August 10th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
3 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. Coo

    Obama has burned the Clintons, like all of his other supporters. He cut a deal with Bill Clinton to help him win 2nd term and then knifed him in the back by reneging on supporting Hillary in 2016. Time to take the gloves off and expose Obama for the imbecile he is. Let him have it Hillary!

    August 11, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  2. Dan

    Obama and Hillary have a foreign policy? Since when?

    August 11, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  3. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Coo says:
    August 11, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am
    Obama has burned the Clintons, like all of his other supporters. He cut a deal with Bill Clinton to help him win 2nd term and then knifed him in the back by reneging on supporting Hillary in 2016. Time to take the gloves off and expose Obama for the imbecile he is. Let him have it Hillary!

    More lies. Do you people just make ish up as you go? When did President Obama say he wouldn't support Hillary?

    August 11, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  4. Peace

    @ lifelong Democrat
    You have written that Elizabeth Warren is starting to look better and better everyday.
    You know why? Warren's talk is all about reforming Wall Street. No more than that and people get it very well. Contrary to Hillary, instead of concentrating in selling her books, she goes everywhere: for interviews, on Daily shows etc. etc. without thinking, there are People out there waiting to pick this or that from her and use it against her. Am quite sure she didn't mean to distance herself from the President BUT she opened her mouth and said without making any clarifications, like feeding starving chickens. I am very disappointed of her talks of every now and then.

    August 11, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  5. critical thinking

    Really? He is smart? And also que the reference of "what he inherited" My god, is there no one in the democratic party that was born with the responsibility gene?

    August 11, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  6. TSB8C

    While I'm no Hillary supported to be sure, she's not stupid when it comes to seeking after her personal ambitions. She saw Obama sinking long ago and left the job as Sec of State to avoid getting too much stink on her from his failures and scandals. Now she sees the ever decreasing poll numbers and needs to distance herself from him even further. I don't buy it, but that's her strategy.

    August 11, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  7. fumes

    Very presidential. Don't want another Clinton or Bush though. Tired of them.

    August 11, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  8. J Biden

    As far a Obama's foreign policy, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

    August 11, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  9. Lynda/Minnesota

    rick
    Some will argue.
    ---------–

    But of course, rick. The more we argue, the better for the media to draw in ratings. I suspect that is the only concern our American media has ... that we argue and throw word bombs at one another.

    August 11, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  10. Dean

    It's funny to watch two people who know nothing about foreign policy argue about foreign policy.

    August 11, 2014 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  11. ????

    Hillary Clinton has zero credibility in foreign policy. She was secretary of state for four years and nobody can verbalize anything she accomplished. What she did accomplish is set the table for the events that are now unfolding. i.e., the decline of American influence on the world stage.
    I don't want any more people in the White House with the last name of Kennedy, Bush or Clinton. We have got to elect an executive who can get things accomplished. The world is changing more rapidly than we have seen since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's. We need a leader, not a late night TV show host for president.

    August 11, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  12. captains courageous

    Critical thinking, or complete lack of, where is the republican party's responsibility? It's non existent, you want the Democrats to take responsibility for Georges messes? And call them/ him irresponsible, that's rich, what exactly are you taking? Take a little more, or alot less my man, your confused whether you know it or not. Obama took office in January 09, remember?

    August 11, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  13. definitely

    Obama sending arms to Kurdish fighters doing battle, a changing a policy that previously only permitted arms deals with the Iraqi government.

    Obama has no foreign policy except to lead from behind. There is no such thing as splitting from Obama on anything because he does nothing to split from. Will he fully support or is this political catering to criticism only to satisfy the uninformed left.

    Since he only leads from behind we have to wait to know the answer.

    August 11, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  14. Tom l

    One thing about Democrats. They don't threaten to primary one another if they don't tow the line. Let a GOPT go against the party masters and they are primaried. Ask Snyder here in MI. He said he wouldn't support the Right to work for less. They threatened to primary him and he signed it in private. All GOPT welfare queens that want to keep their cushy jobs must drop down in front of the Kochs.
    ---

    Hilarious. I guess joe Lieberman doesn't count. Nor does union money guide what the dems do. Why do you think dems are any better when, no matter what the example, if you say something about repubs you ignore that the dems do the same thing only you rationalize it away. You'll call Rand Paul a plagiarist yet won't acknowledge joe Biden did the same thing. I could give u more examples is you want. Some day you will realize that you are just being played.

