Revenge is a dish best served coherent
By Steve Benen
Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:46 PM EDT
The Hill published a curious piece this morning with a provocative headline, "Putin gets his revenge on Obama."
I'll concede I'm not an expert in the nuances of international diplomacy, but the notion that the Russian president has exacted "revenge" on President Obama seems odd to me.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's criticism of the United States in the op-ed pages of Thursday's New York Times was a revenge of sorts on President Obama. [...]
The op-ed was the latest salvo in an open feud between Obama and Putin -- one which the Russian appeared this week to take an upper hand when a last-second diplomatic proposal from Russia led Obama to ask Congress to call off votes authorizing strikes against Syria.
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.
Indeed, the op-ed certainly caused a stir, but let's not exaggerate its significance. "Putin gets his revenge on Obama" sounds awfully dramatic, but 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!"
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told The Hill, "It's a sorry state when we have to take our leadership from Mr. Putin." What does this even mean? 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?
Peggy Noonan wrote of Putin's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning, "He twisted the knife and gloated, which was an odd and self-indulgent thing to do when he was winning."
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.
We've talked a couple of times this week about the right's increasingly creepy affections for Putin, a phenomenon that only seems to be getting worse. This morning, though, I'm beginning to see 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.
Just over the last few days, for example, 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."
So, 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!
Again, this might be more persuasive if Obama weren't getting exactly what he wants right now.