Republicans are so spooked at the thought of facing Hillary Clinton in 2016 that they're already trying to tarnish her presumed presidential campaign in whatever way possible. It's something of a "throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks" approach, and with the Russian invasion of Crimea, some on the right think they have a new noodle to fling.
It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. #Ukraine— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) March 4, 2014
That's right. According to Graham's logic, an intricate regional conflict in Eastern Europe with Cold War echoes is actually the result a completely unrelated terrorist attack in 2012 on a U.S. consulate in Northern Africa.
How does this relate to Hillary? Republicans have shouted for over a year now that the former secretary of state was responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, and that she then helped orchestrate a cover-up to hide terrorist involvement. (The Clinton subtext of Graham's tweet was hard to miss; in January he claimed she "got away with murder.") But Graham has now shown that he has a unparalleled ability to shoehorn Benghazi into all manner of controversy.
Of course, his claim is complete bunk. Under any Russian rationale to invade the Crimean Peninsula, it's hard to imagine Benghazi being even a picayune factor. You might as well say, "It started with ObamaCare."
Moreover, a recent bipartisan Senate report on Benghazi shot down the big cover-up claim leveled by Benghazi truthers. And though it did find that various intelligence agencies and the State Department screwed up, it did not fault Clinton herself.
Graham's insinuation is certainly asinine, though it's by no means the only one of its kind out there. Rather, it's part of an emerging theme that Clinton bears responsibility for the Russian intervention simply because she was for years the face of Obama's foreign policy. In particular, right wing commentators are piling on Clinton for the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia, claiming she badly misjudged Moscow and implicitly allowed it to advance its imperialist desires.
GOP lawmakers are making this case, too. "She got it wrong," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), told The Daily Beast. "She believed that somehow there would be a reset with a guy who was a KGB colonel who always had ambitions to restore the Russian empire."
That may be true. But the idea that any member of the Obama administration — including Clinton — is somehow responsible for the Russian invasion of Crimea is deeply flawed.
As many observers have pointed out, the tough-guy cowboy approach of George W. Bush did little to deter Putin from invading Georgia in 2008. This would suggest that — shocker — Russia is prepared to act in its own perceived interest no matter what posture the U.S. has adopted.
Secondly, Russia invaded Ukraine for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with the U.S.
Finally, critics of Obama treat any attempt to thaw relations between the two countries as inherently foolish, preferring instead a constant Cold War framework. But it's more complicated than that. Indeed, Obama views Russia as something of an ally on several fronts, including curbing Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and reducing Russia and the U.S.'s respective stockpiles of nuclear bombs.
So, will blaming Clinton for the Ukrainian crisis work? The connection is so tenuous, and the election so far away, that it's hard to see the attack paying off in any meaningful way. If Obama bungles the U.S.'s response, well, that's on him. But you can expect a lot of GOP attacks on Clinton's soft approach toward Russia.
As for the Benghazi nonsense, Americans generally think that story is a total nothingburger. And a new Pew poll shows the issue pretty much only resonates with Republicans, who weren't exactly lining up behind Clinton to begin with.
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