Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens to addresses in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens to addresses in the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Putin Makes the Case For Dictators With UN Speech

Obama and Putin both want to defeat ISIS. But their visions for how the world should look after its defeat don't match up.

Vladi­mir Putin’s the­ory of how to cre­ate a stable world is simple enough: Peace comes through main­tain­ing strong states, strong lead­ers, and stable na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions. At his ad­dress be­fore the U.N. Gen­er­al As­sembly on Monday, Putin made this point by point­ing to the world’s most press­ing in­ter­na­tion­al crises: the war against IS­IS in Syr­ia and Ir­aq and the refugee crisis spread­ing across Europe.

“Refugees un­doubtedly need our com­pas­sion and sup­port, but the only way to solve this prob­lem on a fun­da­ment­al level is to re­store the state­hood where it has been des­troyed, to strengthen the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions where they still ex­ist,” Putin said through a trans­lat­or.

He traced the ori­gins of the Syr­i­an crisis and IS­IS to what he sees as the fail­ures of the Ar­ab Spring re­volu­tions. “Rather than bring­ing back re­forms … it has res­ul­ted in a brazen de­struc­tion of na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions and the life­style it­self,” he said. “It is now ob­vi­ous that the power va­cu­ums cre­ated in some coun­tries in the Middle East and Africa led to the emer­gence of an­archy areas, which im­me­di­ately star­ted to be filled with ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists.”    

Pres­id­ent Obama spoke be­fore Putin at the Gen­er­al As­sembly, but his re­marks may as well have been a dir­ect re­sponse to Putin. “In ac­cord­ance with this lo­gic, we should sup­port tyr­ants like Bashar al-As­sad, who drops bar­rel bombs to mas­sacre in­no­cent chil­dren, be­cause the al­tern­at­ive is surely worse,” Obama said. “Let’s re­mem­ber how this star­ted: As­sad re­acted to peace­ful protests by es­cal­at­ing re­pres­sion and killing that, in turn, cre­ated the en­vir­on­ment for the cur­rent strife.”

Putin may have a shared in­terest with the United States in de­feat­ing IS­IS, but his vis­ion for how the world should look post-IS­IS dif­fers greatly from the pres­id­ent’s. In re­cent weeks Putin has upped the amount of mil­it­ary aid it is send­ing the As­sad gov­ern­ment, build­ing up aer­i­al de­fense sys­tems and con­struct­ing a base that can hold 2,000 Rus­si­an mil­it­ary per­son­nel, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times. It’s the po­s­i­tion of Pres­id­ent Obama that As­sad should be re­moved from power in the res­ol­u­tion of the con­flict. (Re­call the U.S. Con­gress came very close to a vote over wheth­er it should bomb the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment for its stock­pile of chem­ic­al weapons). Also over the week­end, Rus­sia an­nounced an in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing agree­ment with Ir­aq, Ir­an, and Syr­ia in the fight against IS­IS, fur­ther ce­ment­ing the idea that Rus­sia seeks to bol­ster the Ir­a­ni­an and Syr­i­an gov­ern­ments.

“We think it is an enorm­ous mis­take to re­fuse to co­oper­ate with the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and its armed forces, who are fight­ing ter­ror­ism face to face,” Putin said.

Putin com­pared the fight against IS­IS to the fight against Hitler dur­ing World War II—ex­plain­ing how Nazism in­spired a di­verse co­ali­tion of coun­tries to unite for a com­mon good. “It could unite a broad range of forces,” Putin said. Per­haps the com­par­is­on is apt, even though it bor­ders on hy­per­bole. After World War II, the al­lied powers of the United States and the U.S.S.R were united in vic­tory but at odds with their vis­ions of what the world should look like post Hitler. A po­ten­tial de­feat of IS­IS could open up yet an­oth­er con­flict: What should take its place?

“The United States is pre­pared to work with any na­tion, in­clud­ing Rus­sia and Ir­an, to re­solve the con­flict,” Obama said in his re­marks. “We must re­cog­nize that there can­not be, after so much blood­shed, so much carnage, a re­turn to the pre­war status quo.”