Russia APEC


As a freshman U.S. senator in 2002, Hillary Clinton reveled in the freedom of her new position outside the White House.

Being first lady “is more of a vicarious responsibility in that you are, like everyone in the White House, there because of one person, the president,” she told The Washington Post at the time. In the Senate, “there’s a lot more opportunity to express my own opinions, to work through what I would do and how I would do it.”

Twelve years later, Clinton is inextricably tied to another administration over which she yielded only partial influence. And as President Barack Obama grapples to resolve the expanding crisis in Ukraine, the situation underscores Clinton’s dilemma as she looks toward a potential presidential run in 2016: Separating from the White House is a very difficult proposition, if it’s possible at all.

As secretary of state through Obama’s first term, Clinton was in many ways the face of the administration’s “reset” policy with Russia, an effort to establish a new relationship that focused heavily on fostering the relationship with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The administration’s allies argue that some positives emerged from the reset, and that trouble began with Vladimir Putin’s returned to the Russian presidency in 2012. Skeptics of the “reset” believe Putin never actually left the stage.

Either way, the conflict is another instance in which Clinton is tethered to the administration’s decisions heading into 2016 — more so than any other Democrat, with the possible exception of Vice President Joe Biden, who would be a heavy underdog against Clinton.

“Whenever you run for office, you’ve got pluses and minuses based on your background — [If] you say, ‘Well, elect me because I was governor of X,’ people are going to look at what you did as governor,” said Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, the top liberal think tank in Washington.

On health care, energy policy, NSA spying and the economy, Clinton will face questions about her role in formulating the policy or her current level of support for it.

Her supporters believe that being out of the administration for a year will provide some distance from a White House whose current occupant’s poll numbers are under water. They don’t believe she needs to comment on every issue that arises.

But as the year wears on, with the publication of her second memoir approaching and Democrats increasingly focused on holding the White House in 2016, Clinton will face new pressures to explain her thinking.

Though by some accounts Clinton was excluded from major White House decisions early in her tenure, that likely won’t offer much relief.

It is to Clinton’s advantage that voters generally don’t determine national elections based strictly on foreign policy issues — the economy is likelier to play a deciding role in 2016 than what is happening in Ukraine. What’s more, there’s dwindling public appetite for U.S. intervention abroad, and, barring a seismic development, voters don’t appear particularly engaged in this conflict.

Few Democrats have wanted to issue lengthy statements on a suggested course of action with Russia, as the president deals with a shifting set of problems in Ukraine. In a speech at a health care forum in Florida last week as the conflict was unfolding, Clinton said she was still talking to some of her former governmental colleagues and predicted Putin would “look seriously” at consolidating his country’s position in eastern Ukraine.

Putin “sits as the absolute authority now in Russia and it is quite reminiscent of the kind of authority exercised in the past by Russian leaders, by the czars and their successor Communist leaders,” she said, according to CNN. She added that it was imperative for the U.S. to back a “unified Ukraine.”

On Monday night, the pro-Clinton group Correct the Record, which hadn’t weighed in on the Ukraine issue before, came to her defense.

“Secretary Clinton worked to successfully secure Russia’s cooperation toward anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, and worked with Russia to secure critical, crippling sanctions against Iran. Not to mention, Secretary Clinton oversaw passage and enactment of the New START Treaty reducing nuclear weapons and making us all safer. This is another case of selective memory lapses by Republican opportunists,” communications director Adrienne Elrod said in a statement, after the group posted tweets to that effect.





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