National Journal: Hillary resets on Russia

How badly has Barack Obama bungled Russia and Vladimir Putin? Even the woman who created the embarrassing “reset button” fiasco has started to distance herself from the White House. National Journal’s Michael Hirsh belatedly comments on Hillary Clinton’s stunning equivalency between Putin and 1938, and its reflection of a clueless foreign policy that she herself initiated:

In recent weeks, as the standoff over Ukraine escalated, Hillary Clinton did something that she never did as secretary of State: She put considerable distance between herself and the president she served loyally for four years. While Barack Obama cautiously warned Vladimir Putin to back off his claims on Ukraine, Clinton rolled out a rhetorical cannon, comparing the Russian president’s moves to the seizure of territory by Adolf Hitler that set off World War II. Her comments were so harsh and controversial that she was forced to walk them back a bit, saying, “I’m not making a comparison, certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”

Clinton’s remarks appeared to be an indication of two things. One, she’s concerned enough about shoring up her reputation for toughness that she may indeed be thinking about running for president in 2016. Clinton offered up, in other words, a rare and enticing hint about the question that everyone in the politics game is asking these days. Undoubtedly she knows that the effort she led as secretary of State in 2009, an attempted “reset” of relations with Russia that included a new arms treaty, now looks naive in the face of Putin’s repudiation of Obama over Ukraine and his lack of cooperation on other issues, such as resolution of the Syrian civil war. Two, Clinton could be worried that by the time the next presidential season rolls around, what was once seen as one of Obama’s stronger points—foreign policy—could easily become a liability to whomever is seeking the Democratic nomination.

The reset button wasn’t the only fiasco, though. The Obama administration policies in reaction to the Arab Spring were every bit as clueless, and more deadly to Americans. Hirsh notes that the Benghazi attack came too late in the cycle to impact the election, but that won’t be the case in 2016. That attack came as a direct result of American policies leaving a failed state in Libya through decapitation of the Qaddafi regime and then a refusal to admit the policies’ failure. When every other Western nation had left Benghazi, Hillary’s State Department not only remained but cut security presence.

Now Hillary wants to be seen as tougher than Obama, but that’s rather laughable. This disaster has its roots firmly in the Hillary era at State, especially with that mistranslated reset button that tried to blame Russian aggression on the Bush administration. She owns this foreign policy no matter how hard she tries to distance herself from it.

Clinton isn’t the only one drawing parallels to 1938, either. Russian dissident Garry Kasparov warned yesterday in Politico Magazine that the Western response to Putin looks very, very familiar:

It’s been a busy few weeks for Vladimir Putin. In the last month, the Russian president has hosted the Olympic Games, invaded a neighboring country and massed troops along its border. Back in Moscow, the Kremlin has cranked up the volume of hysterical anti-Western propaganda to a roar while cracking down on the last vestiges of the free media. All the while, he proclaims he wants peace and accuses Western leaders of hypocrisy and anti-Russian sentiment. If Putin wanted to do a better imitation of Adolf Hitler circa 1936-1938, he would have to grow a little mustache. Equally troubling is that the leaders of Europe and the United States have been doing a similarly good impersonation of the weak-kneed and risk-averse leaders who enabled Hitler’s rise in the 1930s.

I know full well that any mention of the maniacal Nazi leader is viewed as being in poor taste by many. The good news is that it took many years for the West to finally admit that Putin is a dictator and only a few weeks for respected public figures such as Hillary Clinton to acknowledge how closely he is following in Hitler’s footsteps right now. Nobody except the most naked of Kremlin apologists is debating whether Putin’s anything but a tyrant anymore. Instead, we’re searching for the right historical analogy: Is it Budapest 1956? Prague 1968? Austria 1938?

To which I say: Welcome to the club! It remains to be seen, however, if the media figures and politicians who have so quickly adopted my Anschluss rhetoric are willing and able to do what is necessary to stop repeating the past. In recent days, the United States and several European governments have bolstered their statements, which will, I hope, now be followed up with strong sanctions and other steps to ostracize and deter Putin.

On that score, John Fund has bad news for Kasparov:

Three years ago, France signed a military contract worth $1.7 billion to build two advanced-technology Mistral-class helicopter carriers for Russia, with an option to build two more. The first carrier, Vladivostok, conducted its sea trials earlier this month and is set to arrive in Moscow later this year. A Russian crew is already being trained on the ship, currently berthed in the French port of Saint-Nazaire. A sister ship, Sebastopol — ironically named after the chief port of Crimea — is set for delivery to the Russian navy late in 2015.

Then–French president Nicolas Sarkozy signed the deal for the carriers in 2011, hailing the agreement as evidence that the Cold War had indeed ended. But the contract alarmed several of France’s NATO allies, especially because Russia had employed helicopter gunships in its brief war against Georgia in 2008.

In light of Russia’s latest aggression, defense and foreign-policy experts, gathered in Paris for a Gatestone Institute conference, agree that it would be impossible to take the West seriously if it turned over a weapon uniquely suited for close-in military commando operations such as the ones that Russia used to occupy Crimea. Stopping delivery of the carrier isn’t a private-property issue, either, given that the French government owns 75 percent of DCNS, the French shipbuilder.

French officials have been reluctant to discuss the carrier contract, telling me that they have no comment. When asked last Friday at a news conference about the carrier contract, President Hollande replied, “As far as other sanctions, notably military cooperation, that is the third level of sanctions.” But as recently as a March 7 news conference (more than a week after Russia’s invasion of Crimea), Hollande appeared unwilling to touch the issue. …

What respect could the Russians possibly have for the West if France actually delivers sophisticated helicopter carriers that can ferry the Spetsnaz, the Russian military’s elite commando forces, to the next target of Russia’s choosing?

Not much. Perhaps Sergei Lavrov can head off sanctions by offering Obama another “reset button.”

Finally, if you want to get a taste of a Hillary Clinton foreign policy, look no further than Bill:

Speaking at the Global Education & Skills Forum 2014 in Dubai, Clinton conceded that the result of the ‘phoney’ Crimea referendum aligning it with Russia was historically correct.

He said: “Crimea is a special case because Krushchev gave it to Ukraine in ’52 thinking Moscow would always run the whole show.”

But Mr Clinton denounced the recent vote in Crimea as an “unconstitutional farce. [Putin’s] storyline that he has created that these poor Russians are being crushed by these ultranationalist Ukrainians, is just not so.”

The former US president revealed that in private Vladmir Putin was a straight-talker. “You can normally work with someone like that, and I just hope and pray that this thing is not going to spin out of hand because Ukraine is an important country. All [the Ukrainians] wanted was the right to determine their own future and they should have it.”

Right result, but bad form. Looks like a case for … ResetPrez!