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7 Things Putin Loves That America Really Is Exceptional At

Is the United States of America the greatest country on earth? Writing in the New York Times on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin begged to disagree, taking issue with Barack Obama appeal to American exceptionalism during his national address on Syria this week.

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," Putin observed, in an op-ed arguing against U.S. military intervention in Syria. "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

But is Putin so sure he wants to go there? After all, there are plenty of things the Russian strongman loves that only prove American exceptionalism. Here are seven.

Second-Rate Action Stars

For someone who has made anti-Americanism a hallmark of his administration, Vladimir Putin has a strange affinity for that most excellent American export: shoddy movie stars. Exhibit A: the Russian president's friendship with the actor Steven Seagal, whom Putin has brought along to martial arts competitions and whom Russian officials have floated as a potential spokesman for the country's defense industry. If Seagal doesn't embody "American exceptionalism," surely the term itself is null and void.

Topless Women

While in Germany for a state visit in April, Putin was accosted by a protester from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, which is best known for its topless protests. As you can tell above, Putin was pretty pleased at the development, which occurred during a stop at a trade fair in Hanover.

If there's one thing the United States does exceptionally well, it's bare-chested women. Mr. President, come to America! You'll love it here!

Deep-Sea Submarines

In July, Putin boarded a miniature submarine to check out a wreck in the Baltic. But if he really wants to seek out some cutting-edge submarines, there's no country like the United States. Last year, the filmmaker and explorer James Cameron became the first person to take a solo dive to the deepest point in the ocean.

Rhythm & Blues

In 2010, Putin decided it was a good idea to belt out the classic American track "Blueberry Hill." The result was about as cringeworthy as you'd expect:

Mr. President, leave the rhythm & blues to the Americans, please:

Biker Gangs

Calling them his "brothers," Putin joined up in 2011 with a biker gang known as the "Night Wolves" for a ride that commemorated World War II. But this group -- though nationalistic enough for Putin's taste -- are really just a pale imitation of the original biker gang, the Hells Angels, an American original. Just look at that belly. Does anything say devil-may-care-outlaw quite like shaved stomach hair and a flaming skull?

Super Bowl Rings

In 2005, Putin met with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, asked to try on his Super Bowl ring, and loved the ring so much that he decided to keep it (Putin claims it was a gift). Have a look at the video below of Putin coveting the ring and decide for yourself whether Putin knew what he was doing:

It all just goes to show, no one does gaudy jewelry -- or football -- quite like America.

Puppies!

Just look at this amazing photo of Putin getting nuzzled by his dogs. Perhaps you were once upset about Putin jailing dissidents and discriminating against gay people. Perhaps you don't care for the way he's sanctioned the slaughter in Syria. But come on! The big dog on the right is even named Buffy! At the end of the day Putin is just another misunderstood guy with his heart in the right place.

But in the puppy propaganda wars, does Putin even come close to Obama? Look at this guy:

What youth! What vitality! What energy! Just another ordinary guy tossing the pigskin around with good ol' Bo.

American exceptionalism? You betcha.

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Iran's State Press Stole Our Article -- and Turned It Into Blatant Propaganda

Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.

The article -- "Questioning Credibility," by Shibley Telhami -- examined Arab attitudes on chemical weapons and U.S. intervention in Syria. Early on in the piece, Telhami argues that views on chemical weapons use are not the primary drivers of Arab opinion on the crisis: 

What most Arabs think needs to be done in the Syrian conflict, including by the United States, has not been shaped or changed by the use of CW. In reality, three issue areas, none of them driven by the CW question, determine Arab attitudes on Syria: humanitarian, sectarian, and strategic.

