Ignoring for a moment the text's virtues or demerits, let's consider the extraordinary juxtaposition. The article appears on 9/11, the twelfth anniversary of the most deadly attack on American soil in history, an attack that killed nearly 3,000 people. This somber anniversary is an important day to Americans, a day of patriotic remembrance.
But the article isn't written by an American. It's written by a foreigner. In fact, it's written by a Russian. Not only a Russian, but the former chief of the Soviet Union's dreaded spy agency, the KGB. And to top it off, it's published as an op-ed piece in, of all places, the vaunted New York Times, not only America's most "important" newspaper, but a paper published in the very city where the 9/11 attack occurred.
As for the text itself, while clumsy and sanctimonious and reeking of insincerity and self-serving rhetoric, it nonetheless comes across as a damned reasonable essay. Although nakedly transparent and calculated to jettison Vladimir Putin into his much desired role of the post-Cold War voice of humanitarianism, it is nonetheless a call for peace, restraint, and goodwill.
Clearly, Vladimir Putin is attempting to come across not as a combination of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, but as a combination of Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Mr. Rogers. So be it. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson's observation upon seeing a dog walking on its hind legs, "It's not that it's being done well that's impressive, but rather that it's being done at all."
Actually, when it comes to sage advice -- advice that, ultimately, results in the cessation of hostilities or the triumph of diplomacy over violence -- it shouldn't matter where it comes from. Good advice is good advice, period. It's just that, at first blush, Russian president Vladimir Putin being christened the bearer of "peace and restraint" seems odd, sort of like looking to Charles Manson for advice on "family values."
But upon further consideration, maybe it isn't so odd. After all, when it comes to extent that international espionage, dirty tricks, black ops, and death squads negatively affect one's political career, let's not forget that President George H. W. Bush was the former Director of the CIA. And because that information will never, ever be declassified, we're never going to know what evil mischief Poppy authorized as Chief Spymaster.
Still, the notion of Vladimir Putin as humanitarian tends to stick in the craw. There's an excellent, well-researched biography called The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, written by Russian journalist Masha Gessen. While decidedly and purposely "non-lurid" in tone, this a book that will more or less scare the living crap out of anyone who reads it.
Not only does Gessen boldly accuse Putin of murder, theft and treachery, she portrays him as a man with Freon instead of blood coursing through his veins. She sees Putin as frighteningly dangerous, as a wildly ambitious manipulator who reached the pinnacle of political power by doing whatever was necessary, and by assiduously adhering to the principle of never revealing a single particle of his inner self to anyone -- a true, clinical sociopath.
Which, as many will recall, makes George W. Bush's comment all the more laughable. Upon meeting the inscrutable Vladimir Putin for the very first time, Bush gushed that he "looked into Putin's eyes and I saw his soul." And like my Uncle Jeremy said, he looked into Bernie Madoff's eyes and knew instantly that this was a man who could be trusted.