Senator McCain - a good man all around - had only the best intentions in mind, when answering the famous and quite unique Putin's article in NYT. The insufferable self-satisfaction of a (de facto) winner of the political battle over the Syria's artificial issue of chemical weapons has gotten up many noses. The hypocrisy of that text should be studied in schools, universities and diplomatic training courses all over the world as a classic example of (almost) Machiavellian artistry and astuteness.
The sad fact is that many well-meaning people accepted the article as a gospel, using it as an additional tool in whatever anti-war ventures they planned. And the reason is fairly simple: no matter who exactly wrote and/or put the final touches on the article (and there are different versions of its provenance), he/she/they was a pro. While the article could be fisked, as this example by Max Fisher proves, a naive and sentimental reader swallows the whole poisonous pill easily. The article is a great example of smooth triumphing over truth.
And the cavalry, in the form of John McCain, came to the rescue, with the response (that was supposed to be in kind) appearing in the Russian Pravda (English version for convenience of this post). Placing myself in the (tentative) position of a Russian reader, I have greedily read it... with a growing sense of amazement and a total lack of understanding of its purpose. Then I read it again. What can I say: there are worse political articles around, but not many. There are more pitiful texts on the Internet, but probably not that many written (or signed, whatever) by a VIP of McCain's caliber.
Now, I stressed that, in order to read the unfortunate opus, I have tried to put myself in a position of a Russian reader. This paid off. If I were reading it as an average Westerner, with middling to zero knowledge of goings-on in Russia, I might have been easier to persuade. As far as an average Russian reader is concerned, though - I doubt that such reader will need more than half of that piece, before a total and unconditioned rejection of the whole. So poorly researched is the article's factual base, so many glaring bloopers are jumping out at the reader, that any possibility of looking at the forest behind the trees becomes nil. Let's start with details:
A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered.Untrue. While Kremlin is doing its considerable best to stifle the opposition, it doesn't really apply too much pressure to media that doesn't endanger its rule directly. There are quite a few media outfits that do publish much more serious (and, needless to say, much better written) criticism of Putin and his cohorts.
They [the Russian authorities] throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin's rule.Nope. The punk rock band (Pussy Riot) wasn't anti-Putin. They were provocative and vulgar indeed and pissed off the Russian Orthodox church, but that was all. Then comes an unfortunate paragraph about Sergei Magnitsky (misspelled as Magnistky):
He exposed one of the largest state thefts of private assets in Russian history.Possibly (allowing a very lenient interpretation) the spirit of the sentence was in the right direction, but as for factual side: untrue. The famous Magnitsky Bill, which Senator Mccain probably voted for (not really bothering to read, I bet) tells the truth: Sergei Magnitsky exposed a monumental tax fraud by Russian tax officials and police. It may sound like nitpicking to a Western mind, but not to a Russian reader...
And check this out:
For his beliefs and his courage, he was held in Butyrka prison without trial, where he was beaten, became ill and died.Nope. Butyrka prison does exists and is a famous and beloved locale for writers dubbing in Russia-themed thrillers, but Sergei Magnitsky was held in an isolation facility known under the name of the street where it is located: Matrosskaya Tishina. Not very important, true, and the English Wiki version is wrong on that too, but doesn't Senator McCain have a staff to do some basic research? The above mentioned Magnitsky Bill has the name of the prison right, by the way...
Well, that is enough for details - but keep in mind that this will be sufficient to make a Russian reader stop reading the article, which still tried to pass a message to its reader. So let's go to the message. If you remember, the Putin's article was about the ill-devised intention of Obama's administration to "punish" the Syrian ruler for his use of chemical weapons. I wouldn't go into the rights or wrongs of that plan, enough words were written about it. But, besides being insufferably smug and hypocritical, Putin's article in no way attacks the POTUS personally, just the opposite:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.So what Senator McCain does? The thrust of his piece is attacking Putin, while the reason for the article's appearance (Syria) is mentioned only once, in a weak and hardly persuasive (to a Russian reader, to remind you) manner. And take that:
He [Putin] is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world.Oh well, that after seeing what Obama has done to US reputation, credibility and standing during the Syrian fiasco (which is not over yet, to remind you). No, Senator McCain, sir, you have totally failed to get even close to a Russian reader in that piece, sorry to say. And you need a much better research team to do the preparation (and, probably, more) for your articles. That one was a sad flop.