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Questioning Hillary Clinton's foreign policy credibility heading towards 2016

Hillary Clinton spoke about the situation in the Ukraine with Russia at Montreal's Palais des Congrès, March 18, 2014; Clinton is toughening her rhetoric to distance herslf from the Obama administration in anticipation of potential 2016 presidential run
Hillary Clinton spoke about the situation in the Ukraine with Russia at Montreal's Palais des Congrès, March 18, 2014; Clinton is toughening her rhetoric to distance herslf from the Obama administration in anticipation of potential 2016 presidential run
Marie-France Coallier, The Montreal Gazette

Just as Hillary Clinton spoke at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal on Tuesday evening, March 18, 2014 in Canada, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal written by former 2012 Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney Monday, March 17 and a Bloomberg poll from March 13, 2014 are putting doubt into Hillary Clinton solid potential run in 2016 for the Democratic presidential nomination. Coming back to haunt Clinton is her policies as Secretary of State with Russia and the fallout of the 2012 Benghazi, Libya attacks, even as most recent polls place Clinton by a large majority as the top candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 campaign.

Mitt Romney blamed Clinton partially for failures in American foreign policy in light of the recent Ukraine and Russia crisis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled The Price of Failed Leadership" published Monday evening, March 17, 2014, while the Bloomberg poll released on March 13 showed that Americans still are concerned about Clinton's role in the Benghazi attacks, and what she did not or did not know that could helped prevent the attack.

Romney's op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday evening, March 17, 2014 blamed the current state of American foreign policy and the failures on both President Obama and former secretary of State Clinton. Romney predominantly discussed the current crisis in Ukraine and Russia, and blaming Obama for not taking swifter action, writing that "we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options."

The former GOP candidate also used the opportunity to criticize the wider Obama administration foreign policy agenda including Clinton's work as Secretary of State during Obama's first presidential term. Romney wrote; "President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and to build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of their failure, I submit, is due to their failure to act when action was possible, and needed."

As Secretary of State Clinton attempted what was then considered a successful "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations "with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev." All the work fell apart as soon a Vladimir Putin took over again as Russia's president in 2012. Leading up to the worst economic sanctions imposed on Russia Monday, March 17 since the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

President Obama issued on Monday, March 17 economic and travel sanctions on high ranking Russian and Ukrainian officials involved with Crimea's referendum and secession from Ukraine. Obama expressed in a statement that the U.S. will "continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world. The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia's diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy."

The president issued a first wave of sanctions on Thursday, March 6 on Russians and Ukrainians interfering with Ukrainian sovereignty. Despite President Obama repeated calls to Putin and Secretary of State John Kerry's attempt at negotiation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, diplomatic attempts failed to convince Russia not to move forward with plans for Crimea and entangling in Ukraine's sovereignty.

After the first set of sanctions, Russia moved closer to taking Crimea as their own. A referendum set and held on Sunday, March 16 that resulted in over 95 percent of Crimeans voting to separate from the Ukraine, then as Crimea separate as an individual entity on Monday, March 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized their sovereignty, and then on Tuesday, March 18 announced to Russia's both houses of Parliament that he is annexing Crimea to be part of Russia.

The Russian military intervention began after over three months of protests in Kiev over Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refusing to align with the European Union in trade and instead pursued closer ties to Russia and accepted a bailout from Russia. The protests resulted in 80 deaths since November 2013. Yanukovych was subsequently deposed on Feb. 22, Arseniy Yatsenyuk was named the new interim prime minister, and elections set for May 25. Russian President Putin believes Yanukovych is still the rightful Ukrainian leader, and justified the military presence and intervention by stating Russia is protecting the human rights of Russians in Crimea.

Russia is not too concerned with Obama's sanctions and most recent attempt at standing firm, and neither did Romney take Obama seriously, which according to his op-ed is the problem. Romney had named Russia "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe" in a March 2012 interview on CNN, saying "They… fight every cause for the world's worst actors." The Obama campaign hit back and criticized Romney, while the president stated in his 2012 Democratic nomination acceptance speech that Romney is "stuck in a Cold War mind warp."

