Forget Benghazi—Blame Hillary for the Disastrous Russian Reset

Forget Benghazi—Blame Hillary for the Disastrous Russian Reset

Whenever Hillary Clinton runs for President I’m reminded of Xerxes’ army in 300, the movie about the Spartans at Thermopylae.  There are the legions of faceless volunteers, who come howling down on the Greeks; there are the masked Immortals on cable news, hacking their opponents to pieces in talking head duels; and Xerxes himself (Xerxes!), the God-King, legend made incarnate in flesh.

Thermopylae is memorable not because the Persians won, of course, but because the bravery of 300 Spartans and their king Leonidas inspired their fellow Greeks to band together and fight.  It’s admittedly pretty self-serving to make the Spartans the candidates I like and Hillary the oppressive (if not nightmarish, pace 300) Iranian invader.  

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Still, it is true that only a highly disciplined opponent can make a critique of Hillary Clinton disciplined enough to beat her, starting with her foreign policy record. The election looks likely to turn on foreign policy, what with chaos fermenting in Europe and the Middle East, and Hillary was the face of Obama’s foreign policy.The trouble is that these critiques can easily get bogged down in Beltway buzzwords, like Benghazi.  Benghazi was embarrassing – a US ambassador was killed and the Administration tried to blame it on a YouTube video – but it became such a yarn ball of partisan minutiae that most Americans have relegated it to the fringe. In our Greek analogy, it’s Sicily. 

Sicily isn’t going to stop Xerxes. Wrapping issues like Benghazi in with other foreign policy criticisms invalidates the whole thing. It all looks like partisan nonsense, when some of it isn’t.

Instead, the Spartan candidate should focus on the wholesale collapse of American bargaining power, which was rooted in the problem that Hillary and Obama viewed international agreements and diplomacy as something good. They are not good.  They are not bad, either. They are transactions. What we get from them is good or bad. When I go to the grocery store to buy a cabbage, I’m not pleased by the act of paying a dollar and taking my cabbage. I’m pleased with my cabbage. 

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Somehow, this Administration has confused cabbage buying with cabbages. It has heedlessly pursued bad diplomatic deals, corroding America’s global position without getting much in return. The three worst, all of which involved Hillary, were the Iranian nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, and the sprawling death-squid of the Russian reset. Because this Administration has prized getting to an agreement so highly, our counterparts have been able to keep raising their price by threatening to walk away.  And we fell for it – needlessly – every time.

If the US walks away from its Iranian nuclear deal, for example, nothing happens.  The sanctions stay on, Iran’s economy is still crushed, its regime gets more unpopular, and its leaders have to decide if they want to lower their price for abandoning their nuclear research.  But since the Obama Administration made it clear that we want a deal, that we view it with intrinsic worth, leverage reverted to the Iranians.  It is we who must lower our price for removing the sanctions, lest the Iranians walk away.

Likewise, lifting the Cuban embargo was something any prior President could have done. The embargo cost nothing to keep in place, hurt Cuba (however slightly), and in lieu of getting something substantial from the communist Cuban dictatorship should be maintained. Clinton’s State Department thought the opposite. So we gave something to the Cuban regime – the prospect of an open export market – without getting anything in return. 

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It is Russia, where the Administration’s Russian ‘reset’ has been the biggest disaster.  It is not just that Hillary and Obama tolerated Russian expansionism, but that they short-circuited the international system’s reaction to it. By 2008, Russia was already a problem. It had wrapped up a brutal war in Chechnya, was gleefully selling Iran and Syria advanced military technology, and as a democracy was descending past tragedy into farce. It had also invaded Georgia, a close American ally, three months before Obama was elected.

Eastern Europe should thus have been in a high state of alert by 2009. Instead, it was gut-punched. Hillary symbolically carried a ‘reset’ button to Moscow, Obama stripped the Czech Republic and Poland of their missile defense sites, and neither said anything while Russia extended the lease of its controversial naval base in Crimea for another twenty-five more years and Putin cracked down domestically.

The reset had wiped the slate clean of past Russian aggressions, and prevented the Eastern Europeans from taking the obvious precautions necessary, lest they be abandoned by the US and forced to face down Russia by themselves. It also guaranteed the US would be powerless to push back against future aggressions, since confronting Russia would imperil the reset itself. 

That’s Hillary’s real legacy: an America that has gone deep into geopolitical debt, trying to run the world with too many IOUs outstanding.  Somebody should point that out to her.  In a disciplined way, of course.  Like the Spartans.

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