The Fars reprint deletes Telhami's paragraph on the sectarian dimension of the conflict -- a touchy subject for Iran's Shiite leaders (Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and he is engaged in a civil war with largely Sunni rebels). You may notice that in making Telhami's mention of sectarianism vanish, the editors at Fars forgot to strike a comma (the reprint also changes "use of CW" to "accusation of CW use," a tweak Fars makes throughout the piece). Changes are in bold:

What most Arabs think needs to be done in the Syrian conflict, including by the United States, has not been shaped or changed by the accusation of CW use. In reality, two issue areas, none of them driven by the CW question, determine Arab attitudes on Syria: humanitarian, and strategic.

Telhami goes on to sketch out the humanitarian perspective on the crisis:

The humanitarian concern arose at the outset of the Syrian uprisings, as Bashar al-Assad used the might of his army to brutally attack civilians. CW use was another example of brutality, but not the main force behind regional perceptions. 

Fars is comfortable with that assessment -- except for the part about the Syrian president mowing down his own people, and the conflict stemming from a popular uprising. The Iranian news agency would rather attribute the violence to "terrorists" -- the term the Assad regime prefers for the rebels. Observe that the agency has no trouble dropping qualifiers like "allegedly" when describing chemical weapons use "by extremists":

The humanitarian concern arose at the outset of the Syrian crisis, as terrorists used army to brutally attack civilians. CW use by extremists was another example of brutality, but not the main force behind regional perceptions.

Telhami then moves on to the strategic issues in the conflict:

The strategic side of Arab attitudes has of course many dimensions, but at the core is Saudi-Iranian competition that has drawn allies on each side. This is also independent of CW concerns. Saudi rulers have been privately lobbying the West to intervene since the beginning of the Syrian uprisings, long before the use of CW. Iran, too, sees the American role in Syria as part of a bigger strategic picture involving U.S. and Israeli interests, not CW as such.  

Fars takes the opportunity to inform readers that its rivalry with Saudi Arabia is a "confrontation," not a mere competition, and throws in an Iranian government talking point about the country's role in the Syrian crisis for good measure:

The strategic side of Arab attitudes has of course many dimensions, but at the core is Saudi-Iranian confrontation that has drawn allies on each side. This is also independent of CW concerns. Saudi rulers have been privately lobbying the West to intervene since the beginning of the Syrian uprisings, long before the accusation of CW use. Iran, too, sees the American role in Syria as part of a bigger strategic picture involving US and Israeli interests, and believes that this crisis should be solved peacefully with cooperation of all Syrian groups, not by a foreign intervention.

The edits get even more egregious when Telhami turns to regional perceptions of Iran's nuclear program. Here's Telhami:

[D]espite popular unease with Iran and outright animosity toward Tehran by some rulers, the majority of Arabs have consistently opposed international pressure to curtail Iran's nuclear program. Only a minority has said that a nuclear Iran would be bad for the region. And the angrier Arabs are toward the United States (and Israel), the more permissive they are toward Iran and its nuclear program.

And here's Fars:

[D]espite unease with Iran's peaceful nuclear program and outright animosity toward Tehran by some rulers, the majority of Arabs have consistently opposed international pressure to curtail Iran's nuclear program, even though Iran always has said that it sees no need to nuclear bomb. And the angrier Arabs are toward the United States (and Israel), the more permissive they are toward Iran and its nuclear program.

We could go on and on. Telhami refers to America as a "feared superpower in the Middle East," while Fars opts for "hated country." A reference to the "strong anti-Assad mood" in the region is nowhere to be found. Entire paragraphs grappling with the question of whether the U.S. should intervene are stricken from the record.

Call it plagiarism by find-and-replace, or the Iranian state media's house style. And perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised, given that we're talking about a news agency that fell for an Onion story about rural white American voters preferring former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Barack Obama, and doctored a photo of Michelle Obama to cover up her shoulders. Just earlier this week, IranWire, a website run by Iranian journalists outside the country, called out Fars for getting duped by a story on the Daily Rash, another American satire site, about Russian President Vladimir Putin unfriending Obama on Facebook. So sure, this is not the first time Fars has shamelessly reshaped the Internet to its liking -- but it might be the first time the news agency has taken that effort quite this far.