The event was viewed as bungled at the time because the Russian word imprinted on the button meant “overcharge” instead of “reset.” But the longer-term implications of the “reset button,” particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion of Crimea, may be far more damaging for Clinton than a translation gaffe.
Republicans will charge that Obama and Clinton badly misinterpreted the signals from the Russian government, and instead of welcoming Russia in from the cold, should instead have been guarding closely against Russian territorial expansionism in Eastern Europe. And in the post-Crimea world, if opinion shifts toward the idea that Mitt Romney was right about Russia, those charges have a chance of sticking.
Can you win a presidential election on foreign policy absent extraordinary circumstances? (E.g., 9/11 and 2004.) Hillary’s in a unique position as a would-be nominee because her biggest credential is diplomatic; the worse things get abroad during O’s second term, especially in matters where she had a high profile as SoS — the Russian reset, Libya, Afghanistan — the more ammo there is against her in theory. In practice, I don’t know. She can dismiss her biggest missteps by claiming she was just carrying out Obama’s orders, not following her own instincts. She can also point to Kerry’s screw-ups, especially the more dovish ones, and claim that she’d have been much tougher. Lo and behold, here’s one in the making now courtesy of our dear retaliation-minded friends in Moscow:
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s parliament, Mikhail Margelov, said on Monday that his country expects all economic sanctions against Iran to be removed immediately, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported.
“There have been important developments. President Hassan Rouhani has openly declared that Iran has no intention to develop an atomic bomb,” Margelov said. ”Furthermore, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has issued a decree that prohibits the building of a bomb, calling it ‘a sin.’ ”
As a result of these public statements, Marglov concluded, “The conditions have now been met to justify the full lifting of sanctions on Iran.”
How bad would America’s fortunes abroad have to get, though, before 2016 votes start shifting because of it? Any kind of major economic upturn or downturn before the election will probably decide things; only if the economy continues to crawl along will secondary issues loom larger, and even there, health care and immigration will be far more important than foreign policy barring a major war. That’s part of the core irony of Hillary’s prospective candidacy: Even though she’s been a major player in the federal government for most of the last 20 years, she has virtually no policy record to run on or against. She’s almost pure “brand,” which is precisely what makes her dangerous. If the election turns into a referendum on how much voters like the Clintons, that’s a … difficult election.
As you watch this and memories of “smart power” arrogance come flooding back, bear this point from Dan McLaughlin in mind. It’s not just that Romney was right about Russia and that the “reset button” was goofy and naive. It’s that Obama, Kerry, and various liberal toadies mocked him for it. Foreign policy is hard so misjudgments can be forgiven. The sneering is harder to forgive. And it continues even now, while Obama mumbles stupidities about the “wrong side of history” and threatens sanctions that the EU has no intention of putting in place. Yesterday, when asked whether he thought punitive measures would change Putin’s behavior, some administration apparatchik couldn’t resist taking a shot at Bush by telling Time mag, “We in this administration have made it a practice to not look into Vladimir Putin’s soul.” This, while Obama’s intelligence brain trust was being roundly humiliated for not seeing Putin’s invasion of Crimea coming. Maybe that’ll be Hillary’s slogan in 2016: “Slightly better than Bush. Arguably.”