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.
That was not the case in 2012, when even some Republican foreign policy professionals, many of whom had worked for George W. Bush, agreed that Obama’s foreign policy had been impressive in ways that went well beyond his signature achievement: the 2011 takedown of Osama bin Laden. The president also orchestrated a new set of allied sanctions against Iran and the first fundamental reorientation of U.S. strategic and military focus—from the Middle East to East Asia—in more than a decade. The worst blot on his first-term record, the embarrassing Benghazi scandal involving the killing of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, didn’t happen until the final months of the campaign, limiting the damage. It was no surprise that Mitt Romney’s repeated efforts to paint Obama as weak on foreign policy came to naught.