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Republicans Hope Blame for Paris Attacks Sticks to Clinton

Clinton has tried to put distance between her Syria policies and Obama, but Republicans say that will be a tough task. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans see a tangible consequence of President Barack Obama's foreign policy in the terror attacks in Paris and want to tie their likely opponent for the White House to it.  

While former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has tried to distance herself from the Obama administration's policy in  Syria, Republicans are counting on the perception that Clinton shares blame, having served as the face of U.S. foreign policy from 2009 until 2013.  

"Like it or not, however much Hillary tries to balance this line, voters are going to affiliate her with her last role, which was [in] the Obama administration," said Robbie Gramer, assistant director of the Atlantic Council — a nonpartisan foreign affairs think tank. "So in the sense of the voters, you could see how the mess in Syria, part of the blame would fall on her shoulders."  

Clinton has consistently tried to point out the differences between her views and the administration's positions on fighting Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, in Syria as she launched her presidential campaign.  

She was pretty explicit during the Nov. 14 Democratic debate hosted by CBS News, disagreeing with her former boss, who had two days earlier said ISIS had been "contained."

"We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained; it must be defeated," Clinton said.

Clinton has also said she supports a no-fly zone over the country, while Obama does not. And in her memoir "Hard Choices," published in 2014 before Clinton was an official candidate for president, Clinton says the "failure" to train the Syrian rebels to fight against Islamist extremists helped stoke the rise of ISIS.  

Republicans, who view Clinton as their almost certain opponent, say Clinton will have a hard time distancing herself from Obama's policies — which she needs to do in a general election — without alienating her from Democratic primary voters, who have a favorable view of the president.  

"She was very active as secretary of state. She was highly visible, she was rhetorical, she traveled more than any of her predecessors, but her actual accomplishments are hard to define," said Robert J. Lieber, a professor focusing on U.S. foreign policy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. "But [Republicans] will pick up the cons, and I think logically they will use these things to be critical of her."  

Yet whether national security will be the top issue on voters' minds in November 2016 depends on whether there are more terror attacks between now and then, GOP operatives and national security experts say.  

And with the race for the GOP presidential nod still unsettled, it's too early to say whether the eventual Republican nominee's foreign policy might also prove controversial. Yet the field has been near-universal in calling for tougher action against ISIS and criticizing Obama for not having done so.

The argument against arming the rebels was not that the Islamic State should be left alone, but that there were few moderates engaged in the armed opposition to Bashar Assad, and that it was too hard to tell which of them could be counted on not to turn American weapons against us later.

In the meantime, Clinton allies say they are prepared for the onslaught of attacks headed their way.  

"We fully anticipate Republicans to attack Hillary Clinton for everything under the sun just as they've been doing the entire campaign," said Justin Barasky, communications director for Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that will help defend Clinton against the GOP ad war.  

"As Hillary said, this is about defeating ISIS, and for all the overheated rhetoric we've heard not a single Republican candidate has put forward a comprehensive plan about how to do that," Barasky added. "Listening to the GOP field it's clear that no one brings more experience to the table than Hillary Clinton when it comes to keeping America safe.  

Related: What the Presidential Contenders Are Saying About the Paris Attacks Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.