Harboring Edward Snowden, intervening in Syria, lecturing Americans through a New York Times’ op-ed, invading Crimea; for those keeping score – that is, the entire world – it looks to be Putin 4, Obama zero.
But what impact will the Ukraine fiasco have on the 2016 line-up? Does the bellicose Vladimir Putin knock Rand Paul out of the starting block? Does he give a boost to Marco Rubio? What about Hillary Clinton?
Pundits swear that Americans do not vote on foreign policy – that we are mostly indifferent to what happens outside our borders. In general that may be true, but Americans do not like being embarrassed on the world stage.
Jimmy Carter found that out when the Mullahs took Americans hostage in Iran; he failed to rescue them and was booted out of the White House.
Obama is learning that lesson now. The country is furious that he has been upstaged by the showboating former KGB officer short on shirts. When even the liberal Washington Post says Obama’s foreign policy is fanciful you know he’s in trouble.
The confrontation in Ukraine resonates, especially at a time when we are weighing our commitment to world leadership and to our military. And, especially when some of our leading politicians on both sides of the aisle are championing isolation, and arguing against engagement overseas.
Before Russia invaded the Crimea, Rand Paul cautioned against those “stuck in the Cold War era” who might want to “tweak” Russia. He said "Though the Cold War is largely over, I think we need to have a respectful -- sometimes adversarial -- but a respectful relationship with Russia." Those words, after the events of the past week, could come back to haunt Mr. Paul.
While Putin’s belligerence could dent Mr. Paul’s popularity, Marco Rubio has emerged re-invigorated from his immigration-reform closet, advocating an aggressive diplomatic response to Putin’s invasion. He has sounded forceful but thoughtful – the tone many might have sought from our dithering president.
It is, however, the impact on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects that is most intriguing.
The Democratic (undeclared, of course) front-runner may benefit from the confrontation with Russia.
Earlier this week, Hillary talked tough on the Ukraine confrontation, likening Putin’s actions to those of Hitler, and saying the Russian leader is on a mission to “restore Russian greatness.”
Though the country may still shrink from another military engagement, voters may decide they want a president who can talk tough and follow through. A president who will confront Putin, Assad and other bullies, and whose “red lines” are not drawn in disappearing ink. Who, in a 90 minute phone call, will make an impact. That could be Hillary Clinton.
The Nation describes former Secretary of State Clinton as a “liberal interventionist” – out of step with today’s left -- who, along with Susan Rice and Samantha Power, pushed Obama into our war with Libya.
She also appears to have backed President Obama’s threatened strike on Syria.
Hillary joined then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in pushing for the surge in Afghanistan. She had earlier opposed the Iraq “surge” but, according to Gates’ memoir, admitted to Obama that “her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary [in 2008].”
In that 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama tagged her as militaristic, and out of touch with modern Democrats.
She famously voted for the Iraq war in 2002, declining to join the likes of Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy who opposed the measure. Recognizing the unpopularity of her stance, Hillary later claimed on “Meet the Press” that she had been misled, and didn’t realize the measure meant going to war -- causing moderator Tim Russert to not-so-gently remind her that the title of the resolution was the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002."
Which reminds us that, in spite of Putin’s possible assist, Hillary’s road to the White House is cluttered a-plenty by other issues.
Such as her credibility.
She has frequently misrepresented her past experiences, from being [not] shot at in Bosnia, to [not] playing a serious role in Bill’s White House, to Chelsea [not] being out jogging when the Twin Towers fell, to [not] being named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was born five years after HRC, and so on.
In a 2008 USA Today/Gallup poll, 67% of voters deemed John McCain trustworthy, 63% said the same of Obama; only 44% thought Hillary told the truth.
Which brings us to Benghazi. Republicans will not tire of watching video of Hillary angrily shouting “What difference at this point does it make?” when questioned about the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Many Americans doubt that Mrs. Clinton has revealed the truth about how the White House came to misrepresent the Benghazi disaster, and why it chose Susan Rice (as opposed to our Secretary of State) to spread the misleading narrative on Sunday talk shows.
While Clinton’s interventionist past may prop her up post-Kiev, her stint at Secretary of State was unimpressive.
Critics will say her work on the new “START” treaty with Russia, aimed at reducing nuclear weapons and described as the cornerstone of Obama’s “re-set” with that state, was another starry-eyed give-up to Putin.
Generally, many think Clinton’s much-bally-hooed globetrotting came at the expense of strategic planning. Not only has Russia repeatedly caught the U.S. off-guard, but time and again we have been surprised by the events of the Arab Spring; should we not have gotten ahead of that curve at some point?
Also, many will charge Hillary with only tepid support of democracy -- in Honduras, where we ended up on the wrong side and in Iran, where we failed to step in to support anti-government protesters, for instance.
Surely, at the very least, Hillary and Obama have not improved our relations with most countries.
Other scandals of Hillary’s past – think Whitewater, Travelgate, her response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, cattle futures, for starters -- will also cloud her skies in coming months, thanks in part to some 33,000 pages of newly-released records that are wiggling out of the Clinton Presidential Library.
The record will be parsed for more embarrassing revelations, fueling more Hillary-bashing and more Hillary ennui.
Mediaite reported that in a recent week, cable news devoted 94 segments – 410 minutes of airtime – to Hillary. Not becoming the most boring topic of the next two years may prove a huge challenge for the possible 2016 candidate.
Perhaps most problematic is that the emerging New Left, personified by Elizabeth Warren, finds Mrs. Clinton a throw-back to a time that many wistfully recall – when her husband was president. Though she will try to define her own agenda as distinct from Bill’s, she will in effect be running on his record – for better or worse.
The good news? The economy was roaring ahead at an average growth rate of 3.8%, and workforce participation crept higher when Mr. Clinton was in the Oval Office, possibly thanks to welfare reform.
The bad news? It was under Bill Clinton that income inequality took off in the U.S. The top 1%’s share of income soared from under 15% in 1992 to peak at nearly 22% during Mr. Clinton’s tenure.
For Democrats today, that’s like having a father in the oil business.
As always with the Clintons, there is much more that can (and will) be said. Despite all the history, some 82% of Democrats want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.
The nomination was probably already hers for the asking; Mr. Putin has just upped the odds.