President Obama's took his next step on Tuesday, March 18 inviting the remaining G-7 nations minus Russia to the Netherlands to discuss the crisis in Ukraine at the "biennial Nuclear Security Summit" being held on March 24-25. Canada and the European Union also issued their own sanctions and condemnations of Russian President Putin's involvement in Crimea and Ukrainian affairs.

All the while Clinton is distancing herself from the Obama administration and its foreign policy, trying to remake herself as the "tougher" leader. Clinton made two historical references to equate Putin's actions in Ukraine, first she compared Putin to Adolf Hitler at the start of World War II invading countries and then compared him to the Russian Czars and Communist leaders.

First Clinton made the pre-World II reference; "Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s. All the Germans that were…the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right. 'I must go and protect my people,' and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous. She had to go back on her harsh comments after criticism, and then said at UCLA's College of Letters and Sciences on Wednesday, March 5; "I'm not making a comparison certainly. But I am recommending that we can perhaps learn from this tactic that has been used before."

While Clinton then told CNN that 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."

Clinton kept up the tough rhetoric when she spoke on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal this time referencing the Cold War in remarks to 4300 at Montreal's Palais des Congrès. Clinton speaking to the audience about the situation in Ukraine and Rusia and "women leadership and participation," expressed that "I hope there is not another Cold War. Obviously, nobody wants to see that. I think that is primarily up to Putin…. This is a clash of values. It's an effort by Putin to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II Europe."

Clinton explained that European countries need to move away from being dependent on natural gas from Russia, because that is "what gives Russia the ability to intimidate." And "The Russians can only intimidate you if you are dependent on them." Clinton explained that if Putin "is allowed to get away with that, I think you will see a lot of other countries either directly facing Russian aggression or suborned with their political system so that they are so intimidated that in effect they are transformed into vassals, not sovereign democracies. There is a lot at stake here."

Hillary Clinton has more foreign policy baggage then just her policies at Secretary of State with the Russian government to be concerned about in a potential 2016 presidential campaign. The 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four diplomats including Ambassador Christopher Stevens still weigh heavily in American minds and doubts about Clinton's credibility and leadership skills.

In the Bloomberg poll released on Thursday, March 13, 2014 a slight majority of Americans are questioning Clinton's credibility regarding the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terror attacks. According to the poll 51 percent of respondents and "voters" do not believe Clinton's denials that "she never saw requests for additional security before the attacks" on the consulate. On the opposite side only 41 percent believe Clinton's claims.

A USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll released on Monday, March 4, 2014. Her role as Obama's Secretary of State has both helped and hindered her potential presidential run in 2016 according to the USA Today poll. According to the poll 75 percent of respondents "approve of the job she did at the State Department," this included "44% of Republicans and those who lean to the GOP," showing her far ranging approval and appeal.

The poll although generally positive showed that Clinton has one perceived weakness by the public; the 2012 attack on Benghazi, Libya during her tenure as Secretary of State. When asked the terror attack was considered the most negative element coming from her job as the Obama Administration's foreign policy head.

Despite this a new CNN/ORC International survey released on Sunday, March 16, 2014 found Americans trust Clinton more when there is a crisis than President Obama, with 64 percent believing she is "tough enough to handle a crisis" with only 53 percent feeling that way about President Obama, 11 points less. The USA Today poll determined that 69 percent find Clinton "tough," an impressive showing, but her star diminished on that front than in 2008 when 76 percent of voters found Clinton to be "tough."

The results of the USA Today and CNN polls answers a lingering question from the 2008 presidential campaign, who is the tougher more trustworthy leader in a crisis former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama, hands down Americans answered Clinton. They definitely prove that Clinton was right in her "3 am phone call" national security campaign commercial from the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination, Americans trust her more when there is a crisis than President Obama, but the Benghazi attacks, left a general lingering doubt.

David Axelrod, one of the architects of President Obama's historic win in the 2008 presidential election stated that Clinton is "in as strong a position as any potential nominee for an open-seat race in modern history. I can't remember any like it."

During the question and answer period at her Montreal appearance, Clinton was again asked about her intentions to run in 2016, she answered; "I haven't made up my mind, besides I feel a deep sense of commitment to my country and its future. I feel an obligation to do all I can for the children of my country." Clinton concluded with a joke; "You all will be the first to know."

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.