Putin and the potentially fatal ad hominem fallacy
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 23:09
First things first: Vladimir Putin is a tyrant; there is no other word to succinctly encapsulate his Czar-esque behavior that includes the assassination of journalists, the jailing of political dissidents, the law mandating neo-pogroms against homosexuals and his general lack of interest in relinquishing supreme power. That being said, Putin is rather unique amongst the world’s dictators in that he is one who respects the rule of international law and is largely a rational actor. Putin’s rare ability to make rational propositions that conform to what we all like to think of as a “greater power,” aka the UN, was on full display in his Op-Ed to the New York Times. Much of what he said is brimming with a sense of validity, something that has become all too rare in Washington, which should not be ignored or dismissed simply because of fallacious reasoning aimed at the man, rather than his words.
It is important to first separate Putin’s fluffy platitudes from the truth of his argument because otherwise it serves only to distract from the core of this issue. Putin appeals multiple times to a sort of religious authority, invoking Pope Francis, to fulfill two ulterior motives: the larger goal is to further promote his image as a champion of the Orthodox Church, a powerful institution that survived the militantly atheist Soviets, which will bring him closer to the status of the Czars long past; additionally it appeals to the two-thirds of Americans who are actively religious, an uncannily high proportion for a first-world country, a rate similar to that of Russia itself. Putin also cautions that aiding the rebels will inevitably harm America because terrorist organizations like al-Nusra will acquire the weapons we supply to the FSA; though his warning rings true, no amount of NATO-supplied firearms are capable of inflicting as much damage to the US as the advanced anti-air S-300 missiles Putin is shipping to Assad, which are equally at risk of capture in a civil war.
Putin’s largest point, and the one we should heed with the utmost respect, is his insistence that all parties involved with the Syrian Civil War should yield to the authority of the United Nations, namely the Security Council. The Security Council was designed, predominately by the US, specifically for instances like our current moral crisis, and although the figureheads casting votes for China and Russia are not the ideological allies we originally intended, they are far more open to reasonable intervention than their predecessors. The initial reaction on behalf of the Obama Administration, before they saw the benefits of Moscow’s compromise, was to bring up the uncooperative behavior of previous Russian administrations; despite Putin’s previous employment in the KGB, he is a businessman, not a Cold Warrior, and continued hostilities within his client state only serve to interrupt the flow of capital. The Russians, with a sizeable 30,000 nationals living within Syria, want this conflict to end just as much, if not more, than we do, and they are far more aware of the fact that militaristic foreign intervention in a country serves only to exacerbate and prolong bloodshed.
Putin also draws attention to the larger diplomatic picture: military intervention in Syria, like that in Iraq and Afghanistan, will only further destabilize the precarious status quo and could ignite an all-too-likely regional war. He points out that Syria’s stockpiling of chemical weapons, sometimes referred to as the “poor despot’s nukes,” is a direct response to America’s penchant for unilaterally intervening in the affairs of other countries through violent means. Iranians, justifiably frightened by the massive civilian casualties in Iraq, will only increase their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent against US action, and in response the Israelis will do what they must to prevent its archrival from posing such a grave existential threat.
Fortunately for everyone, Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to put his warmongering on hold and go along with the gradual chemical disarmament proposed by Moscow. Hopefully this is the first step in a larger effort to demilitarize US foreign policy, and President Obama’s reluctant decision to fully explore alternative solutions should be praised, not lamented. Additionally, this is a learning opportunity for us to realize that American Exceptionalism has gotten so far out of hand that we have forgotten we are not the only rational actors in the world.