August 10th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
4 months ago

Hillary Clinton splits with Obama on foreign policy

(CNN) – Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama's first secretary of state, dramatically distanced herself from the President's approach to foreign policy in an interview published Sunday.

"Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle," Clinton told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, knocking the Obama administration's foreign policy.

Faced with a second term dominated by foreign policy issues - namely the rise of extremism in Iraq, conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the increasing aggression of Russia - Obama has taken to describing his foreign policy doctrine as "Don't do stupid stuff."

Although Clinton added that Obama was "trying to communicate to the American people that he’s not going to do something crazy" with the refrain, Goldberg writes that Clinton "repeatedly suggested that the U.S. sometimes appears to be withdrawing from the world stage" during the interview conducted earlier this week.

Clinton added, “I think that that’s a political message. It’s not his worldview,” telling Goldberg, “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.”

Since releasing her new memoir in June, Clinton has slowly taken steps away from her former boss’s positions. The tactic appears to be intentional: Obama's poll numbers are slipping and Clinton, who is widely considered the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, needs to separate herself from the negative numbers.

The first split with Obama came during the Syria chapter of her book "Hard Choices," where Clinton articulates that she and the President disagreed on how to handle the "wicked problem" of arming Syrian rebels.

The “risks of both action and inaction were high. Both choices would bring unintended consequences. The President's inclination was to stay the present course and not take the significant further step of arming rebels," she wrote. "No one likes to lose a debate, including me. But this was the President's call and I respected his deliberations and decision."

In her interview with The Atlantic, Clinton went further than she does in her book and called the inaction in Syria a "failure."

"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," Clinton said.

During her time as secretary of state, Clinton advocated arming and vetting rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama, however, disagreed early in the conflict and the United States began arming the rebels in September 2013, after Clinton had left the State Department.

During the interview with The Atlantic, Clinton appears to put herself in between Obama and former President George W. Bush on military intervention.

"You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” Clinton said. “One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days."

In July, a top White House aide said he didn't think Clinton was “trying to distance herself" from Obama.

Dan Pfeiffer, a longtime Obama aide and senior adviser, said the White House doesn't "assume that the Secretary Clinton or anyone else must agree 100% with the president on every single decision that he has ever made."

According to a White House official, people close to Clinton gave Obama aides a heads-up about the interview.

The official went on to say that the White House is not getting amped up over Clinton's interview. They don't see this as her break-away moment, according to the source, though they anticipate she will move away from Obama over time.

In addition to her breaking with Obama in her memoir, Clinton has used the book tour to draw more stark divisions.

"Every party in the White House has the responsibility during the time it’s there to do the best we can, to lead and manage the many problems we face. And I think we did that in the first term," Clinton said last month in an interview with NPR. The answer, notably, did not include all of Obama's presidency in the answer.

On working and partnering with Obama in Iraq - something that was floated by the Obama administration - Clinton said in July that she was "not prepared" to work with Iran.

"I am not prepared to say that we go in with Iran right now, until we have a better idea what we're getting ourselves into," Clinton said during a CNN town hall.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

soundoff (213 Responses)
  1. Johnson

    Clinton will turn seventy in her first year of office. They need to disconnect the wires from the Button to the Silos in case she goes demented quickly.

    August 10, 2014 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  2. pachyderm

    a genius of a lady

    August 10, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  3. Eagle0841

    She can run but she cannot hide. She owns the policy. If she could not sell Obama, if she really disagreed, then what does that say about her leadership? So is she a poor leader or just a "yes" person? Neither is very attractive!

    August 10, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  4. liberal disease

    What foreign policy?

    August 10, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  5. kenman14

    Good grief, this old ideologue can't even distance herself effectively, if she STILL thinks Obama is bright and able to handle multiple issues, which the current domestic and international chaos resoundingly disproves!!

    What a surprise that this old wannabe czar in a pantsuit is rearing her old head at the very moment that the Party is saying everyone should rally around the king; she is about as predictable and incompetent as any liberal mindlessly ordained to be the next Democrat disaster!

    August 10, 2014 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  6. dave

    I generally don't agree with any administration foreign policy, or war policy. They seem to be practicing some form of chivalry, where as we have to only match the forces we are up against. Like the enemy now is 20K strong, so we can only put 20K in, which is kinda ridiculous, when you consider the size of our military, larger than all other militaries combined, and the amount of money we spend on the military, trillions, make our taxes huge. We practice the chivalry, and get our tails whipped, holding back troops, and holding back huge stashes of armaments, including nuclear. We would sacrifice 60K lives before we would nuke them into the next world. Same as in other wars, thousands just sacrificed, when all along we had huge fire power we were holding back. No ground troops should be committed until nukes are used. If they are not going to use the fire power we provide for them with the huge taxes, they should get rid of all the huge stashes of arms, and thereby reduce taxes significantly. If they want to practice chivalry, do it in campaigns, they can only match the amount of money of their opponents. Dont' use Ameircan lives to prove how chivalrous you are, don't use American jobs to aid your foreign policy, like in the cases of trade and immigration reform. It's not at all chivalrous, or charitable when you use other people's taxes and jobs to prove how much chivalry you have or how generous you are. If you like to help poor people, there are plenty of charities set up for that, they are not exactly sending money back because they have too many donations.

    August 10, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  7. Michael Powers

    Can you imagine the gaffs she is going to make when she actually runs for President. Cant wait!!!