    August 11, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  15. Silence DoGood

    @Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....
    Coo says:
    August 11, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am
    Obama has burned the Clintons, like all of his other supporters. He cut a deal with Bill Clinton to help him win 2nd term and then knifed him in the back by reneging on supporting Hillary in 2016. Time to take the gloves off and expose Obama for the imbecile he is. Let him have it Hillary!

    More lies. Do you people just make ish up as you go? When did President Obama say he wouldn't support Hillary?
    -------------------
    The GOP is feuding with the TP internally. It is ugly and nasty. So the radical right needs to make up "battle" stories about the left to make it seem OK. The right is generally racist so they need to call the left racist. The right is generally tough on women so they need to call the left....... Well you get the idea.

    August 11, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  16. J Anthony

    @it must be said: i notice you couldn't answer my question.. No surprise there. If you understood poltical history over the last 30 years you'd know exactly what a corporate-centrist is. You'd know that the corporations whining about high taxes and regulations are often owned by rightwing ideologues with an agenda. Corporate America has never done better,it's small businesses that are stifled by policies that favor big ones. You're being a fool and allowing your emotions and bias to cloud your judgement. Wake up already

    August 11, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  17. captains courageous

    Only the Republicans can come out, say the word sorry, without ever actually admitting doing anything wrong, or apologizing, amazingly good at that. Like Christie he's sorry the lanes got closed, but saying sorry means taking responsibility, and that just ain't gonna happen.

    August 11, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  18. Randy, San Francisco

    This is another sign that Hillary will make a run in 2016. Peace, Progress, and Prosperity when Hillary wins in 2016!

    August 11, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  19. captains courageous

    Tom what is it exactly you think the unions are forcing the dems to do? Since when is a workers rights organization a bad thing? Keep buying the gop BS, and watch what happens when your rights as a worker are what the ultra rich decide, your biggest mistake is thinking your one of them, look at your bank account, your not!

    August 11, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. captains courageous

    My bad, your a free thinking independent right, now that's funny!

    August 11, 2014 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  21. critical thinking

    If Obama couldn't handle the job he should have not run for a second term, plain and simple

    August 11, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  22. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    August 11, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am
    @Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross…..
    Coo says:
    August 11, 2014 09:19 am at 9:19 am
    Obama has burned the Clintons, like all of his other supporters. He cut a deal with Bill Clinton to help him win 2nd term and then knifed him in the back by reneging on supporting Hillary in 2016. Time to take the gloves off and expose Obama for the imbecile he is. Let him have it Hillary!

    More lies. Do you people just make ish up as you go? When did President Obama say he wouldn’t support Hillary?
    ——————————————————-
    The GOP is feuding with the TP internally. It is ugly and nasty. So the radical right needs to make up “battle” stories about the left to make it seem OK. The right is generally racist so they need to call the left racist. The right is generally tough on women so they need to call the left……. Well you get the idea.

    They are hilarious aren't they Silence?! 😔 Queens of flipping the script.

    August 11, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  23. captains courageous

    Definitely, make up your mind is he doing something, or leading from behind: heck next you'll tell us he's leading from behind by doing something. Gotta love how the rwnj twist so much they lose track of where they're at.

    August 11, 2014 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  24. Red River

    One of my biggest concerns is that our adversaries (Russia, Iran, North Korean and yes, China) will all make aggressive moves nearly simultaneously. They all know that Obama is incapable of formulating a response to even one crisis, let alone three or four at the same time. Obama has demonstrated that he has little or no ability to deal with foreign affairs in a competent manner.

    August 11, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  25. definitely

    Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....
    "One thing about Democrats. They don't threaten to primary one another if they don't tow the line. Let a GOPT go against the party masters and they are primaried. Ask Snyder here in MI. He said he wouldn't support the Right to work for less. They threatened to primary him and he signed it in private. All GOPT welfare queens that want to keep their cushy jobs must drop down in front of the Kochs."

    ha, ha o ye liberals of small brains.

    "It’s a sensitive subject, given what happened in the 2008 contest, when Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s personal assistant and friend from Arkansas, was pushed out of the managerial role after Clinton sustained a string of stinging early primary defeats to then-candidate Barack Obama."usnews

    "But some of Clinton’s most memorable ‘08 shots at Obama have had resonance far beyond the short shelf life of the standard campaign hit parade: her mockery of his vow to transform Washington in his own image, her cry of “elitism” and her skepticism about his managerial chops echo today in the form of GOP attacks and the lingering doubts of some in his own party."politico

    "Hillary Clinton’s campaign was undone by a clash of personalities more toxic than anyone imagined. E-mails and memos—published here for the first time—reveal the backstabbing and conflicting strategies that produced an epic meltdown."theatlantic

    August 11, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
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