. Putin was hardly some visionary creative genius who innovated this wonderful proposal out of thin air. Rather, Mr. Putin was merely abjectly accepting the terms of surrender offered by the United States in order to save his puppet regime in Syria from destruction.

If anyone deserves praise, it is Mr. Obama for agreeing to pull back and not proceed with the military strikes once Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons. This was absolutely the right decision by Mr. Obama, and an honorable act of standing by his word.

Mr. Obama's "red line" was always about the chemical weapons and only the chemical weapons. So when Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons, as specified by Mr. Kerry, the threat was eliminated, and there was no longer a necessity for United States military action. This was a victory for the United States.

In the aftermath of this event, without any basis in reality, Mr. Obama was portrayed negatively as being weak for failing to enforce his "red line," and Mr. Putin was portrayed positively for proposing the magic solution that averted the United States military strikes. And Mr. Putin was further praised for having engineered his positive portrayal. All of this has been a bizarre perversion of reality.

Let us also not forget about Mr. Putin's long history of atrocities. This is the guy who invaded and annexed Crimea. This alone is utterly deplorable. And when he did it, he used a military with no insignias identifying their country of origin. At the time, Mr. Putin blatantly lied to the world by insisting that this mysterious invading military was not Russian and that Mr. Putin had no idea who it could be. After the invasion was complete, Mr. Putin remarked that of course this military was Russian. Astonishing. And people today praise this guy?

Mr. Putin also destabilized Ukraine, he caused a war there that devastated the local population, and he effectively carved-out the eastern portion of Ukraine as a Russian satellite.

In addition, Mr. Putin has an appalling record on human rights, jailing and killing scores of political opponents.

When one of Mr. Putin's multi-billionaire cronies, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, began to make waives by suggesting Russia needed to become less corrupt, Mr. Putin had him deposed and jailed for 10 years.

When a former colleague and Kremlin insider, Boris Nemtsov, turned into an outspoken critic opposed to the corruption of Mr. Putin's rule, he was shot dead openly on the streets of Moscow only steps from the Kremlin. Now that sends a very clear message to anyone who would dare to oppose Mr. Putin. And this was only a few months ago in early 2015. Mr. Putin publicized that he called the mother of the deceased Mr. Nemtsov to express his condolences and to vow that he would find the killer. This shockingly evokes Shakespeare's timeless portrayal of the nature of brutal dictators in his great play Macbeth, written around 1603, when the dictator Macbeth mourned and wailed the death of Banquo to the public, when, in fact, it was Macbeth who had ordered the murder of Banquo.

The New York Times ran an entire series of articles entitled, Above the Law, chronicling the corruption, abuse, and lawlessness in Mr. Putin's Russia. This included the horrendous crackdown on journalists who dared to criticize Mr. Putin's regime.

The history of Mr. Putin's ruthlessness must not be forgotten.

So to all those Putin-praisers out there, please think before you praise. Praising harmful acts and harmful people can, in fact, lead to harmful behavior.