Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at St. Stephen Baptist Church during a campaign stop in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, May 15, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at St. Stephen Baptist Church during a campaign stop in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, May 15, 2016. Andrew Harnik/AP

Is There a Hillary Doctrine?

A conversation with Mark Landler about the foreign-policy differences between Obama and his former secretary of state.

It has seemed to me, for as long as I’ve been watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama make foreign and national-security policy, that the differences in outlook and approach between the two of them are fundamental and dramatic. I would call these differences profound, but I don’t want to be accused of hyperbole. It is not just that Clinton has a bias toward action in the international arena, and that Obama is far more hesitant, far more aware (too aware, in the eyes of critics) of the downside of action; it is that there are basic differences in the way they understand America’s role in the world, and the qualities that make America exceptional. They also differ, to my eye, in their understanding of American indispensability, and of the relationship between power and diplomacy.

The only person I know who spends more time thinking about the dispositional and ideological differences between Obama and Clinton than I do is Mark Landler, the New York Times reporter who has covered the Obama White House and the Clinton State Department and who recently published a book, Alter Egos (its very long and serious subtitle: “Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power”), that explores these differences through the prism, mainly, of the Middle East crises that have consumed the Obama administration. Landler has written an excellent book, the definitive examination to date of, among other things, a president who has tried to extract the U.S. from the Middle East (without much success, it goes almost without saying). Alter Egos is also the most authoritative attempt to explain Obama’s complicated relationship with his first-term secretary of state, a thwarted competitor-turned-staffer who, if she wins the presidency this year, will inherit a world that is in some ways as messy as the one Obama himself inherited from George W. Bush.

Landler and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the differences between Obama and Clinton; he thinks that she will make foreign policy in a more cautious manner than I believe she will. I tend to think, most of the time, at least, that her Libya experience did not diminish her ardor for the arena. On Ukraine and Syria, for instance, she thinks in more overtly interventionist terms than does Obama. In an interview I conducted with Clinton two summers ago (one that drew attention for her implicit criticism of Obama’s unofficial foreign-policy slogan, “Don’t do stupid shit”), she convinced me that she, unlike Obama, has the heart of a Cold Warrior. In what I took to be another shot at Obama, she said, “You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.”

I didn’t have much doubt about the identity of the “we” in her statement. I responded to her assertion by saying something I believe deeply, which is that America, in the last century, saved civilization. I thought, I told Clinton, that, “defeating fascism and communism is a pretty big deal.”

See also: The Obama Doctrine Has No Heir in Hillary Clinton

She responded with unvarnished enthusiasm: “That’s how I feel! Maybe this is old-fashioned. Okay, I feel that this might be an old-fashioned idea, but I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.”

Obama, on the other hand, has a different understanding of indispensability (you can read about Obama’s foreign policy here, if you’re interested). Obama is also too measured, too ambivalent and guarded, to tout America’s achievements in an uncomplicated way. (He will seldom scold another country for its bad behavior without first asserting that the U.S. is far from perfect, and providing examples of America’s imperfections.)

Landler and I, in a recent conversation, discussed his theory of the case, which is that biography, chronology, and geography are destiny. Now you’re intrigued, right? So read on. This is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Let’s just get something out of the way. The Ben Rhodescontroversy. Put aside all the extraneous issues—I don’t think that the administration ever tried to hide the fact, before the election of the ostensibly moderate [President Hassan] Rouhani, that it wanted to do a deal with Iran. Am I wrong?

Mark Landler: This puzzled me. The White House’s efforts to open a channel to Iran through the Omanis before Rouhani’s election were well-known and have been reported on by a number of journalists. In my book, I dig into the earliest roots of the Oman channel because I think it reveals the divergent approaches of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and especially John Kerry toward Iran. Kerry and Obama were more intrigued by the possibility of secret talks; Clinton was more skeptical. If Ben was trying to manufacture a narrative that the Iran diplomacy began with Hassan Rouhani, he wasn’t very successful, at least with me.

Goldberg: Let’s go to Obama and Clinton. I think they are quite different in the way they approach the world. Some people are arguing to you that they’re not different at all. Explain where you come out on this.

