CNN anchor and New York Daily News columnist S.E. Cupp was cursed with bad timing this week as she launched attacks on Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state. Pointing to current events surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Cupp wrote, "a new front is brewing that may bring Clinton's strategic judgment more directly into question: Russia." She added that if Clinton "thinks she's going to get off the hook for it, she's sadly mistaken." According to Cupp, the Russian troop movements demonstrate that Clinton's 2009 effort to reset U.S. relations with that nation were a failure that will damage any potential 2016 presidential run.
Why the bad timing?
The day before Cupp's column appeared detailing Clinton's would-be secretary of state "baggage," Pew Research published a poll showing a strong majority of Americans (67 percent) applaud Clinton's time as secretary of state. And when asked to identify the biggest positive of her long public career, the top response was Clinton's time as secretary. (Also, clear majorities of Americans peg her as being "tough," "honest," and "likable.")
So what Cupp sees as diplomatic "baggage," lots of Americans see it as part of Clinton's crowning accomplishment.
Cupp is hardly alone. Politico's Clinton beat writer, Maggie Haberman wrote that the Ukraine conflict "is another instance in which Clinton is tethered to the administration's decisions heading into 2016." Clinton is "tethered" to her time as secretary of state, Politico noted ominously, while a vast majority of Americans applaud Clinton's time as secretary of state. (And yes, the Pew poll was conducted after Russia invaded Ukraine.)
As the crisis in the Ukraine continues to play out, parts of the D.C. media's All News Is Bad News For Hillary brigade have rallied around the idea that even though Clinton is no longer secretary of state, the current conflict in Ukraine could damage her presidential aspiration because she used to be secretary of state.
More importantly, the Ukraine analysis is the exact opposite of the Beltway pundits' pronouncement last year as they praised current chief diplomat John Kerry after he reached an interim agreement with Iran to freeze its nuclear program. The media formula was simple: Good news that transpired after Clinton left the State Department was not her doing and she deserved no credit. Her efforts to build a sanctions regime that drove Iran to the bargaining table were ignored.
But apparently, the Ukraine crisis is her doing and she deserves the blame even though she left the administration last year. In other words, if Hillary runs for president all the things that didn't happen under her guidance at State will hurt her chances. And if she runs, all the things that happened while she wasn't at State will also hurt her. Under this rubric, all developments in international relations, whether good or bad for the United States, are bad news for Hillary Clinton.
Talk about a lose-lose for Hillary. And talk about trolling for bad news.
The baffling coverage is the latest example of a new brand commentary that's cropped up around Hillary's presidential plans in 2016. Not content with what-if columns, the press increasingly devotes a significant amount of time and energy conjuring up what could go wrong if Clinton were to run.
The State Department edition of All News Is Bad News For Hillary currently on display is not new. It began last year when Kerry began to post impressive diplomatic victories. Rather than see those wins, in some ways, as a continuation of Clinton's four years of work, pundits irrationally pitted Kerry and Clinton against each in a sort of zero-sum, inter-administration competition. They insisted that because Clinton hadn't shepherded any historic peace accords during her four years, her tenure had been a failure, and that it all meant bad news for her possible campaign:
What If John Kerry Outperforms Hillary Clinton as America's Top Diplomat? [National Journal]
Typical of the dubious coverage, the New York Times in November claimed "some people close to Mrs. Clinton" worried that her accomplishments as secretary of state were being eclipsed by Kerry's achievements. Yet the article didn't contain a single quote from anyone "close to Mrs. Clinton" expressing that concern.
Which brings us to Russia, Ukraine and Clinton. The chatter now is that because she was part of an effort in 2009 to "reset" relations with Russia, Clinton is to blame for Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly 60 months later. "This is going to haunt her for the next two years," stressed Cupp on CNN.
In March 2009, Clinton presented her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, with a red "reset" button, symbolizing the United States' desire to improve relations with Russia. The move was widely expected since bilateral ties during President George W. Bush's second term had crumbled, sinking to "their lowest point since the dark days of the Cold War," according to Foreign Policy.
And for a while it worked. In 2010, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to a deal on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). That same year, Russia supported a U.S.-led effort to impose a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran for its nuclear work, and the U.S. and Russia agreed to exchange spies, one of the biggest prisoner swaps between the countries since the Cold War. Last year, Russia supported a U.S. effort at the U.N. to impose new financial penalties against North Korea following its third nuclear weapons test.
Note that even as the reset bore fruit, Clinton and others in the Obama administration continued to criticize Russia's belligerence and corruption. The reset was not a blank check, but an effort for the nations to work together when their interests aligned.
So contrary to the media portrayal, the Russia "reset" was not a complete failure, nor did it singularly define Clinton's diplomatic efforts with Russia. More importantly, if the press isn't going to credit Clinton for State Department accomplishment that came in her wake, how can the press fairly blame her for setbacks?