White House pushes back at Bill Clinton over Syria
June 13th, 2013
04:01 PM ET
2 years ago

White House pushes back at Bill Clinton over Syria

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama - said to be weighing whether or not to send lethal weapons to Syrian rebels - will not decide on further American involvement in the country's civil war with his critics' opinions in mind, the White House said Thursday.

The pushback came as a response to comments made by former President Bill Clinton, who on Wednesday said he agreed with Republican Sen. John McCain's calls for a greater U.S. role in assisting Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

"The president makes a decision about the implementation of national security options based on our national security interests, not on, you know, what might satisfy critics at any given moment about a policy," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, adding that Obama and his aides were currently studying the option of providing arms to Syrian rebels.

Speaking at an event alongside McCain Wednesday, Clinton said he was inclined to support the Arizona Republican's stance that more U.S. resources need to be sent to Syria, including lethal aid.

"Some people say, 'Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!' I think that's a big mistake. I agree with you about this," Clinton said, referring to McCain, who visited with rebel commanders in Syria earlier this month. Upon his return, McCain renewed his calls for lethal U.S. aid to Syria, and for establishing "safe zones" for Syria's rebels and taking out the regime's air assets.

Clinton's wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly pushed for a greater U.S. role in Syria during her tenure as top diplomat, but opposing viewpoints eventually outweighed that stance.

The two-year old conflict has claimed over 92,000 lives, the United Nations announced Thursday, and recent gains by Assad's fighters have prompted the Obama administration to reassess its response to the crisis. Until now, America has provided only non-lethal aid like food, medicine and armor to the Syrian opposition.

Clinton, whose comments were reported by Politico and later confirmed to CNN by a person present at the event, said Wednesday that he would stop short of sending American soldiers to Syria, but that some American intervention is required to prevent outside forces like Hezbollah from getting a foothold in the region.

"Should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they're supported by a majority of the people, to prevail?" Clinton asked.

Comparing the decision Obama faces to his own experience with conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton said it was a mistake to adhere too closely to public opinion polls.

"What the American people are saying when they tell you not to do these things, they're not telling you not to do these things," Clinton said, according to Politico. "They hire you to win … to look around the corner and see down the road."

A recent poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal shows only a small portion of Americans – 11% - supports arming the Syrian opposition. Fifteen percent backed U.S. military action, while a plurality – 42% - supported humanitarian assistance only.

Carney, noting Thursday that Obama "welcomes" Clinton's input, said a decision on further aid to Syria would come after a host of issues are weighed.

"What does factor in is what's in the national security interests of the United States and what has the best chance of working," Carney said. "Not satisfying an urge to do something today, but beyond today, and next week, and the following week, what actually has the potential to help us bring closer - bring us closer to the achievement of the goal."


Filed under: Bill Clinton • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. just sayin

    yeah.... everybody wants to distance themselves from obama on just about everything these days. problem is that hillary and obama are now tied together forever by their benghazi fiasco.

    June 13, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  2. Peoples State of Illinois

    Two of the most lying presidents in history. Yeah I know, all politicians lie, but these two are the worst liers, but the best at doing it. You can tell by how many worshippers they have, all of which buy into their lies.

    June 13, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    just sayin

    yeah.... everybody wants to distance themselves from obama on just about everything these days. problem is that hillary and obama are now tied together forever by their benghazi fiasco.
    --------------–
    No, Bill Clinton is having flashbacks to his own presidency when he failed to do anything in Somalia and Rwanda. Both countries turned into the worst humanitarian disasters that have ever seen in the modern age.

    Syria is a completely different can of worms, though. There are multiple factions of "rebels", each of which has a different agenda. There is the underlying religious power struggle among different factions of Islam. And that's before you get to the Russians and their military interests invested into the Assad regime.

    Besides, McCain went to Syria and posed for pictures with apparent terrorists. I guess Bill didn't get the memo.

    June 13, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  4. talldarkfree

    just sayin....

    What in the heck does Syria have to do with Benghazi and Hillary Clinton? Please, send YOUR SON or DAUGHTER there to fight, then come back after you bury them and tell me who's got better brains.....McCain or Obama?

    June 13, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Al Queda is part of the rebel force. Just because MCain went over there doesn't mean he's vetted every rebel. Arming the rebels is a bad move. They'll turn around and end up using those weapons against Americans. Patience is a virtue and we should watch this play out.

    June 13, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  6. sonny chapman

    Syria ain't Kosovo and Saddam Hussein wasn't Hitler.Those who try to make comparisons end up with a broken square peg that wouldn't fit into a round hole. Sloppy thinking Bill.

    June 13, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  7. Lynne Buchanan

    Obama hasn't figured out to tie his decision to a threat against Republicans - when he gets a good quid pro quo idea, he'll decide about sending arms to Syria.

    June 13, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. it must be said

    Rumor has it Bill Clinton despises Obama. Ever since Obama's campaign played the race card on Bill Clinton, he hated them. Then it is said Obama promised to endorse Hillary as his successor if Billy Boy gave the Convention Key Note address, but has since reneged. Yeah, there is no love lost between these two. Bill Clinton has gotten knifed right in the back several times by this Chicago gangster, or as he refers to him, the Amatuer.

    June 13, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Actually, little brain burst, President Obama is distancing himself from the onlookers and the wannabe quarterbacks.

    June 13, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  10. Hans

    Obama is still sitting on the side line while thousand of Syrians get killed. Has Israel not given the USA, whom they control, the green light to send weapons? In the beginning of the Civil War, a strong support for the Syrian Opposition would of quickly even the Playing Field but most likely Israel wants good weapons just for themselves. Israel likes to stick there nose in just about everything including Egypt' s Submarine Deal with the Germans. Why are the Jews drying hard so that many dislike them? For them it s always about "me me" which will always backfire.

