Putin outplays Obama, West

In 2010, the Harris research organization polled 6,000 residents of the United States and five Western countries to find that Barack Obama was the “world’s most influential politician.”

Russian President (then prime minister) Vladimir Putin finished second.

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The pugnacious Putin should plunk down some rubles to get Harris to replicate that poll after the events of the last week — he might win Round Two.

As one blogger asked wryly about the two world leaders, “Which of them would win a game of chess?”

I think we know.

In fact, the diminutive but muscular Putin might even whip the president at his own game: basketball.

In a two-on-one play at the opening tipoff, Obama and his wingman John Kerry did their best “ready, shoot, aim” play, missing the backboard altogether.

Then as the president and his secretary of State dropped back to play defense, hoping to use their height advantage, Putin launched a three-pointer from mid-court — the Syrian chemical weapons embargo — and it went in.

Setting aside considerations of policy, and looking only at the politics of it all, the one-time “campaigner in chief,” mesmerizing orator and skilled organizer who ran on the notion of being an international “team player” simply got whipped.

It was like watching a red, white and blue-clad Apollo Creed get pummeled by commie Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Ouch. Ugly. Over.

One of Obama’s problems is that he underestimates Putin. A successful competitor never misjudges an opponent’s strengths or weaknesses.

Obama is not alone in failing to appreciate Putin’s sizeable political skills, however; it is as if ideology blinds Westerners to the Russian’s considerable political capital.

Contemplate the recent Moscow mayoral contest in which a Putin ally, Sergey Sobyanin, was challenged by opposition agitator Alexei Navalny. Western commentators, salivating at their memories of the last presidential election returns, when Putin did worse in Moscow than in the rest of

Russia, were pulling for an embarrassing defeat of Putin’s pal.

It was, and is, worse than “pulling” for an upset. There were clear distortions of poll numbers before and since the election, trying to suggest that Kremlin establishment forces stole the election. The fact is that Sobyanin mud-stomped Navalny in an election that was cleaner than balloting in Obama’s Chicago.

The low-balling of Putin has gone on for a long time, but lately continues unabated and more virulent than ever.

Consider these 2013 headlines from major left-leaning Western news outlets: “Vladimir Putin’s Popularity ‘Lowest’ Since 2000, Poll Says” and “Russian poll shows Putin critics doubled since 2001, but still few.” The headlines mostly suggest that Putin is failing when the actual poll numbers defy that conclusion.

Putin’s job approval numbers under those deceptive headlines are north of 60 percent, and the percentage of Russians “disappointed” in the president is merely 22 percent.

What are Obama’s numbers? I would say 100 percent of us are “disappointed” in Obama. And his job approval ratings are upside down.

I suppose that it is just blind rage and ideology that causes so many Americans and other Westerners to abhor Putin’s brand of nationalism and deny the fact that it plays well at home in Mother Russia.

We just cannot accept that Russia likes a strong leader. We insist that leaders cannot possibly be politically popular unless they are Western and exude Hollywood-like charisma. And we are wrong.

Obama is losing his political mojo and finds himself in an astonishingly rapid political free-fall.

It’s hard to reverse a sudden descent like this. Obama isn’t Superman — that’s increasingly clear — and cannot fly to safety. The best the president can hope for is that his parachute opens to slow the fall.

God forbid that Putin is waiting for him when our commander in chief’s boots hit the ground.

Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.