Without knowing that she was being recorded, Hillary Clinton told a recent gathering that when Russian leader Vladimir Putin "looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is, by its very nature, part of Mother Russia." Her remarks come perilously close to justifying Putin's behavior.
More of concern, they also echo the very justifications the Munich-era appeasers cited for not responding to Hitler's incursions into Austria and the Sudetenland.
In the 1930s, it was common for advocates of appeasement toward Nazi Germany to describe Hitler's ambitions to annex Austria and Czechoslovakia as merely an attempt to unite all Germans under one roof. When Hitler occupied the Rhineland, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said he was just "marching into his own backyard."
In attributing to Putin the same logic that Hitler used -- the desire to "protect my people," Hillary is echoing the appeaser's rationale for muting their response to Nazi aggression 80 years ago.
Putin does, indeed, cite the concentration of ethnic Russians in all of the former Soviet Republics to justify his intervention in their affairs. These Russians live there, largely, because former Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin ordered them to move there to establish a Russian ethnic presence in these conquered territories and to weaken the centrifugal forces of nationalism.
Hitler's foreign Germans largely lived in other lands as a result of the division of territory after World War I in the Treaty of Versailles. The three million ethnic Germans who lived then in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia formed the basis for his demands to take over the territory.
In this case, too, Putin is using the justification of taking care of his people to explain his invasion of the Crimea and his threats of invasion of the Ukraine.
But only Hillary is buying it.
Her comparison of Hitler's transparently fraudulent characterization of his motivations in the '30s with Putin's today was not to demean Putin's, but rather to offer it some context and explanation, just one step short of a justification.
Putin could care less about the ethnic Russians in Ukraine, just like Hitler did not care about the ethnic Germans living abroad. Each used them as an excuse for territorial acquisition and aggression.
It's too bad that Hillary chose to repeat this rationale for aggression in this context.
Her embrace of Putin's rationale -- or at least her citing it without refutation -- illustrates her naivete when it comes to the Russian leader.
The only thing Putin is looking to "reset" is the territorial boundary of Russia. Hillary didn't see through him then, and she doesn't quite get it now.