August 10th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
8 years 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.

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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. Smitty

    What policy??? Not helping Americans under fire in Ben Ghazi ?? Dems/libs have shown us that their first reaction is to lie. Obammy was asked by a kid his favorite food, ans broccoli, its sad they lie automatically, remember she backed the video bs of Rice. I guess Vlad is still enjoying that reset button !!

    August 10, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  2. tomdavie

    Hillary has a Reagan-esque foreign policy without the belligerence of the Bush years. She is far more hawkish than either Obama or her Husband was.

    There is no way any Secretary of State or commander can agree with the President all the time. She is highlighting points she has been consistently highlighting since she was at the top of the State Department.

    Leading from behind is a mistake. You need others to want to lead first. Nobody , including the Russians and Chinese, are prepared to do that. So its us or nobody.

    August 10, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  3. labman57

    How many times throughout history have we armed a foreign military to the teeth, firmly believing that doing so was in the best interests of the security and welfare of the American people ... only to have this very same military entity evolve into our enemy of tomorrow?

    Does the Iraq-Iran war ring a bell?

    August 10, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  4. neutral observer

    As time goes on, the Clintons daggers will be growing. Eventually she'll have outright blame her exboss for bengazi debacle.

    August 10, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  5. Trooth

    "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
    - Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

    August 10, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  6. Stuffitu

    If at first you don't succeed, blame Bush, yell racism and go on vacation.

    August 10, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  7. YoonYoungJo

    I think Obama's foreign policy is a good one. It's not his overall strategy that is the issue. The issue really comes from the moving parts as Hillary mentioned. You assume most people are reasonable. You assume most people have at the very least some decency. You assume most people are mostly honest. Sadly this is only true in about half of the people. His foreign policy would have worked if most people has been all those things but unfortunately, there not. There are just many two faced people who can happily and lovingly kiss their child, then go rob another child. There are too many people who pretend to care about things like the shedding of innocent blood then supply the very weapons that spilt that blood.

    The assumption most people are good is the only miscalculation in Obama's foreign policy and agenda. I used to make a similar miscalculation when I was young. I used believe everyone, for the most part, were pretty darn good people. Of course I learned, through my numerous experiences under numerous different circumstances and factors, this is just not true. Even worse as I got older I realized more and more, how people who tend to make massive shows of decency or goodness, probably possess the least of it. I say probably because their is always the exception to any and every rule.

    Still, this doesn't mean there aren't a lot of good people in the world. And one, two or even 100 mistakes don't make them bad. Doing something wrong or making a mistake isn't the deciding factor or decency or indecency. People make mistakes, everything and everyone makes mistakes. I think what determines goodness or not is the repetition of those mistakes, while knowingly understanding them to be wrong. It is sad that Obama's foreign policy wasn't a symbol for world unity and world cooperation. I know there are some countries like China, that is has been a good basis for a solid future. But for every country like China, there's been Russia to ruin it. Then again, there is even hope for Russia to decide to join the civilized world and behave even remotely in a manner that befits a leader.

    August 10, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  8. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    At this point what difference does it make !!!

    Americans are still DEAD in Benghazi.

    The cover up continues.

    Mrs. Clinton FAILED in her DUTY.

    NO.... Mrs. Clinton we will NOT forget.

    August 10, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Hillary Clinton criticizes Obama's foreign policy 'failure .

    Isn't this what a Clinton dose best !
    I find this very hypocritical since she was Secretary of State . Yet , her Husband distanced himself from Carter .

    I will not vote for Hillary , were was she , where was her great understanding and statesman ship ?
    She will blame it all on Samantha Power's and Susan Rice .

    Bill and Hillary come in the same box , and they know how do hold on to a resentment like Royalty .

    August 10, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. ja

    Thank God, she is not Secretary of State, therefore her opinion has no weight, that's putting it mildly

    August 10, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  11. RoseFlorida

    We would have been better off sending a clear message to the "nice" rebels in Syria that we had learned from the Libyan adventure that it was not a good idea to intervene and that "revolutions" rarely produce the outcomes that are desired. I would like to say that we could have then said we would apply non military pressure on Syria to evolve its government, but we have a poor track record for that. We support regimes in Saudi Arabia and various Gulf States that are not representative of their populations.

    What does Clinton suggest we should have done in Egypt, where the revolution was overtaken by the Brotherhood and then it took a return to the military to get things back on track. Does she really think that if the US had come down hard on the side of the western oriented Egyptians against Mubarak that the outcome would have been different?

