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. lex

    What a despicable politician.

    August 10, 2014 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  2. GTS58

    Ahhh – the lovebirds are quarreling – such a shame!

    August 11, 2014 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  3. Wes

    hillary is a disaster.

    August 11, 2014 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  4. doomsdayZen

    Obama's failed foreign policy makes me wish Hilary had won in 2008.

    August 11, 2014 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  5. wilbodave

    She's obviously trying to distance herself from his administration in preparation for a run for the White House. I'm a registered Democrat, and I doubt I'll vote for her if she runs. I think Obama has been an okay president; not great, not horrible, but I think Hillary would not be near the president that Obama has been.

    August 11, 2014 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  6. reality please

    Clinton the backstabber. I am not a fan of the president. In fact I am not even a demoncrat. But this Clinton. The woman can talk out of both sides of her mouth. Hawkishness and dishonesty, not a good combination in POTUS.

    August 11, 2014 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  7. Dr. Don

    Unfortunately Mr. Obama has no foreign policy... He seems to go from crisis to crisis with no proactive plans in place. I think HC would not suffer from that deficit. It is time for a woman president...

    August 11, 2014 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  8. Marcus (from...?)

    Trooth – "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports...'

    And that's all you need to know.
    She received reports and believed in them.
    And she was lied to by the former POTUS' administration and thus gave the vote(s) she wouldn't have given IF she hadn't been lied to,
    Lame, very lame try!

    August 11, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  9. Ed Anderson

    I used to think that Obama has no clue, now I can tell both Obama, and Clinton are clueless

    August 11, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  10. Correct Person

    Obama has the correct foreign policy as far as I am concerned, with regards to Israel.

    We should stop all funding to Israel and cease vetoing things in the UN that are against Israel – Netanyahu needs to be before the Hague for what he has done, along with his predecessors.

    August 11, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  11. Miguel

    No Mrs Clinton you were right there with Obama getting your news on CNN just like him and helping craft his failed foreign policy.

    August 11, 2014 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  12. iceload

    Like any well drilled politician Hillary is starting her scorched earth plan to distance herself from Obama. I guess all she did as sec of state ended 10 minutes after leaving the office. Which is sadly the truth of it.

    August 11, 2014 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  13. mike

    And the dam just broke...

    August 11, 2014 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  14. Mr. Balls

    By all means borrow billions more to prop up corporate America who would like nothing better than to see Obama fail.

    August 11, 2014 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  15. Raymond Heskett

    wow! ok! Infighting?

    August 11, 2014 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  16. Raymond Heskett

    Bill cheats..she goes Barack..then goes back...she is tickled...Is Pelosi drinking the same tea?

    August 11, 2014 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  17. GD

    I love how she's trying to rewrite history. The first four years with Hillary as Secretary of State were a foreign policy nightmare, just as these last two have been. Their foreign policy hasn't even been "Don't do stupid stuff," but rather "do nothing; watch and see what happens." –> Complete failure of leadership on the world stage.

    She owns it, and he owns it...whether they like it or not.

    August 11, 2014 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  18. Thomas

    She didn't mention this in her book , why now ?

    August 11, 2014 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  19. Rick in WA

    Glad to see that CNN.COM is politically supporting Mrs. Clinton for President since they just gave her a full page spread on what she would do as President. Wish they would ask all the candidates for their opinion on these matters.
    On a side note, I think she answered some questions in a very good way, I think she is a viable option for President, but have a lot of questions about a candidate who did nothing in the House and even less as Secretary of State.

    August 11, 2014 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  20. readerpan

    The last time they disagreed over foreign policy was the Iraq War. Hillary was for it...and she can't stop telling us what a big mistake it was.

    August 11, 2014 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  21. tristram77

    She's diving to the right as fast as she can because it's apparent the GOP's going to nominate another neo-con chest-thumper. (And don't anyone pretend to think Rand Paul has a chance, although apparently he thinks he does since he's also suddenly flipping on most of his life-long foreign policy stances.)

    August 11, 2014 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  22. Susan

    She lost to Obama. She is a pathetic shill for Israel. She will not be going to the White House.

    August 11, 2014 02:38 am at 2:38 am |
  23. lamestreamdoc

    They do have one thing in common: they're both crooks and should not be President.

    August 11, 2014 03:16 am at 3:16 am |
  24. WeAreAlmost Cyprus

    Too funny... CNN is trying to convince us all that Obama ever had a foreign policy, beyond crossing his fingers and "hoping" nothing would happen while he was squatting in the White House. What a joke!! Now Hilarious Clinton is breaking ranks with the self-proclaimed King... Liberals, as expected, are now starting to eat their own as we approach their version of Armageddon. But then again, we expected no better. This is way BETTER than reality TV, and a lot funnier!!!

    August 11, 2014 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  25. nickbartow

    I love Clinton and if she becomes our nominee, she has my support but she making the same mistake she made the last time she ran. She seems to be some times gunho and that scared a lot of democrates.

    August 11, 2014 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
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