Landler: A common argument is that, on the spectrum of American foreign-policy thought, from total dove to total neoconservative, they’re both liberal internationalists. They both believe in rules-based order; they’re both about preserving the post-World War II world that Truman and Acheson and others built. And they sit close to each other on the spectrum. But my argument is that if you look at their instincts and reflexes and the way that they are apt to respond to a crisis, they just come at it very differently, and this is in part because they come from very different places both in terms of time and geography. Obama grew up in the ’70s, and he had this itinerant existence, living in Indonesia for a period—

Goldberg: Looking at America from the outside in—

Landler: Looking at America from outside in, as sort of an expatriate’s view of America—

Goldberg: And Hillary is literally in the middle of America looking out—

Landler: Yes. She’s in the heartland, but also in the 1950s, with a conservative Navy petty officer father. And so she viewed America as a country that was a force for good, that American interventions generally could be a positive rather than a negative thing. And I think Obama was much more skeptical about that.

Goldberg: Dispositionally, is Hillary closer to John McCain or Barack Obama?

Landler: In basic disposition, John McCain. Though in practical terms, given her pragmatism, I think she would govern more cautiously than McCain would govern.

Goldberg: You’ve heard what Obama says about Libya—we tried to do everything right, but it didn’t work, and this informed his decision-making about Syria. She was a hawk on Libya, but do you think there’s a chance it somehow changed her reflexes?

Landler: If you look at the way she’s approached Syria, starting out forward-leaning on aiding the rebels back in 2012 and continuing to favor a no-fly zone today, I would argue that she still believes that Libya could end well—

Goldberg: She thinks that even today?

Landler: Even today, that it could end well. My view on Obama is—and you may or may not agree with this—that he looked at Libya and it confirmed all the preexisting problems he had with interventionism.

Goldberg: He never really wanted to do it.

Landler: He didn’t want to do it, and then he did it, and then it turned out badly, and this confirmed his instincts.

Goldberg: Maybe it turned out badly in part because he never thought that it could work in the first place.

Landler: I think she would argue that our impulse was right, and it was messier than it should have been for a whole variety of reasons, but that it’s still a work in progress and—importantly—it shouldn’t prevent us from doing similar things in different places. And if you look at Syria, I believe she thinks there’s more of a prospect for the U.S. to make a difference on the ground than he does.

Goldberg: So follow this through. January, 2017, let’s say she becomes president. What could change in U.S. Syria policy?

Landler: Well I think that she’s wanted, from the very start, to do something to change the equation on the ground. And President Obama, I think, concluded you couldn’t do enough to change the equation without a major military intervention. I think she will at least explore the possibility of a no-fly zone and creating humanitarian corridors. And I think that she would be willing to substantially expand the level of aid we’re giving to rebel groups [for instance with] MANPADS, and things like that.

Goldberg: In your understanding, she was never convinced of Obama’s argument that if the U.S. gives them MANPADS and then one is used by someone to shoot down an El Al jet—

Landler: I think she worried about that because she was part of the original debate on what kinds of arms should go to the rebels. And at that point everyone agreed that MANPADS were out of the question because of the danger that you talked about. But I just wonder now, faced with a situation that’s just catastrophically worse than it was four years ago, [if] she would be willing to take that extra step. I can’t say I know that. I’m surmising this based on the public statements she’s made. She calls it an intensification and acceleration of Obama’s strategy, but that can take only so many forms.

Goldberg: How has he evolved in his understanding of American interventionism, and how has she evolved? Or has her thinking not evolved? Did they influence each other’s thinking in any way?

Landler: It’s difficult to weigh these because one is the commander-in-chief and the other was a staff member. But if you look at the debates that unfolded over time, she prevailed in the case of Libya and did not prevail in the case of Syria. So he drew some very strong lessons from Libya and could not be swayed when it came to Syria. In her case, I think that, because she’s older and has a longer frame of reference, a lot of the lessons she learned go back much further than his. I think, for example, when she talks about Syria, she can talk about a Kosovo precedent in a much more comfortable way than he does. So he may have evolved more but because he was starting with Iraq, and came in with relatively little experience as a foreign policy practitioner or even thinker, whereas she had already had 15 or 20 years of eyewitness experience with which to work. When she thought about Syria, she didn’t just think about Iraq, she thought a lot about the Balkans. I don’t know how much President Obama thought about the Balkans when he thought about any of the interventions during his presidency.

