White House pushes back at Bill Clinton over Syria
June 13th, 2013
04:01 PM ET
9 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. rob

    President Obama is the one who backed himself into a corner when he said that the use of chemical weapons was a "red Line" thatb the US would not tolerate. This is a big moment for the President and the US because if we do nothing it will confirm to our friends and enemies around the world alike that we are weak. Our friends won't trust us and our enemies will be emboldened to challenge us.

    June 13, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  2. Zoche

    Obama thinks he is the smartest guy in the room. Yet when it come to leading, he is confused. He only knows how to campaign and raise money. Apparently governing is out of his comfort zone. In his second term, he has surrounded himself with even more friends that will not call him out. Sadly, his only, contribution as being President is that he is the first Black President.

    June 13, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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