Vladimir Putin, king of the trolls

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on September 12th, 2013

Online trolling has a new master: Vladimir Putin. His op-ed in the New York Times is so masterful, it ought to be taught in institutions of higher education in disciplines as various as writing, political science, international relations, history and law.

Like all good trolls, Putin starts with a kernel of truth, which is the many pitfalls of any proposed American intervention in Syria. This post isn’t about the merits of intervention in Syria, but I’m sure anyone can acknowledge that whatever their proposed course of action, it is a very complex and perilous situation – and therefore a fertile terrain for trolling.

Look at everything that’s going on:

  • First, we’re told this op-ed is written in a spirit of communication and openness, since we all know those are the hallmarks of the current Russian regime;
  • Second, Putin sets himself up as the defender of the system of international law and order and of the United Nations Security Council, even though not only does Putin not care about it (or only insofar as it, through the Russian veto, gives Russia outsize influence in international affairs), but because Russia’s entire foreign policy doctrine is based on Westphalian realpolitik, which considers only power relations between states, and recognises no supranational binding international law;
  • Putin name-checks the Pope as part of his coalition against intervening in Syria, even as the Russian government oppresses the Catholic Church in Russia in various subtle but very real ways;
  • He also informs us that a strike in Syria would “undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem”, which would indeed be bad – almost as bad as everything Russia has done in the past 10 years to undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem;
  • There is the subtle dig at America’s intervention in Libya which destabilised the entire region – quite true, but what’s masterful here is that instead of openly criticising America for going to war into Libya, he just notes the fact and passes on – what a great little elbow to the ribs.

And then there are the quotes.

  • “Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.” You see, Russia is just like America. It just cares so much about Israel’s security. Why do you want to hurt precious Israel, America?
  • “Force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day.” You should have done what we did in Chechnya, i.e., kill everyone. Chechnya’s totally peaceful now.
  • “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilised diplomatic and political settlement.” Vladimir Putin, September 12, 2013. “Why should we talk to people who are child-killers? No one has a moral right to tell us to talk to child-killers.” Vladimir Putin, September 2004, responding to calls for negotiations with Chechen separatists.

And in cauda venenum. Putin saved the best for last: his brief against American exceptionalism.

This is great, because it is a perfect example an old, extremely effective standby of external Soviet propaganda, which was to exploit political contradictions within an adversary country in order to weaken it. Many in the US elite reject the idea that America is an exceptional nation, and with that the role of benevolent superpower that America has played for the world over the past 20 years, a role that marginalizes Russia.

By siding with these people, Putin makes the debate about “exceptionalism”, and no longer about Syria or anything else, and strengthens their hand. “See? All this exceptionalism stuff is just getting people to hate us. I don’t agree with Putin on everything, but-”

Soon, he’ll have them chanting “Better red than dead.”

Bow down, internet trolls. Your King has arrived.