August 10th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
1 month 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. Klutch Cargo

    Uh, Well,
    Come 2016 the American people are going to split from the Liars and Con's !!!

    August 11, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  2. Tampa Tim

    How do RWNJs blame Clinton for the Bush housing initiative of 2003?

    August 11, 2014 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  3. salty dog

    Wealthy wall street traders, bank officials took the opportunity to make big money, they knew it would hurt many Americans beyond repair, it didn't stop them, the rich did great, we got the bill, the wealthy xterm usually gop IMHO.

    August 11, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  4. smith

    @Tony- I hate to break it to ya but Veitnam was 100 times worse than all the wars and conflicts the US has been involved in over the last 40 years.

    August 11, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  5. MaryM

    Well, IF Hillary runs for POTUS, she will have to give a more detailed reason

    August 11, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. mdl

    After all Hillary did vote for the war in Iraq based on her hubby's intelligence.

    August 11, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  7. American Worker

    Even a video on where H. Clinton and the GOP agree.

    Wow!

    Now that is affirming that the two political sororities answer to the same political establishment; conning the people into thinking they will have a say in who gets elected next. Same establishment; different sororities.

    August 11, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  8. smith

    @Tampa Tim- The Community Re-investment Act is your answer. Clinton made revisions to this act which was one of the reasons for housing bubble bursting.

    August 11, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. Daniel

    Hillary Clinton voted for the invasion of Iraq, which is the root cause of instability in the region.

    The only thing we could do after invasion is let our enemy's there coalesce into a coherent group; now the ISIS. We have to let them come together so we know who to fight.

    I question Hillary's judgement in this regard and although I would vote for her over any Republican, it still makes me nervous that she would suggest that Obama foreign policy has anything to do with the terrible tragedies that are occurring in the middle east. We can not afford to be the world police. The tax dollars we wasted in Iraq could have funded Social Security for 75 years!!

    I'd tell her straight to her face that she is wrong.

    August 11, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  10. Say What???

    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.
    --

    Obama will ask them how many Gitmo terrorists they want to exchange for them. 10, 20, 50, the more the better to Obama. He stopped caring a year ago.

    August 11, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  11. Tampa Tim

    smith – Ever hear of the American Dream Downpayment Act? The Bush plan led to the housing bubble breakdown.

    August 11, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  12. salty dog

    Hillary was married to dick Cheney, are you sure?

    August 11, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  13. Keith .... from Oregon

    “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.”

    She still has much in common with Obama...."it's Bush's fault." Looking forward to 2016 if just because we might stop hearing that pathetic excuse for incompetence.

    August 11, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. salty dog

    The reason was the repeal of glass stegal? Act, and the fact that wall street set themselves up for a win win situation, you get to pick mortgages you bundle and sell, and make money, then bet against the very same mortgages to fail, making money again, with no risk of getting held responsible, it was a matter of integrity, which big money seems to trump all to often, the truth is both sides were complacent.

    August 11, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  15. Obama's Foreign Policy

    Down size the US military, apologize for everything we ever did in the past, promise to be nice to everybody, expect everybody will respond in kind and be nice, wag a finger at all bad behavior, say you are monitoring things, studying things, ponder the possibilities of taking action, give several interviews, give several press conferences, wag finger some more, study and monitor things some more, ponder, ponder, ponder, hope and pray Obama's term ends before anything needs to be done. Go golfing, vacationing and campaign fund raising.

    Yup, that about sums it up.

    August 11, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  16. steve

    HRC = GOP light.

    August 11, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  17. Deni

    Obama foreign policy policy is fine why spend trillions on wars that just pushed the US in recession

    August 11, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. definitely

    salty dog
    definitely, you Bern sold a bag of rocks, that was a small part of it, do the economists say it was a factor, yup, the main factor, nope. Unfortunately we won't get the things needed done, no wall street reform leaves us vulnerable again, no help from either side, removing big money from our political system is our only chance, needless go say, its not looming good.

    "Definitely, you Bern" having a difficult time huh! Nope, you have been sold a bag of crap! The primary reason for the collapse was the housing bubble say the economist then the domino effect. Had Clinton kept his pants up and stopped listening to idiots and had enough sense to realize giving affordable (uhm, were have we heard this before) housing to people that couldn't afford them was a looming disaster then there wouldn't be a housing explosion. Had lead behind Obama's adminstration done something constructive during the first two years of our nightmare of him with a 1 vote shy of a super majority instead of screwing working America with obamacare because they had "let's do this while we have the numbers", recovery would have been a memory. BTW, what IS YOUR SOLUTION for reforming wall street?

    August 11, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. definitely

    salty dog American worker, enjoy life under rich man's rule, hope you've got yours, because you won't get help from them

    August 11, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |

    The top Ten Percent pay 70% of income taxes how much do you pay?

    August 11, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  20. Tony

    Smith, I was talking about terrorists. There were no terrorists under Saddam. Yes, Saddam was bad to his people, but the people who attacked us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan. We lost a lot of people in World War II, but it was a war that we had to fight. I am not against all wars, just stupid ones.

    August 11, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  21. definitely

    salty dog American worker, enjoy life under rich man's rule, hope you've got yours, because you won't get help from them

    August 11, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |

    BTW, why do you need help from them? Are you a government owes me taker? Don't you realize the more you take, the less truly needy people get?

    August 11, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. Sniffing n Garggling Ozass in Tampa

    As Hillary's blades start coming out and planting themselves between Obama's shoulder blades.

    August 11, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  23. Democrat Junk

    I guess Hillary deemed President Obama to be "coyote ugly" all of a sudden (ie. the last 3 months)

    August 11, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  24. definitely

    Tony Smith, I was talking about terrorists. There were no terrorists under Saddam. Yes, Saddam was bad to his people, but the people who attacked us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan. We lost a lot of people in World War II, but it was a war that we had to fight. I am not against all wars, just stupid ones.

    August 11, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |

    Iraq was a training ground for terrorist, Saddam invaded Kuwait, Saddam imposed genocide on his people and wouldn't have thought one second about doing it to other countries. If you are going to sides with a terrorist then relocate to help Isis.

    August 11, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  25. Tommy G

    I can hardly wait until Obama comes out and endorses somebody else and not Hillary Clinton, as he has already agreed to do. Bill Clinton agreed to campaign for Obama in 2012 and it is widely credited with getting him re-elected. In exchange, Obama was going to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016. I have $20 that says the Liar in Chief will renege on that deal no that Hillary is bad mouthing him!!!

    August 11, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
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