It was early last year when Republicans decided Russian President Vladimir Putin was an autocrat worthy of their gushing affections. In March 2014, Rudy Giuliani (R) said of Putin, “That’s what you call a leader.” The same month, Mike Rogers, at the time the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his own admiration: “Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close. They’ve been running circles around us.”
At one point last summer, a Fox News personality went so far as to say she wanted to see Putin serve as “head of the United States,” at least for a little while.
By late last year, however, Republicans were no longer drawing hearts on their pictures of Putin. Russia’s economy was deteriorating quickly; Putin was isolated on the international stage; Russia’s standing and credibility around the world was in tatters; and the sanctions President Obama helped impose on Russia were making a real difference.
Suddenly, the U.S. conservatives who’d enrolled in the Putin fan-club fell quiet, realizing that their contempt for the American president led them to praise the wrong foreign leader.
As of this week, however, many Republicans have apparently come full circle.
One day after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin made little headway in their standoff over Syria at their first formal meeting in more than two years, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is agreeing with Putin on his backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad. […]“I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, [Putin’s] getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” he said.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative voice at the Washington Post, added this morning, “In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle.”
Yes, we’ve apparently reached the point again at which Republicans once more see Putin as some kind of strategic mastermind.
As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman explained yesterday, [T]oday’s reigning cliche is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart…. Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power.”
For Republicans, the response seems to be, “At least Putin is going after targets in Syria.” What the White House’s GOP critics have refused to acknowledge for the last 14 months is that President Obama has launched thousands of airstrikes against ISIS targets.
There are two main differences between Putin’s engagement in Syria and Obama’s. The first is that the size of Obama’s military commitment is vastly larger. The second is that Russian lawmakers actually authorized Putin’s mission, while the Republican-run Congress in the United States has done literally nothing since the American military offensive began in August 2014, preferring to watch developments unfold on TV while Obama’s mission continues.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum added this morning, “Do you know how many military bases the US has in the Middle East? Nearly two dozen. Plus the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Plus a whole bunch of close allies. And we’re supposed to be quaking in our boots because Putin hastily upgraded a single aging base in Latakia under pressure from his sole remaining ally? You’re kidding, right?”