We can learn a great deal about where a candidate stands on certain issues from who appeals to her positions. Indeed, maybe if the Russians — our geopolitical foes in the Middle East and elsewhere — are cheering on Gabbard’s views, we should perhaps approach her stances with more skepticism. But behind Clinton’s accusation, there is a dangerous conflation taking place between a candidate drawing support from bad actors and actually working with those bad actors. Using the term “asset” is a way to seemingly criminalize the uncriminal, and it’s wrong.
I was heavily critical of President Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement, the Iran deal. Although the mullahs were quite pleased to have sanctions lifted and the Iranian economy grew by 10 percent in 2016 as a consequence, I never once accused Obama of being an “Iranian asset.” I would have been laughed out of political circles and rightfully so.
Baseless accusations such as these, designed to put candidates on the perpetual defensive, suck up political oxygen. They unapologetically distract a candidate from discussing policy issues as he or she scrambles to combat unfounded narratives.