Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times warning the U.S. not to strike Syria rattled both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and raised doubts Moscow could be an honest broker in talks over securing international control of Damascus’ chemical arsenal.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday said he was “insulted” by Putin’s comments, and said he had “real doubts” about Russia’s ability to successfully broker a deal turning over Syria’s chemical weapons to international inspectors to avert a threatened U.S. strike.
Asked for his reaction to the op-ed, Boehner was succinct: “I was insulted,” he told reporters.
Boehner added: “There are a lot of ways I could describe this but it's probably why I suggested I had doubts about the Russians.”
Putin's op-ed published Thursday in the Times mocked the idea of American exceptionalism and said any U.S. military strike without UN approval would be an act of aggression.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Putin’s comments made him violently ill.
“I have to be honest with you. I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” Menendez told CNN.
“The reality is, I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what's in our national interest and what is not,” he added. “It really raises the questions of how serious this Russian proposal is.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissed Putin’s op-ed as misguided, noting that in his country freedom of expression is limited.
Putin doesn't live in a constitutional democracy “where people can have their say so he comes here and has his say,” said Pelosi.
The Democratic leader mocked Putin for closing his piece with a reference to God and stating that all people are created equal.
“I hope that applies to gays and lesbians in Russia,” she said, in reference to Moscow passing anti-gay rights laws.
Pelosi though defended Obama’s handling of Syria and said she backed efforts to pursue a diplomatic solution.
Pelosi said she was “very proud” of President Obama. “One thing is clear, undeniable: The president's credible threat of military action has brought parties back to the table to seek a viable diplomatic solution,” she said.
“We all hope for a solution,” Pelosi added, “and the president rightly keeps the threat of military action on the table.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Putin was “just looking for an excuse to show off.”
“He has a Super Bowl ring,” he jokingly added, a reference to reports that the Russian leader may have received a championship ring from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
The Putin op-ed came just as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart began talks in Syria. The two hope to reach an agreement on a deal that would force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to international inspectors.
President Obama has threatened to attack Syria to punish Assad for allegedly gassing citizens in a rebel stronghold outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Obama's push for a military strike failed to gain traction with the American people or on Capitol Hill, and Obama in a national address Tuesday said he would make a final effort to pursue the Russian-offered plan.
But Obama cautioned that he would press for an attack on Syria if negotiations faltered.
In his Times piece, Putin said the U.S. should be wary of intervening again in the Mideast after recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it,” Putin wrote. “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.’”
Putin also took issue with Obama's claim that America's willingness to stand up to dictators who perpetrate atrocities against their own people makes the U.S. “exceptional.”
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy,” the Russian leader said.
Boehner, who has said he would support Obama's push for a military strike in Syria, expressed skepticism earlier this week about Russia's offer to broker a diplomatic solution.
On Thursday, he said he hoped talks with the Russians produce a result, despite holding doubts about that likelihood.
“I believe we have a national security interest in stopping the use of chemical weapons in Syria and around the world,” he said. “I said earlier this week that I have real doubts about the motivations of the Russians and President Assad in offering the current path, but now that the president has made the decision to delay any authorization vote, I hope a diplomatic solution can be found.”
Sean Lengell contributed.
This story was last updated at 3:09 p.m.