Republicans are pointing to the crisis in Ukraine as yet another reason to discredit potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Nevermind the fact that Clinton hasn't headed the State Department for more than a year. Or that Russia undertook a similar invasion (read: Georgia) back in 2008 when George W. Bush was president. Or that there were indeed some Russia-U.S. successes when she was secretary of state.
The logic goes something like this: Clinton was the face of resetting diplomatic relations with Russia in 2009. America’s failure to do so, as Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollak puts it, “led to an overcharged Russian foreign policy, one that moved aggressively to shore up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to build new nuclear facilities in Iran and now to invade and possibly divide the Crimea.” While Obama “bears “ultimate responsibility,” Pollak says, it's Clinton who was his “eager, laughing emissary.” So blame Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent military advancement into Ukraine on her.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina even threw Benghazi into the mix. Conservatives, of course, have continually blamed Clinton for the September 2012 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, even accusing the Obama Administration of a coverup. (A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded the administration did not deliberately mislead the public.) Graham took to Twitter to suggest Putin invaded Ukraine because the U.S. did not avenge the attack in Benghazi.
“It started with Benghazi,” Graham wrote. “When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. #Ukraine.”
America Rising, a conservative PAC, released a web video this week called “The Obama/Clinton reset failure,” which also blames Clinton for Ukraine. The PAC, which started a Stop Hillary 2016 campaign last year, showed Clinton calling for a reset of relations before going to footage of the recent Russian advancement into Crimea.
Clinton's defenders can hardly contain their guffaws. “If the sky is cloudy these days it is her fault,” P.J. Crowley, a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs under Clinton, told msnbc.
“I think it’s very simplistic and quite honestly lazy to suggest that personalities by themselves drive international crises,” Crowley added, noting there are many other factors at play, including Russia’s national interest, 300 years of embattled Crimea history, and changes in Russian leadership.
“For the last 25 years, the United States has been trying to have a productive and sustainable relationship with Russia. Bush saw relations start off in promising fashion and decline over eight years. There’s nothing new here,” said Crowley.
Republican strategist John Feehery said it is legitimate to blame Clinton for rocky U.S.-Russian relations. “I think that Hillary put herself pretty far out there with this reset button. You can’t say it was a success.” He added: “I don’t’ want to say Clinton is to blame for Ukraine. Putin is to blame. But her tenure at the State Department was not as wonderful as people presume.”
“Correct the Record,” an initiative launched by Democratic super PAC American Bridge, shot back at the Clinton criticism, saying “the right wing can make as many bloated political statements as they want and as many mash-up videos as their laptops can splice, but the facts haven’t changed. Clinton recognized and warned of the dangers of Russian efforts to re-Sovietize Eastern Europe.” The group pointed to Clinton’s work in securing Russia’s cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, securing sanctions in Iran and overseeing the passage and enactment of the new START treaty to reduce nuclear weapons.
Clinton came under conservative fire at a fundraiser this week when she weighed in on the crisis in Ukraine, likening Putin to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in the lead up to World War II. Perhaps an unlikely ally, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, came to her defense. “She’s exactly right,” he told MSNBC on Friday.
Feehery said Hillary’s Hitler comment could come back to haunt her in 2016. “First Putin’s an ally then he’s Hitler. Which one is it? That flip-flop will taint her service at the State Department.”
But Republicans are grasping at anything they can to tarnish Clinton’s foreign policy expertise because they know no other potential GOP 2016 candidate, unless it's Condoleezaa Rice, will be able to match Clinton’s gravitas if she runs for president, argued Crowley.
“It’s their only choice in trying to discount her time in office,” he said.