Republican Election Strategy: Blame The Putin "Boogeyman"

Back in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a US-Russia diplomatic “reset” switch. The gift — a yellow box with a big red button — said “reset” in English on the bottom and “peregruzka” on top. The problem: “peregruzka” doesn’t mean “reset” in Russian, it means “overcharged.” “Opechatka” is Russian for “typo”, Clinton’s adviser later wrote in an e-mail to reporters.


One annexation, one bloody proxy war, innumerable thinly-veiled nuclear threats, and six years later, and the only thing that’s been “reset” in US-Russian relations is the Cold War. 

Now, as Republican presidential hopefuls ramp up their campaigns, GOP candidates will likely point to Vladimir Putin as the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Democrats’ foreign policy and Clinton’s famous “reset” button ceremony in Geneva provides the perfect opportunity for the GOP to tie the presumed Democratic nominee to a failed attempt at reconciliation with America’s Cold War nemesis.

(the "reset" circa 2009)

Reuters has more:

Something about Vladimir Putin makes Republicans in the U.S. presidential race see red.


The Russian president has emerged as a symbol for what they view as President Barack Obama's weak foreign policy, and an easy route for criticizing his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the Democrats' likely choice for the November 2016 election.


"I think it will resonate with Republican voters," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "There's real concern about what Putin is really up to."


Republicans believe the "Putin as boogeyman" theme serves well as a way to rally the party's base of supporters..


Republicans link their criticism of Putin to the foreign policy record of Clinton, who as the chief U.S. diplomat carried out Obama's "reset" in relations with Moscow in 2009, soon after Obama succeeded George W. Bush as president. They say Obama and Clinton eased up on Putin when they should have applied more pressure.


"She’s the one that literally brought the reset button to the Kremlin,” Rick Perry said in April.

Token gifts and friendly rheotric aside, it's certainly debatable whether Washington's position towards Russia and Vladimir Putin is materially different now than it was in the past.

After all, the idea of Putin as a political "boogeyman" bent on invading sovereign territory in an effort to illegitimately expand Russia's borders is the official US narrative on Ukraine and that storyline has been pitched to Congress in an effort to secure lethal arms shipments to Kiev. Meanwhile, NATO snap drills and troop movements in Eastern Europe have become commonplace, as has the notion of "preparedness" in the face of what the West pitches as an imminent threat from Moscow. Meanwhile, the US is dusting off Cold War "containment" policies and discussing stepped up sanctions and the deployment of additional US troops in order to "deter" Russian "meddling" in European affairs. 

In other words, US foreign policy is no different than it's always been: characterized by the projection of US military superiority and a sense of American exceptionalism and entitlement. Nevertheless, Reuters notes that should a Republican win The White House, relations with Moscow would deteriorate further:

No leader abroad draws more Republican criticism than Putin does. The candidates' message is clear: If any of them are elected president, U.S. relations with Russia will turn even more negative...


Jeb Bush, soon to announce his presidential campaign, says he would like to make Putin "twitch a little." He will reinforce his message of a more strident foreign policy toward Russia on a trip this week to Germany, Poland and Estonia.


Another candidate, former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, calls Putin a "bad dude." She boasts of having sat face-to-face with Putin in 2001 to bolster her claim to having foreign policy chops.


Putin was the only leader outside the United States that former Texas Governor Rick Perry mentioned in his presidential candidacy announcement speech on Thursday.


"Vladimir Putin uses energy to hold our allies hostage," he said. "If energy is going to be used as a weapon, I say America must have the largest arsenal."

As for Putin, he can "take the heat", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters, before suggesting that the Republican-Democrat distinction is largely meaningless because when it comes to relations between Washington and Moscow, sacrificing diplomacy at the altar of US politics is sadly par for the course.

"Unfortunately, for probably the whole of modern history we have seen bilateral Russian-American relations being made a sacrifice on the altar of the election campaign.”