Goldberg: You quote Jake Sullivan [Clinton’s foreign-policy adviser] toward the end of the book saying that the 2008 Hillary foreign-policy “muscularity” didn’t work for her then, but that [it] would work better now, in this campaign. Do you think that he is right about that? Or is Obama actually in tune with the American people and where they are on matters of foreign engagement more than Hillary? I suspect you highlighted that Jake quote because you probably have your doubts about it.

Landler: Well, I do. And in fact I said in the epilogue that it remains to be seen whether her mood matches the American public or whether her instincts match the American public. Jake was speaking in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. At that moment, there was new polling data out from CNN and from others that showed for the first time in a long time that a majority of Americans favored sending ground troops to Iraq and Syria. And Jake was saying that in that very fraught moment there was a rethinking under way.

Goldberg: But those moments are very ephemeral.

Landler: Yes, these moments are fleeting. The further away you get from any national-security crisis, the more Americans tend to fall back into their preexisting patterns. So I’m not at all persuaded. And furthermore, if you listen carefully to a guy like Trump in that foreign-policy speech he gave recently, I don’t think he’s persuaded. I mean, that speech, for all its contradictions and incoherence, made an interesting point, which was: We’re out of the nation-building business, and I’m not looking to get us into a new war.

Goldberg: Well, he talked as if Obama had been in the nation-building business, which is absurd.

Landler: Which is nonsense. But what I’m saying is: Obama clearly feels that he has his finger on the pulse of where Americans are on this issue. And that’s why he’s serene and doesn’t mind thumbing his nose at the foreign-policy establishment, because he thinks they’re the ones that are out of step, not him.

Goldberg: Do you agree?

Landler: I think that he’s been pretty good at gauging public opinion on this. The interesting larger question that [the dispositionally interventionist historian] Bob Kagan—and I interviewed Bob Kagan for the book—raised is that in 2008 when Obama was elected, this country was living on strategic fumes, that all of the “indispensible nation” rhetoric just no longer appealed to people anymore. And Obama correctly tapped into that. Americans were just exhausted and no longer willing.

Goldberg: The whole, “We’re America, we must do this,” argument no long has much sway.

Landler: I think that’s right. Obama believes America does have to act when vital national interests are in play. But he defines vital national interests much more narrowly than a lot of the foreign-policy establishment. One of the things in my book that I thought was a telling moment was a dinner he had with former officials and foreign-policy experts. They were talking about Ukraine, and Obama asked, “Will someone please tell me what America’s vital national interest is in Ukraine?” And [Brookings Institution President] Strobe Talbott was just sort of slack-jawed. To someone like him, who represents the foreign-policy establishment, the idea that the U.S. wouldn’t immediately rush to the defense of a former Soviet satellite is unthinkable. But Obama was merely pointing out the obvious, which was that our trade with Ukraine is miniscule, and Ukraine means so much more to Putin and Russia than it does to us that Russia would double-down and triple-down on anything we did.  

Goldberg: It’s what he told me—core interests trump peripheral interests, and let’s not make believe otherwise.

Landler: And let’s be willing to walk away.

Goldberg: But would Hillary Clinton ever say that?

Landler: She would never say it out loud. She might say it quietly. But she would also, I think, instinctively, want to do more to prevent that outcome. And that’s why she’s told her friends she would support lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian army. And that is, by the way, a position that many of [Obama’s] advisers also had.

Goldberg: I agree with you that her instincts are more McCainish than Obamaish, but the question is, how constrained will she be—as president—by recent American history, the recent history of American interventions?

Landler: Well, it’s the right question to ask. People love to point out six months into any new presidency—this always happens—the degree of continuity with the preceding president. With President Obama, it was the fact that he liked using drones just as Bush liked using drones. With Clinton, it may turn out that, just as Obama didn’t like messy foreign engagements, we’ll see—six months into her presidency—that she’s not exactly marching into other countries.

Goldberg: Although if she did actually up the ante in Syria, or maybe in a place like Ukraine, it could be interpreted as a decisive break.

Landler: Yes, that could be true. And, again, it’s hard for me to predict because she’s a situationalist, and she’ll weigh each one of these things separately. I don’t think she’ll come in on day one with the idea that we need to rip up the Obama playbook. This is not like Obama coming in after Bush and saying that this is a new era, and we are now mending fences and winding down wars. She’s certainly not going to come in and do that. I wonder, though, whether she will come in with a more energetic pro-engagement vibe than President Obama has had.

