READING FROM THE WRONG SCRIPT…. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jay Bookman noted earlier, “Cheney, Kristol and a lot of top Republicans in Washington are acting as unpaid PR agents for al Qaida, trying to turn even its failures into successes. The attempted bombing of Flight 253 was a terror attack; a terror attack succeeds only if it terrorizes its target audience.”

Conservatives would, I suspect, find this deeply offensive. Suggesting that prominent right-wing voices are “acting as unpaid PR agents” for terrorists makes it sound as if conservatives hoping to undermine support for America’s leadership are unpatriotic — or worse.

But that’s not the argument. The point isn’t to characterize the Cheneys and other GOP attack dogs as terrorist sympathizers, it’s to note that, in their zeal to weaken Obama’s presidency, they’re inadvertently giving U.S. enemies exactly what they’re looking for. Fareed Zakaria wrote:

The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.

And it worked in part because prominent conservatives, desperate to make the president look bad, did exactly what al Qaeda hoped for: they characterized the failed terrorist attack as a “success.” Indeed, both Brit Hume and Bill Kristol used that very word last week. As Matt Duss explained very well the other day, conservatives are “interested in promoting a specific, and politically advantageous, narrative about the nature” of terrorist threats. It just so happens that this narrative overlaps perfectly with the propaganda goals of al Qaeda — an inconvenient detail Republicans prefer to ignore.

Or, as Adam Serwer put it just three days after the failed Abdulmutallab plot, “It’s hard to imagine that even al-Qaeda thought they would get so much good publicity for a failed attack that resulted in the alleged attacker setting himself on fire and being neutralized by unarmed civilians…. Republicans have used the incident to exaggerate the ongoing threat al-Qaeda poses to the United States in order to score points against the administration, and in doing so, have given al-Qaeda the best reaction they could have hoped to get under the circumstances…. Islamic terrorists are criminals who like to imagine themselves as nigh-unstoppable holy warriors — and the GOP’s knee-jerk panic responses have helped cultivate that image.”

Again, this is not to say that the Cheneys, Pete King, Pete Hoeksta, Michael Steele, Jim DeMint, and a wide variety of media personalities are secretly supporting al Qaeda or are actively trying to undermine U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. They’re not. The point is that the GOP’s reflexive, reactionary response to current events, driven entirely by an obsession to undermine U.S. leadership politically, unintentionally makes terrorists’ p.r. efforts easier and more successful — and Republicans’ partisan blinders make this fact invisible to them.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.