You might think of Putin as a political thug, and you might see Russia as a homophobic, repressive political regime, but Putin is right about Syria. The Obama administration would do well to heed his advice so conveniently provided in Monday's New York Times opinion piece.
He argues against intervention in Syria on four basic principles, which surprisingly are entirely sound.
1. The war in Syria does not constitute a direct national security threat to the U.S.
This may be true right now, though a threat may become real if the U.S. uses force to intervene. According to international law (the same international law used to support our own diplomacy and prosecute war criminals) the U.S. should not be interfere with Syrian sovereignty. The veto power of any member of the UN Security Council was enshrined in the UN charter because it is vital that decisions affecting international peace should be made by consensus. The U.S. must respect that.
2. Military intervention could destabilize the region and potentially unleash a new wave of terrorism.
It might also undermine multilateral efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To Putin's point, given the legacy of 9/11 and two subsequent wars, the U.S. must learn from the past. We should not resort to unilateral military intervention once we've failed to secure multilateral support from the UN.
3. The Syrian war is not a war for democracy.
The parties battling are nearly all designated as terrorist organizations, and chemical agents could have been used in a number of contexts by any number of those parties. There is no way to choose a side in this battle, and to do so would be entirely outside of the political purview of the U.S.
4. American policy is not what makes the U.S. exceptional.
It is "extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional." Even our first president warned the post-colonial confederation from meddling in the affairs of other nations for fear of the U.S. developing imperial designs.
While Putin's last point is valid, America has long considered itself exceptional. Unfortunately, much of why we see ourselves as exceptional disintegrates when our national security is threatened We are only exceptional insofar as we uphold our democratic political ideals and grand vision of assuring every American equality before the law, political agency, and the liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights. If these ideals are compromised at domestic and/or international levels in the name of national security, then we cease to set a democratic example, which is our only possible source of exceptionalism.