White House hopefuls use Ukraine to push foreign policy credentials

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White House hopefuls in both parties are aggressively tackling the Russia-Ukraine crisis as they seek to get a leg up on one another in showcasing their foreign policy credentials

GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) have battled over who better connects with Ronald Reagan’s legacy, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have sought to take on President Obama’s response to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Not to be outdone, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton generated headlines with hawkish statements that compared Putin’s actions in Crimea to Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland.

Vice President Biden, meanwhile, has highlighted his role in Obama’s diplomatic efforts, canceling a trip to the Dominican Republic to attend Obama’s White House meeting on Wednesday with Ukraine’s new prime minister.

Here’s a look at what the 2016 hopefuls are saying:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Paul has used Ukraine to differentiate himself from Cruz, who could be a conservative rival in a 2016 GOP primary.

“Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era, they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Paul said in remarks last month to The Washington Post that appeared to target Cruz.

The comment prompted Cruz to say he disagreed with Paul on foreign policy, which drew a rebuke from Paul in an op-ed that accused some Republicans of “warping” Reagan’s foreign policy.

In an interview with Fox News, he said he wouldn’t let Cruz mischaracterize his views.

“I think that sometimes people want to stand up and say, ‘Hey look at me. I’m the next Ronald Reagan.’ Well, almost all of us in the party are big fans of Ronald Reagan,” he said in another shot at his Texas rival.

Paul, who won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll on Saturday, isn’t just trying to distance himself from Cruz. He also wants to distance himself from the isolation policies of his father, ex-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.

In a Time magazine op-ed Monday, Paul said he supported taking an aggressive stance toward Russia on sanctions, and he “wouldn’t let Vladimir Putin get away with it.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Cruz has also sought to use Ukraine to differentiate himself from Paul.

He suggested Paul had a knee-jerk policy of being against using troops abroad, while a foreign policy by a President Cruz would be more muscular.

“I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force aboard,” Cruz said, referring to Paul. “But I think there is a vital role, just as [former President] Ronald Reagan did.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Rubio positioned himself as 2016’s GOP foreign policy hawk with his CPAC speech.

Rubio laid out eight steps on Ukraine, pressing the Obama administration to declare the “reset” with Russia is dead, to admit Georgia into NATO and to suspend all negotiations with Russia unrelated to the Ukrainian crisis, in a Politico Magazine op-ed.

Differences between the three GOP senators are likely to emerge on Ukraine, when the Senate takes up a Ukraine aid package in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. Paul has expressed opposition to giving more aid to Ukraine because it owes money to Russia.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Ryan’s strength in a potential 2016 run is his domestic fiscal policies, but he has also been vocal in criticizing Obama over Ukraine.

“I think the president was incredibly naive on his Russia policy. His reset has been total failure. I think this is what happens when a superpower projects weakness in its form in defense policy. Aggression fills that vacuum. And I think that’s what happening right now,” Ryan said on Fox News.

Ryan has also made a push for Obama to increase natural gas exports to Ukraine and Europe.

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is no longer in the Obama administration, but she generated a flurry of headlines after comparing Putin’s actions to those of Hitler.

“Now, if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” she said last week at a private event reported by the Long Beach Press Telegram. “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.”

Later in the week, Clinton walked back the remarks, saying that she made the comparison to bring “a little historical perspective” to the claims Putin was making that he was protecting ethnic Russians.

Bonjean suggested Clinton had made the comparison in order to move away from the “reset” with the Russians that Obama pushed for while Clinton was at State.

Vice President Biden

Biden might have the most at stake over the outcome in Crimea when it comes to 2016, as he has played a major role in the administration’s diplomatic efforts.

Biden last week called Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to pull back Russian forces in Crimea, a call that followed Obama’s 90-minute discussion with Putin that failed to make much headway.