Goldberg: Engagement with?

Landler: All kinds of people. I mean, for example, I think she’ll try to have a different relationship with Israel. We can get into that too. It’s in a separate category, though.

Goldberg: Well it’s a separate category because it’s an issue that is a domestic politics [one] as well. My assumption is that, if she becomes president, that in March of 2017 she’s going on what you could call a Stabilization Tour, a 10-capital tour, from Seoul and Tokyo, to Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, and Jerusalem, and—

Landler: And maybe a stop in Kiev, while she’s at it.

Goldberg: Good point. And Warsaw, and Riga, and Paris and London, for that matter. Just to say—here’s my phone number, we’re cool, don’t worry, I’m not going to be criticizing you in public, I’m not going to call you a free rider in public. But that’s an adjustment, a calibration, that’s not a break in doctrine. Is there a Hillary Clinton Doctrine, other than being a situationist?

Landler: I don’t think there’s a clear doctrine, just as there isn’t one with Obama. I thought it was interesting that, in my research, the one time I found evidence that her people were thinking about a Doctrine, a capital-D Doctrine, was in Libya. After the collapse of Qaddafi, there was some talk within her circle about how she was going to get out in front of this and get credit for it. And Jake Sullivan said in an email to her, “We’re writing an op-ed and we should think ambitiously along the lines of a Clinton Doctrine.” And I wondered by that whether he meant a form of aggressive engagement, intervention when necessary, but one that involved working with a wide variety of actors. Because if you remember, the whole hallmark of the Libya policy was, we have the Arab League on board, we have the Europeans on board. And she was the one that put all that together. As secretary of state, she did all those trips, and made all those phone calls, and had all those meetings. So they were giving her, internally, a great deal of credit for the coalition. Libya could have been a big part of her doctrine.

Goldberg: Do you think she resents Obama for losing interest in Libya, and being insufficiently committed? And vice versa, maybe? Do you think Obama resents Hillary and the other people, from Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes to Samantha Power and Gayle Smith, who pushed him into something he didn’t want to do?

Landler: I don’t think there was ever that much evidence that he was very engaged after the NATO operation ended. And frankly, given the ownership that she had over the policy, it was really more up to her to stay engaged. And I ask the question of whether she disengaged. After the initial period, when things looked like they were unfolding in a fairly optimistic way, I always thought it was curious that she had no email contact with Ambassador Stevens. [Chris Stevens was the American ambassador to Libya, who was killed in the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi in September 2012.]

Goldberg: That was very interesting moment in your book. I didn’t realize that she wasn’t in communication with him, given where he was posted.

Landler: I thought that this was curious. So my question is, was she herself somewhat distracted, and had she moved on to the next challenge? If I’m President Obama and I’m looking at this, I’m thinking, “Well, you got me into this, so you should keep bearing down on it.”

Goldberg: She wasn’t talking to Stevens, the ambassador, about Libya, but as you point out in the book, she was talking to someone else quite a bit about Libya, Sidney Blumenthal. Is Sidney Blumenthal going to have a prominent foreign-policy role in her next administration?

Landler: I don’t know if he would have a formal role, but it’s clear to me that a formal title doesn’t matter. If he doesn’t have a formal role, he’ll continue to have the informal role that he had throughout her term as secretary. And that role, it’s clear from looking at the emails that have been released, was extraordinarily wide-ranging. Not just the political advice he was giving her and the bureaucratic advice he was giving her, but the other voices he was bringing to the table.

Goldberg: And he was acting like her intelligence officer for Libya.

Landler: Right, a lot of those Libya emails from Blumenthal were actually drafted by this shadowy CIA guy, Tyler Drumheller, but he wasn’t the only person. Blumenthal would spend a lot of time bringing other voices to her attention, and on other issues that he really cared about.

Goldberg: Well, he would be funneling a constant stream of either anti-Israel, or anti-Netanyahu, commentary. Do you think this means anything about the way she would actually manage this file? I mean, people like us, we make this assumption that she would, to borrow a word, reset relations with Netanyahu, assuming he’s still prime minister. And when I last spoke to her about this general issue, she was sounding very hawkish, more hawkish obviously than Obama. On the other hand, Sidney Blumenthal, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Tom Pickering, they’re sending her this constant stream of pretty hardcore anti-Israel material, so far as we can see from the released emails. Do you think she’d move left on this issue if she became president?

