- - Thursday, August 14, 2014

The guests at Ann Jordan’s 80th birthday party at the Farm Neck Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard hadn’t felt such exquisite anticipation, when Hillary Clinton arrived to join guests including President Obama, since the junior-high sock hop, where the boys sheepishly congregated on one side of the gym and the girls on the other, everyone waiting for someone to break the ice.

Everyone wanted to see the president and Hillary “hugging it out” after Hillary’s rebuke of the president for his mishandling of crises in Syria, Iraq and other celebrated places. With her poll numbers declining — though not nearly as sharply as the president’s — she is eager to put a little distance between them in the public eye. She had been blunt in her criticism, as if, at this point, it makes a lot of difference. From all accounts, the notoriously thin-skinned Mr. Obama was particularly incensed by Mrs. Clinton’s criticism of his simplistic foreign-policy doctrine, one better suited for a fortune cookie: “Don’t do stupid [stuff],” “stuff” being the family-friendly version.

“Great nations need organizing principles,” Mrs. Clinton told Atlantic interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg. “‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Mr. Obama fired back at Mrs. Clinton’s criticism with another earthy epithet, “Horse manure!” (This version, too, is thought to have gone through the White House sanitizer.) Obama consigliere David Axelrod piled on, citing the war in Iraq as the “stupid stuff,” a not-so-thinly-veiled criticism of Mrs. Clinton for having voted as a senator to authorize the use of force there.

That Mrs. Clinton would seek arm’s length (or greater) distance from the president’s disastrous foreign policies is widely seen as confirming what everybody knows, that she is plotting a return to the White House in 2016. Like many Democratic members of Congress seeking re-election this fall, she is running as far and as wide as she can from Mr. Obama. It’s a delicate balancing act, because she can’t be too critical lest she alienate the president’s far-left “non-interventionist” (aka anti-war) friends, one of the Democratic Party’s most fervent constituencies, and more importantly, campaign donors.

Late in the interview she remembered that, and as if an afterthought, Mrs. Clinton heaped praise on the president. “He’s thoughtful, he’s incredibly smart, and able to analyze a lot of different factors that are all moving at the same time,” she said. That apparently wasn’t enough.

Mrs. Clinton’s criticism of the president’s foreign policies — over which she presided as secretary of state for four years — should fool no one coming from someone who continues to insist that the “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, which she praised at a bungled photo-op in 2009, has been a success. “The reset worked,” she told National Public Radio recently. It certainly has, from the perspective of Vladimir Putin. From hers, not so much.

Mrs. Clinton has little to show for her four years as secretary of state other than 956,733 frequent-flier miles and the stamp of 112 countries on her passport. As such, her criticism of Mr. Obama should be seen for what it is, nothing more than a transparent attempt to serve her own White House ambitions. She’s desperate to separate herself from a president who has been upside-down for months in Gallup’s daily job-approval tracking polls. Who would hug that?