All In | September 12, 2013
>>> good evening from new york . i'm chris hayes . tonight, on "all in," the russians have invaded the editorial page of "the new york times," and wow, it is getting a reaction. vladimir putin 's letter to america coming up in a moment. and speaking of reactions, do you remember u.s. senator jesse helms ? would you say we need more or less people like him in washington? ted cruz leans towards more. 100 more, to be exact. we'll get some reaction to that, coming up. plus, pope francis, best pope ever? i'm totally serious and i'll tell you why, ahead. but tonight, we start with russian president vladimir putin , who has gleefully jumped into the international spotlight with an op-ed published last night by "the new york times." certainly the most discussed op-ed i have ever seen. a lecture to the american people , peppered with an artful rewriting of history. putin writes, "from the outset, russian has advocated peaceful dialogue, enabling syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. we are not protecting the syrian government, but international law . the law is still the law and we must follow it whether we like it or not. putin then claims without any supporting evidence and in direct opposition to the united nations , the u.s. intelligence and human rights watch , to name a few, that it was rebels who used chemical weapons last month, writing, no one doubts that poison gas was in used in syria , but there is every reason to believe that it was not used by the syrian army , but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patron. and he ends with a rebuttal to the president's assertion the other night that america is exceptional. he says, "i would rather disagree with a case he made on american exceptionalism , stating that the united states ' policy is what makes america different. it's what make us exceptional. we are all different, but when we ask for the lord's blessings, we must not forget that god created us all equal."
>> he says that we are all god's children. i think that's great. i hope that applies to gays and lesbians in russia as well.
>> i was sinsulted.
>> i think this is really a lot of bluster.
>> i think he's looking for an excuse to show off his super bowl ring .
>> it sickened me that we would have to sit there and read that.
>> i almost wanted to vomit.
>> and this, this is the context for secretary of state john kerry touching down in geneva today, to begin very delicate, fraught talks with -- drumroll -- his russian counterpart, sergey lavrov . kerry made sure to lay the ultimate responsibility of success or failure for the negotiations at the feet of the russians .
>> expectations are high. they are high for the united states , perhaps even more so for russia to deliver on the promise of this moment.
>> white house press secretary jay carney reiterated the same theme, that for now, this is on russia .
>> russia , as we saw just now in geneva , has put its prestigious and credibility on the line in backing this proposal, to have syria , the assad regime, give up the chemical weapons that until two days ago, it claimed it did not have. turn them over to international supervision, with the purpose of eventually destroying them.
>> this week, the president talked to the country about the burdens he saw in global leadership, that we as americans must bear. perhaps today he is taking a small amount of solace in placing some of that on the shirtless shoulders of vladimir putin . joining me now is kenneth ross , executive director of human rights watch . your organization has been very critical of the putin government. but let me ask you this. the line in the op-ed, the law is the law, we can't ignore it. that is a true statement, isn't it?
>> i love that line. what he was obviously talking about is the law that says that the united nations can't do anything important without the agreement of the five permanent members, including russia . he's upholding his advisoveto. what he's ignoring is the law against indiscriminately targeting civilians in syria . the law against torturing prisoners in syria . the law that says you don't bomb bread lines, you don't bomb clinics. you don't send incendiary weapons in schools. that's the law too.
>> that's international law .
>> same international law that says that you can't -- that the u.n. security council can't act without russia 's approval.
>> isn't this precisely the paradox? when he is talking in that op-ed about what international law is, he is basically rebuking the u.s. for threatening to use force outside of the two situations that are lawful under the u.n. charter , which is a security council relugs, even with all five vetoing members going along with it, or in self-defense. he is correct about that, isn't he?
>> this is the problem with the current state of international law .
>> thank you, yes.
>> in the sense that if you happen to be a friend of one of the permanent members of the security council , you don't really have to worry about the law against mass murdering of your civilians being enforced. that's what assad is profiting from, because putin is saying no, no, no, whenever the security council wants to investigate assad 's atrocities. whenever it wants to send the atrocities to the international criminal court . when it even wants to condemn the atrocities, putin says no. that's the law that's in perfect state of the law, as it exists today.
>> do you think that the american reaction to the putin op-ed shows -- i'm curious as someone who has to deal with the sort of international view of human rights , ow you interpret americans ' reaction to the putin 's op-ed?
>> frankly, i was happy that "the times" published it. i wished that "the times" counterpart in russia would publish something on human rights . but i think it was important for the american people to see his logic. both his rationale, the reference to a very partial view of the law, the fact that he ignored assad 's atrocities. he ignored the fact that russian has been the principle weapons supplier of assad , as he runs around killing his people. he's even in denial about the fact that the chemical weapon attack on october 21st , all the evidence points to the syrian government.
>> for those who have been skeptical of intelligence only presented by the u.s. or presented by the u.s. and allies, human rights watch has actually conducted an independent investigation. what have you found?