    June 13, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  11. The Real Tom Paine

    -just askin

    maybe some lefty can answer this very simple question?

    why do you all support every single gun control law you can think of and yet not support any restrictions on the murder of innocent babies, aka abortion???

    so you claim you want to save lives with gun control, yet support the taking of many many lives with abortion.

    do you not see the complete contradiction in your beliefs?

    have you ever seen a baby? held a baby? do you think that thin skin covering of a woman's abdomen changes the fact that it is a human being???
    ********************
    First off, being the father of 2 children, including one with special needs, makes me more than qualified to say I have held a child. Second, as a self-proclaimed proponant of defending life before conception, how can you declare open-season on children once they are born? Do the righties only see them as targets for their rage, which they declare by enacting and supporting policies that serve to make the lives of millions of children in the wealthiest country a living hell? Why does your responsibility to your fellow human beings end once they are born? Is it because you see them as competition, or is it the way in which they are brought up that makes you indifferent to their lives and their deaths? People claim the right of self-defense as a conscious choice, yet people also use that right to romanticise devices which kill: why are you in love with defending violant deaths and the machinery of death? No one on the pro-choice side of the debate celebrates the means by which abortions are performed, but we are prepared to assume responsibility for those decisions. The right, by contrast, does nothing to assist children, choosing instead to only use them as props in an idealized defense of the family that only existed on old TV programs and in the feverish minds of deluded people. Real life-decisions are rarely clear-cut and never without consequences: we choose instead to leave the those decisions to individuals, rather that denying them the right to decide. Is it easy? No. Are you prepared to deal with the consequences of what you propose? I doubt it. Is there a contradiction in what you believe? Absolutely, when you don't even want to discuss the ramifications of what you demand.

    June 13, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Just because MCain went over there doesn't mean he's vetted every rebel.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Whatever happenned to those kidnappers he took pictures with?!
    LOL!

    June 13, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "funny... i don't see a lot of hispanics out there demonstrating for gay rights. this looks like the democrats way of killing the bill and trying to blame it on others. playing off the hispanics, against the gays, against the republicans. yes, the democrat party, the party of divisiveness no matter how you cut it."

    Wow, you're stupid. None of the nefarious liberal plot you've hallucinated for yourself would ever even work unless the GOP/Teatrolls could be counted on to reliably hate gay people and hispanics.

    Your move, genius.

    June 13, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  14. California Gary

    I'm glad the POTUS is being cautious about arming the rebels......let's not forget that we armed the rebels in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians and that came back to bite us......one of those rebels was a fella by the name of Osama........he and his people used those same arms against us as you may recall. There are serious concerns about the make up of these rebels and whether or not it would be in our best interest to arm them. We may eventually do that........but it's not a quick or easy decision.

    June 13, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. California Gary

    Wow Tom Paine.......well said my friend, well said!

    June 13, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "why do you all support every single gun control law you can think of"

    We don't. Your straw man is base on a faulty premise.

    " and yet not support any restrictions on the murder of innocent babies, aka abortion???"

    We do. In fact, Roe v. Wade itself contains quite the eloquent explanation of the restrictions. Again, your straw man has a faulty premise.

    June 13, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  17. Wilson

    We should stay the heck out of Syria. Look at the mess we made in Egypt and Libya.

    June 13, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    Tip o' the hat, Tom Paine.

    June 13, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "We should stay the heck out of Syria. Look at the mess we made in Egypt and Libya."

    Or Afghanistan, where Reagan armed the Taliban in the 1980's so they'd help us push the USSR out of their country.

    June 13, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  20. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    California Gary
    I'm glad the POTUS is being cautious about arming the rebels......let's not forget that we armed the rebels in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians and that came back to bite us......one of those rebels was a fella by the name of Osama........he and his people used those same arms against us as you may recall. There are serious concerns about the make up of these rebels and whether or not it would be in our best interest to arm them. We may eventually do that........but it's not a quick or easy decision.
    ---------------------------------------------
    My thoughts exactly!!

    June 13, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  21. Laverne

    Look opinions are like _ _ _ holes, everybody has one! Sure Bill and Obama has had bad blood in the past over politics, but then again that is what politicians do, disagree and strategize about what is in their own best interest. McCain continues to try and insert himself in places he has no power and very little influence. Maybe if he wasn't such a hater he could have Obama ear just a little more. Obama is president and gets to make the call, Clinton use to be president and didn't make the call and McCain will never be president therefore will never make the call, so there, you have it!!

    June 13, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    California Gary

    Wow Tom Paine.......well said my friend, well said!
    -------------------------------------------------
    I'll co-sign that!
    Very well said indeed.

    June 13, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  23. JustAO

    What ever keeps the military industrial complex open for business,,,McCain is in. What else does he do for this country then to promote wars over in N. Africa or Middle East? It's not like he knows how to author policies that affect our economy or getting more Americans back to work with decent living wages.

    Clinton should know a thing about making sure weapons keep flowing over there, but as long as NATO insists. 'Desert Fox' anyone remember?

    June 13, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  24. The Elephant in the Room

    This is partially the media trying to stir up trouble AND Bill Clinton`s penchant for still trying to live in the Oval Office through Barack – the following Democratic president. Bill nned`s to learn to hush up sometimes; at least until November 2016 . . . AFTER Barack has thrown his full support and resources behind getting the Democratic nomineee [quite possibly Hiliary] elected. Mr. Obama has his own strong following within the party [separate from Bill] and Bubba best plays this hand by doing a Bush #43 and keeping quiet.

    June 13, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  25. Dick Smegma

    Any more Redlines, Oby?
    The world reeeeeaaally sweats you, doesn't it?

    June 13, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
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