Hillary Clinton, it is reported, compared Vladimir Putin to Adolph Hitler in the former’s takeover of Ukraine. Her handlers keep her well-shielded from reporters who might ask impertinent questions, but the remarks points to a central dilemma for Clinton.
- If she just realized Putin was a fascist aggressor was she duped by “reset”?
- If she knew all along Putin was a malevolent force why did she look to Putin to help solve the Syrian civil war?
- If Putin is such an evil force why did she back Russia’s admission to the WTO, over the objections of the already Russian occupied Georgia?
- Was Mitt Romney right then in labeling Russia our greatest geopolitical foe?
We could go on, but of course, all these and many more inconvenient questions point to Hillary Clinton central problem in positioning herself as the most experienced and capable woman on the planet. As each hot spot for which she boasted success (e.g. Libya, setting al-Qaeda on its heels, improved relations with Russia, engagement of Iran) blows up the realization may set in even for the political media who are most ignorant on foreign policy that her tenure was a disaster waiting to happen. And now it has happened.
Fortunately for the country and the GOP, Republicans are zeroing in on the fundamental errors in the foreign policy mindset she gave voice to for four years. In a Fox News interview, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had this exchange on the Obama-Hillary Clinton- John Kerry foreign policy:
Martha McCallum: Do you think the President wants to be a superpower? Do you think he wants to lead in this situation?
Paul Ryan: I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think he likes us being a superpower as we have traditionally seen ourselves. I believe he has taken on the whole notion of “exceptionalism.” I believe we are an exceptional country for lots of reasons and I’m not sure that he’s going to be leading like he ought to be in this situation. Look, Russia has violated the sovereignty of Ukraine and I think there are a lot of things we need to be doing to address this: LNG exports, other kinds of sanctions. But I think the lack of a coherent foreign policy, the fact that the President is proposing a budget to hollow out our defenses projects weakness and weakness creates a vacuum that is filled by aggression and I think that is what is happening.
That indictment is easily adapted to Clinton, whose policy inclinations toward neglect of human rights, deference toward dictators and hard power rejection (anywhere, anytime) were on display for four years. Republicans like Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are aptly tracing the policy errors that brought us to the current foreign policy crises. They jointly write:
For years, Georgia has been requesting a defensive arms package that would include anti-aircraft and anti-tank capabilities that the 2008 conflict showed were sorely needed. We need to provide this support and finalize a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia to join NATO. For those partners already in the pipeline for membership, we should move up accession as soon as possible, even as early as the NATO Summit in Wales in September. . . . Recent events should break the freeze on NATO expansion that has been in place for the past five years. It is precisely the ambiguity in which NATO left Georgia after the 2008 Bucharest Summit that fueled Russia’s belief that it can bully NATO partners and not face a credible response. . . .
We also need to admit to ourselves that the significant military cuts proposed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a week ago are entirely unrealistic in today’s threat environment, and that as we focus more on Asia, we cannot ignore ongoing threats to European security. . . . Some may argue that these actions are overly provocative and will only encourage Russia to be more aggressive. But provoking Russia is exactly what five years of “reset” has now achieved.
Leaving friends high and dry, supporting massive reductions in defense spending and naiveté about are foes were all hallmarks of the Obama-Hillary Clinton foreign policy. An let’s not forget she was the one to call up the Poles and Czechs to tell them we were pulling the rug out from under them and the anti-missile sites out of their countries. Might that have also emboldened Putin?
Well, you say, she could simply renounce President Obama, blame him and Kerry and argue she was the valiant hawk all along. That’s not so easy.
Aside her lack of success in this purported role as dogged defender of American leadership and the impression of political opportunism by the woman who already has been accused of saying anything to get elected, she would once again face the ire of the left-wing primary base. There is no upside for her in criticizing retrenchment or backing a more robust foreign policy; that didn’t fly in 2008 and there is no reason to believe it will work for her now. The urge to defend her legacy and distance herself from a failed presidency is in direct conflict with her presidential ambitions. It’s a dilemma that isn’t going away.