Landler: I think in this case that she’d be more inclined to take her lead from Bill Clinton than from Sidney Blumenthal.

Goldberg: And Haim Saban?

Landler: And Haim Saban, obviously. I do subscribe to the idea that she would see drawing close to Israel, closer to Israel, as a valuable thing to do for a variety of reasons. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that there wouldn’t be more tension, and even antagonism, because she gave an interview recently in which she said that an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians would still be one of her top priorities. And if she’s serious about pursuing that, it’s hard to pursue that full-scale without antagonizing the current Israeli government.

Goldberg: Much of your book is about Middle Eastern catastrophes. But you deal extensively with the pivot to Asia. Do you think that Hillary Clinton will figure out a way —in a way that Obama hasn’t—to put the Middle East in a box, so that she can focus on other things? Do you think she’ll succeed in controlling this, where he has failed?

Landler: The last five or six presidents have failed to put the Middle East in a box. You know, it’s impossible to predict the future, but I have a sinking feeling that the Middle East will occupy the same central position in the next presidency that it did in this one. Just look at the situation on the ground today. The Syrian conflict is likely to get worse before it gets better. With the Iran nuclear deal, will it play a destabilizing role, as the critics believe? Or does it actually right the balance in the region and produce a kind of stability—the cold peace that President Obama hopes for?  

Goldberg: So the question is: Iran in recent weeks has done various provocative things—the incident with the Navyballistic-missile testing, the recalcitrantstatements made by the supreme leader. There’s also a narrative developing that this administration will do anything it can to preserve the letter of the deal, if not the spirit of the deal. Do you think that Hillary will have a new set of policies in place that will mean less tolerance for Iranian shenanigans?

Landler: I think that she’s going to position herself as the enforcer of this deal, and if you go back and look at the role she’s played in Iranian diplomacy throughout, she’s almost always played the bad cop. She’s the one who put together the sanctions coalition.

Goldberg: Do you credit her with doing more work on that than anyone else?

Landler: Yes, I think so. [National Security Advisor] Susan Rice did a lot at the U.N. President Obama did a lot with the Russians. But Hillary was, with the Chinese in particular, critical in putting that together. If you go back to the earliest days of the Iran negotiation, when it was still a secret channel in Oman, Hillary was far more dubious, and much more reluctant to get pulled into it. And it was, in fact, John Kerry and Obama who were really leaning into it. And so I do think she would come in and probably want to put some new programs in place, maybe there would be a willingness to act more swiftly on sanctions against Iran in case of other violations, ballistic missiles, for instance, or in assembling coalition of countries to try to stymie Iran. And I think that unlike President Obama, who, I believe, whatever he said publicly, privately hoped that the deal would be a transformational event, I don’t think she has any illusions about that. I think she assumes that we continue to have this fundamentally antagonistic relationship with Iran.

Goldberg: A counterfactual: If Clinton had stayed on for a second term as secretary of state, would we have an Iran deal now?

Landler: It’s interesting. I didn’t pose that counterfactual question, I ask the question of whether, if Hillary Clinton, had been elected in 2008 instead of Obama, would there have been a deal? And I think that it’s possible to argue that there wouldn’t have been.

One of the interesting things that came out of my reporting is that she would have favored hitting the Iranians with new sanctions after Hassan Rouhani was elected president. This was the Menendez-Kirk legislation, which, if you recall, President Obama maneuvered desperately to prevent the Senate from passing, because his view was that it would blow up the negotiations. I know that Hillary—because she’s told people this—would have favored squeezing them. In the words of one of her aides, “Squeeze them again and see what happens.” Remember, the president was the one pushing the deal, and Hillary Clinton was nothing if not a loyal implementer of her boss’s policy. So if the order on the table was to get this deal done, I think it’s possible she would have gotten it done as secretary of state. The question is whether she would have pursued it as president, and there I have my doubts.

Goldberg: If she becomes president, who do you think would be her most important foreign-policy advisers, and sources of ideas?

