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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama Winning Again, GOP Pundits Spin Furiously

Steve Benen’s “Revenge is a dish best served coherent” at Maddowblog explains what the Republicans and their media minions are too warped to admit. Responding to a post at The Hill entitled “Putin gets his revenge on Obama,” Benen writes:

Let’s take stock of what happened this week: (1) the United States threatened Syria, a Russian ally, over its use of chemical weapons; (2) Syria then vowed to give up its chemical weapons; and (3) Russia has committed itself to the diplomatic process the United States wants, which is intended to guarantee the success of the Syrian disarmament plan.
So, Obama, at least for now, ended up with what he wanted, which was then followed with more of what he wanted. If this is Putin exacting revenge, I suspect the White House doesn’t mind.

Benen acknowledges that Putin’s op-ed made a splash, although the significance of it was overstated in the melodramatic headline. As Benen puts it, “I don’t imagine President Obama was reading the NYT with breakfast yesterday, telling those around him, “Putin wrote a newspaper piece? And it chides the United States? I’ve been foiled by my strategic better! Curses!”
The GOP spin machine shifted into overdrive, whining about having “to take our leadership from Mr. Putin,” as House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon put it. Benen responds:

The U.S. told Russia we intend to do something about the threat posed by Syria’s chemical weapons; Russia is now working on helping eliminate that threat. In what way does the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee sees Americans taking our leadership from Putin?

Of course no Republican spin du jour would be complete without an even more melodramatic contribution from Peggy Noonan, who wrote that Putin “twisted the knife and gloated, which was an odd and self-indulgent thing to do when he was winning.”
Benen reiterates for the reality-challenged that “the possibility that the Obama White House is actually achieving its strategic goals with these developments is apparently unimportant — Noonan and other Republicans are too overwhelmed by the belief that Putin got his revenge by writing an unpersuasive and inconsequential op-ed in a newspaper.”
Benen also notes “the right’s increasingly creepy affections for Putin.” He sees “the elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts — the right decided in advance that Obama’s rival must be impressive because he’s Obama rival, so they work backwards to make their thesis look more impressive.”
Benen adds that “Tucker Carlson heralded Putin for “riding to President Obama’s rescue” while Russia “humiliates the United States.” Charles Krauthammer added that it’s Putin’s government that’s “playing chess here with a set of rank amateurs.” Now, explains Benen, “every development is then filtered through the conservative prism that says Putin is President Tough Guy Leadership. The Russian gently rebuked the U.S. in an op-ed? Then conservatives must be right about Putin’s impressiveness!”
Putin’s macho hangups notwithstanding, he didn’t get where he is by being stupid. He knows that forcing Obama into a corner where he has to strike Syria could be his downfall as well. Further, he has no reason to think that helping the Republicans, who are held hostage by tea party lunacy, would be good for Russia. He has carefully crafted what looks like a win-win scenario. In chess terms, he looked at the board and concluded that, in this case, a draw is a win. The smarter Republicans know this and they are livid.
It’s all a silly twist on Rove’s dictum that Republicans must hit Democrats where they are strongest. But it’s an increasingly tough sell, as unfolding developments make the President’s strategy look savvy. As Benen concludes, “this might be more persuasive if Obama weren’t getting exactly what he wants right now.”

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