Former President Bill Clinton said he agreed with his wife in an administration squabble three years ago over arming Syrian rebels at the start of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued for arming the unified opposition then, before the Free Syrian Army took a beating and terrorist groups set up shop in the war-torn country.
“I would have taken the chance. I also agree with her when she said we can’t know whether it would have worked or not, and that’s when you have to be careful when you make these commitments because you can’t know,” Clinton told CNN. “But since ISIS has plenty of money, it’s one of the great bank robbers in human history among other things, they were going to get their weapons one way or the other so I would have risked it.”
“And besides, when we were talking about doing it, there was no ISIS,” the former commander in chief added. “However, it was an argument she lost within the administration and she admitted then and acknowledged in her book that she can’t know that if her recommendation had been followed it would have worked. That’s one of those things you can’t know. That’s why all these decisions are hard.”
Clinton called the overall Syria question the “much harder” piece of the puzzle.
“I support giving the forces that we most closely identify with greater capacity to fight ISIS. The whole question about the Syrian government is really academic. Between the Iranians and the Russians and others, they will give them enough money and military capacity to do what they have to do,” he said, referring to Assad’s main avenues of support.
“I think that the worst enemy right now is ISIS, and I don’t think we should be in a position of directly coordinating with or cooperating with Assad, but I think we all recognize what would happen if ISIS had like a monster-like state that included most of Syria and Iraq, and — but I don’t — I think, therefore, that when the president said we’d cooperate with a moderate Syrian forces, they’re the only people we have to try to empower there to do their part in this struggle.”
On the subject of ISIS using beheadings to provoke an American response, Clinton noted “there’s a difference in, for example, using targeted drones and airstrikes as we did against al-Qaeda effectively for years to try to take down their leadership and infrastructure and let them know they can’t just decapitate people for the cheap thrill of the global media response and horrify people and get away with it and getting bogged down in the kind of war they would like us to get bogged down in that would cost us a lot of lives and a lot of treasure and inevitably lead to greater civilian casualties, which is why I think the president’s strategy has a chance of succeeding because the Iraqi government is now more inclusive than it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein.”
“And that seems to be awakening, if you will, the willingness of the Sunni tribal leaders to participate in fighting,” he said. “We know the Kurds and the Peshmerga are willing to fight. If we can help them and support them, I think the larger fight against ISIS can continue as it should as a local struggle for the freedom and liberty of the people.”