    August 10, 2014 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  8. Dark Poet

    Hmmm 1998 Clinton "We need to remove Sadam."

    2002 Clinton " We must remove Sadam"

    2006 Clinton "It was Bush's fault!"

    August 10, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  9. Bob MacKay

    We are usually Democrat, but NO WAY will we vote for Hillary Clinton. We would vote for a Republican, if Dems nominate Clinton. All she does is kiss Israel's butt (why???) , and she stands for nothing, except same old, same old. She is not at all progressive, and she just says whatever she thinks most people want to hear. Usually a lot of doublespeak. That is NOT a leader, and God knows we need a leader right now. CALLING MITT ROMNEY!!!...And Mitt, just distance yourself from the right wing Tea Party Nazis... appeal to the MODERATES (both Repubs and Dems), and this time you will walk in!

    August 10, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  10. Eardley Ham Woodbury, MN

    Neither one of them know squat about foreign policy.

    August 10, 2014 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  11. BLUE

    I'm with President Obama all the way. He checks and checks each detail before he foolishly sends our troops in. He is no Bush or Clinton. If she keeps downing our President, she will not get my vote.

    August 10, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  12. Smitty

    @Tony yes dems have, please read a few history books so you can post with a little knowledge

    August 10, 2014 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  13. Kevin

    Hillary, *you* are the one who negotiated the vast majority of his foreign policy. It's literally what your job was.

    Maybe "don't do stupid stuff" is some advice you could've taken to heart in this interview? Because you're effectively condemning yourself, ya idjit.

    August 10, 2014 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  14. blakenaustin

    Obama and Hillary are still blaming Bush43 rather than taking responsibility for the choices they have made. Hillary has zero credibility after Benghazi. And like Obama, she is a compulsive liar. How in the world do the majority of Democrats believe that she is presidentail material?

    August 10, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Hillary Clinton will be our next president.

    August 10, 2014 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  16. xrayd

    One of her "Hard choices" which are her explanations of her failures and lack of understanding in hindsight. She and her husband excel at this. Just look at her records realistically. From the "reset" to Russia to "pivot" to Asia. Of course, she will claim she was pursuing Obama's agenda (as if his lawyer-like 'be prosecutor and defense at the same time' approach to life is a policy tool).

    What has Hillary accomplished other than making "speeches" (a sin of Obama's in her own words) before NGOs extolling others how to improve and change the world to make it a better place because of her office?

    She and her husband (who were "broke" when they left the White house, are worth more than a $100 million dollars, and presumably preparing for another Clinton to be president some day.

    American politics today is about non-sense and chaos, with no leadership, visions, or competence in sight. Even the bread and circus is no longer real – it is all digital "social media" tit for tat. Exceptional!

    We get the government we deserve, and the government gets the population it can manage with 1984 language and methods, so that those in power, or with influence (money), can get what they want instead of serving "we the people" and ignore why they are elected.

    I am investing if fiddles, because they are being played by politicians everywhere. Thank you for the tip, Nero!
    1 • Edit• Reply•Share ›

    August 10, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  17. Patrick

    She just handed the nomination over to Joe Biden. Whether he wins the presidency or not is another issue. Since Joe Biden will be in lockstep with everything the President has done, he will be in a good position to defend it, and make the Democratic and Liberal base happy by defending the President's policies, which most of them support. By pulling away from whatever the Obama policy or doctrine is and criticizing them, Hillary is giving ammunition to the President's political enemies who have been working hard to destroy him and his presidency. Dems will not take that lightly at all.

    August 10, 2014 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  18. bevmccar@gmail.com

    I am not in the least surprised at this. I have always guessed that she and her husband would throw President Obama under the bus the first chance they get. I am sure there is more to come. This is just a tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned!

    August 10, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  19. Gus

    Obama is doing his damnedest trying to keep us from getting sucked into another wasted war. Those of you who want to start bombing should ask yourselves what then do we do when one of our pilots is shot down and captured.

    August 10, 2014 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  20. brown

    Clinton IS the next foreign policy disaster

    August 10, 2014 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  21. Daniel

    Why is Clinton even being discussed? I thought she was a broke private citizen, why do we care what she thinks?

    August 10, 2014 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  22. Daniel

    Tony, yes they have, they voted for the Iraq war as well... Why are you libs so clueless?

    August 10, 2014 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  23. Keith

    Now that the policy is a complete failure, she wants nothing to do with it? Own your mess, Hillary.

    August 10, 2014 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  24. Lily

    Someone needs to tell Hillary to stop all interviews or being too much exposed, otherwise once again she will meet what she met in 2008 and destroy her dreams and Dems being put all eggs in one basket. What administration was she working with if not The Obama Administration? Was she excluded because she had another title of former first lady? The all worked together as ONE TEAM. Slowly, slowly am starting to lose hope of this woman.

    August 10, 2014 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  25. lex

    What a politician. Positioning is everything. She participated in a Obama's disastrous get out of Iraq policy and has been silent about Syria. I guess she is now implementing her exit plan to distance herself from the Obama disaster.

    Between her and Obama, they don't give a damn how many of the "other guys" get killed, even if its genocide.

    Sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost. Let's hope not too many Americans get killed. But don't be surprised. ISIS is despicable and brutal. But at least so far they are not idiots.

    August 10, 2014 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
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