Published September 12, 2013
President Putin, the United States is exceptional among the world’s nations.
This is not the usual jingoism you may hear from the citizen of any nation – the type of jingoism, incidentally, in which Russia excels.
Instead, Mr. President, take it from someone whose family fled your country over 30 years ago because of religious and ethnic persecution.
My parents and I arrived in the United States with $90 in our pockets, speaking not a word of English and stripped of any nation’s citizenship. And yet we came here because the United States is exceptional in the opportunities it has provided to generations of those who arrived at its ports with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the drive to succeed as Americans.
We came here because life in the Soviet Union, which you served so faithfully as a KGB colonel, was incompatible with basic human dignity.
We came here because generations of our family had been killed, abused and disenfranchised simply because of our religious identity.
To us, what was exceptional was that a world power would provide a new life for us without asking about our ethnicity, whether we were members of the right political party or whether we associated with those who spoke out against the government.
That the United States asked us none of these things is what makes it exceptional – and what made the former Soviet Union, which you served so proudly, unexceptional in its generations-long oppressive nature.
There is not, coincidentally, a mass movement of any oppressed ethnic or religious minority to flee the United States, to Russia or anywhere else. That is what makes this nation exceptional – and what makes the recent history of yours troublesome.
You, the Butcher of Grozny, wrote in the New York Times Thursday that, “we must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”
That point is well taken, but it is delivered by a man who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Chechens, who provoked an ethnic war in Georgia and who decried the collapse of the Soviet Union “as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
That “catastrophe,” of course, put an end to a regime that was responsible for slaughtering tens of millions of its own people and for invading neighboring countries without the United Nations approval you so arduously defend today.
You, as the architect of the Soviet Union’s successor, continue to persecute political opponents, dissenting journalists and many others.
You defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad because Syria is nothing more than your client state, which you arm with chemicals and weapons and which allows you the room to maneuver in the same Great Game where your Soviet predecessors excelled.
Your op-ed in the New York Times invokes a God you did everything to suppress during your rise in the KGB.
You remonstrate against the extremists who could fan out across the world after fighting in Syria but do nothing to reflect upon the fact that thousands of Chechens have been radicalized due to the oppression and brutality you have visited upon them for years.
There is nothing exceptional in your comments, Mr. President. They come from the song sheet you and your predecessors have used before to wage war while preaching peace.
Heal thyself, Mr. Putin, before you lecture the United States on its role at home and abroad.