    Rebel movements try to manipulate outsiders. The Iraqis were successful. So were the Libyans. Both turned out not so well. Glad that Obama saw what was going on and grabbed the very sensible proposal from Russia regarding chemical weapons.

    August 10, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  12. judo3823

    This is easy for her to do now...where was this "fearless" lady when she was SecState? Doing anything to not rock the boat and hurt her chances for more power.

    August 10, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  13. Chris..E.Al

    On Iran i think this admin has made a terrible mistake trying to bargain with this radical terror extremist country . We should have bombed their hardware months ago along with the Isis . It is naive to think anyone can woo them into anything positive or good . Bomb their hardware and let the natives do the clean up and keep the nuts contained .

    August 10, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    Just more trying to blame the "other guy", is Hillary's answer.

    Sorry, but Obama has had more than ample time to own everything he is doing. Blaming Bush, amounts to nothing but EXCUSES!

    August 10, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  15. Chris..E.Al

    On Iran i think this admin has made a terrible mistake trying to bargain with this radical terror extremist country . We should have bombed their hardware months ago along with the Isis . It is naive to think anyone can woo them into anything positive or good . Bomb their hardware and let the natives do the clean up and keep the nuts contained . What do you think about their well known ambitions to destroy and kill the 1s that dont agree with them ?

    August 10, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  16. Tony

    Have the Democrats killed more than 4,000 of our troops fighting terrorists in the wrong country? Until then, "don't do stupid stuff" is way better than "keep doing stupid stuff" or "stuck on stupid."

    August 10, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  17. wpete

    As SecState, she was the messenger of that policy. So she's actually blaming herself while pointing the finger at someone else. Idiot.

    August 10, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  18. David in MA

    This from the former sec. of state?
    Democrats eat their young, now your seeing it!
    Anything or anyone is expendable, for the party.

    August 10, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  19. wilburw7

    The next president needs to understand that overthrowing Assad may make the situation even worse.

    August 10, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  20. woodie

    We must seem very weak because we are worried about Benghazi more than Syria, Iraq, or Israel. We have a lame party that does nothing but whine.

    August 10, 2014 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  21. G_Edwards

    Secretary "Fail At My Own 3AM Phone Call Test" of State


    President "I've Made Foreign Relations Worse"


    August 10, 2014 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  22. definitely

    Hillary splits with Obama and all is well in libbyland, anyone else splits with Obama they are a racist and are investigated by the IRS.

    August 10, 2014 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  23. Andre'

    The absolute truth is that it is her failure as Secretary of State to achieve any positive steps forward in any of the areas that have recently exploded are the direct cause of those crisis'. Had Clinton done her job to ensure American interests were protected in Egypt, Syria and Libya, we would have not had four dead Americans in Benghazi and the empowerment of radical Islamists to do what they have done in Iraq, Africa and against Israel. The current situation is as much her direct responsibility, and her abject failure as Obama's leader of foreign policy for many years. Make no mistake about it, her poor performance set up Kerry to fail, Israel to be attacked by Hamas and Iraq to be overrun and portioned on sectarian lines. That kind of poor decision-making, lack of a successful plan and adherence to dogma vs. what is best for this country has correctly destroyed her chances to be a contender for president. She will NEVER shake off her foreign policy failures not to mention Bill's baggage and political association with Obama. We won't even discuss that she is truly unlikable, is a mean spirited, vile person and has the public persona of a sour lemon. I can only hope the Democrats are so stupid that they continue to spend time, money and effort on her pre-candidacy because when it is all said and done – Hillary Rodham Clinton is simply unelectable as president. Every donor that gives to her now won't have that dollar to give to the yet unknown Democrat who will be the Dem's presidential hopeful. Unless the Democrats are really stupid (or incredibly arrogant as we have recently seen) they will select someone outside this administration who won't have to continually spend their time and energy explaining away Obamacare, the IRS, Benghazi, a broken Immigration policy, Iraq, Syria or Israel but can make flowery and meaningless platitudes without being called on to explain either specific details or this administration's failed track record – you know the drivel that got Obama elected.

    August 10, 2014 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  24. Coffeeman

    Trying to make herself look good for 2016. "It wasn't my fault. I tried to tell him but he wouldn't listen."

    August 10, 2014 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  25. Just

    Mr. "Don't do stupid stuff" does not walk the talk does he.

    August 10, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
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