Landler: Yes, well, Bill Clinton is number one. And then she’ll have very trusted aides, Jake Sullivan at the top of that list. And then she has this extremely wide, heterodox circle of contacts that she’ll be pulling information from. And that’ll include Bob Kagan, it’ll include Sid Blumenthal, it’ll include Strobe Talbott, it’ll include [former U.S. ambassador to Israel] Martin Indyk. And I think you see some surprising names and faces. Another difference with Obama is that she’s a real sponge for information—like her husband. For her it’s an acquired skill, for her husband it came naturally. I think President Obama was more likely to think through issues himself, and read a lot, as opposed to casting an extremely wide net. I think in her case, she’s more apt to talk to Republicans. I think she’ll consult John McCain. I write a lot about, in this book, about General Jack Keane, who’s a pretty hard line retired four-star general.

Goldberg: She likes the nail-eating generals, like Jim Mattis. These guys are also internationalists, and strong alliance guys. Is she out of step with the mood of the American people, who, I’m told, at least, don’t want to be involved with very much internationally?

Landler: I’m not sure I disagree with you. I mean I don’t think it’s the perfect moment for someone who is as hawkish as I believe she is. But you also have to entertain the dark possibility that there could be a terrorist attack on American soil, and then, overnight, the situation is dramatically transformed.

Goldberg: Well, if that happens, Trump has a very good chance of becoming president, given the national mood. But let’s talk about Trump. In his recent foreign-policy speech, he attacked Obama from the right and Hillary from the left. What would you imagine his line going forward is going to be on Hillary—that she’s a warmonger, or that she’s weak on terrorism, or both at the same time?

Landler: It will probably be some combination.

Goldberg: He’s not bound by the rules of consistency, obviously.

Landler: What interested me about that speech is that there were also echoes of Obama in it. I mean, when he talks about resetting relationships with Russia—okay, well, we tried that once before. And the free-rider thing is very much there, as was the contempt for the foreign-policy establishment. Where did I hear that before? In a Jeff Goldberg interview. I mean, so I think that the odd thing about Trump is, he will attack her from the right and he’ll hang the Iraq War vote around her neck. Here’s the irony—it’s eight years later and a completely different political figure is going to hang Iraq around her neck, a Republican this time, just as Obama did eight years ago. And then, on the things that went wrong over the past eight years, he can just label that an Obama-Clinton policy—whether it went wrong for lack of doing enough or whether it went wrong for acting recklessly and using poor judgment.

Goldberg: This is why one of the most interesting questions to me is where she comes down on the intervention continuum. I guess the basic question about her—and neither of us know this—is, does she still have the “People are dying and we must do something” impulse?

Landler: In the category of formative experiences, I think that Rwanda and the Srebrenica episodes are ones that she remembers vividly, and while she may not subscribe to every tenet of the concept of Responsibility to Protect, that’s where her instincts are going to be.

Goldberg: Going back to what we were first talking about, a signal difference between Obama and Clinton is that she remembers Rwanda and Srebrenica and the First Iraq War, the successful Gulf War, and Obama has no firsthand experience of these events.

Landler: One of the arguments that people have made about Obama is that he sat out the formative experiences for Democrats in which interventions worked well, and as a result his frame of reference is Vietnam and George W. Bush’s Iraq. And in her case, though she came of age during Vietnam, she then saw Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo. That could make for a huge difference in the way you think about intervention. Look, one of the conclusions President Obama drew was that we can’t afford these things, it’s exhausting, and the American people won’t tolerate it anymore. And he had a lot of reason to believe he was right. I mean, he defeated a vastly better-known, better-funded Democratic opponent in part on those grounds, by lashing her to an unpopular war. And then went on to win the general election against a war hero.

Goldberg: It’s interesting, in ordinary times, a candidate who is seen as more robustly anti-Russian should have a fairly easy time convincing the American people of her position. But she might be running against a Republican nominee who is more sympathetic to the current Russian leader than the Democratic nominee. So everything’s upside down.

Landler: If you go back six or eight months, and look at who Hillary’s people thought they might be meeting in a general election, I think they probably figured it would be Marco Rubio, who had neocon ideas but not very much experience. And she would have been able to win that debate fairly easily on qualifications grounds and experience grounds, and this would not have been a difficult debate for her to win.

Goldberg: They were preparing to run against a Republican from the left on this set of questions, and now they are running against a Republican who is himself running against her from the left on foreign-policy and national-security issues.

Landler: From the right and the left, at the same time.

Goldberg: Weird times.

Landler: Yep.