How desperate is Hillary Clinton to separate herself from her former boss?
Clinton told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that it’s President Obama’s fault that ISIS arose in Syria. She also belittled his oft-quoted foreign policy philosophy, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”
Key foreign policy decisions under President Obama have allowed Islamic terrorists to gain a better footing in the Middle East, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week.
Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential contender, told The Atlantic in an interview published Sunday that the failure to build up Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
Some have criticized Obama for not helping Syrian rebels early on in the rebellion in order to combat al Qaeda-inspired terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has since taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“It is striking, however, that you have more than 170,000 people dead in Syria. You have the vacuum that has been created by the relentless assault by Assad on his own population, an assault that has bred these extremist groups, the most well-known of which, ISIS—or ISIL—is now literally expanding its territory inside Syria and inside Iraq,” Clinton said.
On nuclear talks with Iran, which Obama has approached carefully, Clinton said “it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran,” adding, “little or no enrichment has always been my position.”
The U.S. has hoped to punish Russia with sanctions, but Clinton compared President Vladimir Putin’s push for resurgent nationalism to “jihadi Islam.”
“You have Russia massing battalions—Russia, that actually annexed and is occupying part of a UN member state—and I fear that it will do even more to prevent the incremental success of the Ukrainian government to take back its own territory, other than Crimea,” she said.
She also highlighted the foreign policy work of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and herself in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Clinton said Obama’s political message on foreign policy may be different from his worldview, noting, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Did Obama’s minimalist response to the civil war in Syria really contribute to the rise of ISIS? Far be it for me to defend the president, but I think Clinton is off-base. ISIS, or something like it, was bound to arise in the hothouse atmosphere of a sectarian civil war. The bloodier and more intense the fighting got, the more extreme sorts of warriors and groups were thrown up to meet it.
Also, the only way the rebels can win is if we give them weapons that would allow them to match President Assad’s forces on the battlefield. We’re not going to give potential enemies — even “secular” Syrians” — anti-aircraft missiles, armor, or other heavy weapons that they could turn around and use on our friends after the war is over. In that sense, President Obama was correct in resisting pleas from the Gulf states and the rebels for heavier weapons. And it’s unlikely that even if we had, ISIS would not have arisen.
But Clinton is right about the president’s philosophy. “Don’t do stupid stuff” invites timidity and indecision. It leads to weakness and half measures that sometimes make a situation worse. No one is saying that President Obama should run off half-cocked. But sometimes taking a risk is its own reward. We don’t pay the president to sit in the Big Chair, cross his fingers, and hope for the best. Risk comes with the job, and risking further involvement in Iraq to save the Yazidis or help the Kurds push ISIS out of their territory seems a chance worth taking.