In her first real break with the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton criticized some of President Obama’s foreign policy and in the process gave liberals something to think about.
Transcript of Clinton’s interview with The Atlantic:
JG: Do you think we’d be where we are with ISIS right now if the U.S. had done more three years ago to build up a moderate Syrian opposition?
HRC: Well, I don’t know the answer to that. I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.
They were often armed in an indiscriminate way by other forces and we had no skin in the game that really enabled us to prevent this indiscriminate arming.
JG: Is there a chance that President Obama overlearned the lessons of the previous administration? In other words, if the story of the Bush administration is one of overreach, is the story of the Obama administration one of underreach?
HRC: You know, I don’t think you can draw that conclusion. It’s a very key question. How do you calibrate, that’s the key issue. I think we have learned a lot during this period, but then how to apply it going forward will still take a lot of calibration and balancing. But you know, we helped overthrow [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi.
JG: I think that defeating fascism and communism is a pretty big deal.
HRC: That’s how I feel! Maybe this is old-fashioned. Okay, I feel that this might be an old-fashioned idea—but I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.
Great nations need organizing principles, and “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle. It may be a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.
JG: So why do you think the president went out of his way to suggest recently that that this is his foreign policy in a nutshell?
HRC: I think he was trying to communicate to the American people that he’s not going to do something crazy. I’ve sat in too many rooms with 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. I think he is cautious because he knows what he inherited, both the two wars and the economic front, and he has expended a lot of capital and energy trying to pull us out of the hole we’re in.
So I think that that’s a political message. It’s not his worldview, if that makes sense to you.
Hillary Clinton wants to separate herself from President Obama to defend against the charge from Republicans that a Clinton win would be an Obama third term, but one of the things that remains popular with Democrats is the president’s cautious approach to foreign policy entanglements.
It is not surprising that Clinton would have a different view of foreign policy than the president. Whether it is fair or not, the interview may cause some on the left to remember that this is the same Hillary Clinton who for years wouldn’t completely apologize for voting for the Iraq war.
Her remarks are a reminder that Hillary Clinton is going to be a different candidate than President Obama was. Clinton and Obama agreed on 90% of the issues in 2008, but there are some differences. If she wins, Hillary Clinton’s presidency won’t be an Obama third term. In some ways, this will be a good thing.
Former Sec. Clinton’s foreign policy stance does raise questions about whether she understand the depth and degree of distaste for intervention that exists right now. Isolationist tendencies are probably at their strongest point since before World War II. I suspect that President Obama initially underestimated how scarred the American people are by the Bush years, and perhaps Clinton is doing the same.
Hillary Clinton is beginning the process of defining her 2016 candidacy, and it is clear that she intends to go in some different directions than President Obama.