>> human rights watch actually put out our report this pastmond. we did not use secret cia intelligence. we used our own investigation. and what we found is that all the evidence points to the government. in fact, it doesn't even make sense. if you look at the particular rockets used, these are rockets that were specially constructed, made from materials and elements that only the government has. there's no evidence of the rebels having it. the rockets only came from government-controlled areas, only went into rebel-held areas or contested areas. even the quantity of sarin used, the only people known to have that are the government officials .
>> and today we got news that the assad regime is signing on to the chemical weapons ban. and in some ways, that's a triumph for international law , but, again, ends us up in a similar cul-de-sac to the one you just enunciated. which is, well, who's going to enforce it?
>> i'm very happy he's going to sign the convention, it's about time. but of course, he's already ratified the geneva convention , which says you don't indiscriminately slaughter your people. and it's important to keep in mind 1,400, approximately, civilians died with this particular chemical attack . there probably are 40,000 civilians that have died as a result of the conflict. most of them by conventional weapons . we've got to focus on that. we've seen that putin can get assad to act. he said, you know, hand over your chemical weapons and like that it happened. how about using that same influence to stop the killing of other civilians.
>> joining us now, jennifer yafi. so what was putin 's play here? how do you understand this in the mind of putin and his advisers, what generated this op-ed?
>> i think in the mind of -- i won't speak for ketchum, who planted this op-ed in "the new york times," but i think in putin 's mind, this goes perfectly with his world view , that he's a counterweight and a foil to the u.s. that he has to be reckoned with. that he is an important world leader that is as important if not more important than president barack obama . and the fact that he's now presented this plan, the fact that secretary kerry has to fly to geneva and meet with putin 's foreign minister, the fact that jay carney is talking about -- the fact that we're having this conversation about putin --
>> putin is the a-block tonight!
>> that's right. he made us do it.
>> right. that's my question, though, actually. do you think -- this is what i thought was interesting. do you think the absolute allergic reaction that i think a lot of americans and certainly american political class had to reading this was the intended reaction or did he just completely misjudge his rhetoric? that's what i can't get about this text.
>> well, i don't think -- maybe the political class had this reaction, but i saw on the social networks a lot of people were saying, you know, he makes a good point. also, look at the other, the other half of the political class and what's being said on, you know, on fox or in conservative circles. you know, this is exactly their logic. why do we get involved in a messy, exotic situation where al qaeda is involved? are these really the people we're going to support? are we going to topple a regime that's protected christians? so he has found some -- he has struck a chord with some people, i think, it's just not the people that you've shown tonight.
>> pat buchanan , i think, last night called it masterful, if i'm not --
>> it is masterful. it's quite masterful. i mean, he, yeah --
>> why is it masterful? explain that.
>> i think he -- first of all, he reappropriated the language of president obama on international law and the importance of enforcing international norms. he's just talking about different international norms. he succeeds in muddying the waters. i think most people don't have an intimate knowledge of russia . they don't understand that this is double speak , that a lot of the stuff that he's -- that putin laid out in his op-ed does not apply at home in russia . that one of the reasons that we're having such a bad time with the russians right now is because of the very heated anti-american rhetoric that's been turned on in russia for the past two years. but it does, you know, it reappropriates a lot of american language, a lot of western language, which, you know, international --
>> and we were allies and defeated the gnat nazis. a little bit of nostalgia.
>> and it's telling a country that for most of its history has been pretty isolationist and has not wanted to get involved in such things. and a country that's pretty war weary over the last ten years and the last two wars, he's telling them what they want to hear. the people who are already confused and reluctant to get involved in syria , he's telling them what they want to hear, over the heads of their own preside president, who spoke 24 hours before that. and putin makes an allusion to the speak, saying, i studied it carefully and it's a bunch of, you know.
>> right. kenneth, as someone who rk wworks for human rights watch , and you've been critical of the bush administration 's torture record on the drone program. you've been critical of human rights violations across the globe. how do you sit down -- because you get into these arguments where people say, you cannot separate what someone says from their record. and people throw that back at you and say, well, the u.s. tortured people and the u.s. goes around lecturing to other countries and the u.s. violated these international norms. how do you, as the head of human rights watch , read a document like that in context with the human rights record of the person that voted?
>> well, firstly, you've got to hold everybody to the same standards. you've got to look at the facts. you've got to get past the rhetoric. so i think that putin has been masterful in terms of making himself important again, because russia 's a fading power, but suddenly, he's diplomatically important. but it's very double edged. because he's showing that he has tlu influence with this guy, assad , who has been killing tens of thousands of civilians. he's been the principle weaponier for this guy, who clearly he can turn on and off like that.
>> in fact, showing that card in the next play by the white house that you're seeing now is to put it on him. basically saying, the credibility of vladimir putin and russia in the community of nations now rests upon them, managing to bring assad along. kenneth and julia, thank you both.
>> thank you.
>>> coming up, i'll tell you which moral cretin senator ted cruz idolizes. and michael steele will be here right at this table to respond. stay