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. Anonymous

    Benghazi- who cares? Let the whole middle east fight and kill each other. How many people are there in the middle east, including israel, that are worth one american life? ZERO

    August 10, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  2. Thomas

    Entitlement shows it's true colors , why wasn't she more upfront about her disagreements with the President on foreign policy , she wrote nothing about it in her book , “Hard Choices,” ?

    What was she doing when she was Secretary of State ?

    Hillary Rodham Clinton / Rahm Israel Emanuel 2016
    It Is Written !

    August 10, 2014 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  3. sol

    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.

    Yes, Folks.. Hullary was going to make sure ISIS Had advanced US weapon systems

    August 10, 2014 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  4. Crampon

    You knew it was coming, no one could win without breaking ties to Obama.

    August 10, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  5. sol

    The new super Hero.. Mrs HIndsight,
    able to form policy on the latest opinion polls.

    August 10, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  6. Brian Smith

    Hatred of Iran runs over generations... Eventually you just might have to accept Iran and help them along as they are quite a powerful force in the region, rather than again destabilizing, overthrowing, and giving Iran to ISIS.

    August 10, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  7. Richard

    Her husband was humiliated by Saddam Hussein who repeatedly violated no-fly zones in his region. She was humiliated by her husband because of Lewinsky. This power-mad shrew will sacrifice every shred of dignity in order to get into power.

    August 10, 2014 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  8. willie wonka

    The faithfulness of the Chilton's is remarkable. And here she championed the actions in Libya, that fed the flowers of the Arab Spring.

    August 10, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  9. petroskies

    Wow This lady was just straight when she call to his ex-boss make stupid stuff. what about the stupid stuff she and
    her husband does with the jew woman Monica Lewinsky, she tolerate Mr. Clifton stuff, because she hace her own
    stuff too.

    August 10, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  10. StevenG

    Aiding the so-called moderate rebels in Syria would have just put more weapons into the hands of terrorists like ISIS. Hillary supported the Wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and seems to have learned nothing.

    August 10, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  11. Thisisnotamonarchy

    someone is trying to further distance herself from Obama. Guess who is running for president. I wish she wouldn't. There's far better female candidates with less baggage.

    August 10, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  12. Yoda

    So says the opportunist that voted for the first Iraq war that has directly led to the events of today.

    August 10, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  13. rick

    Yep.. Here we go again.. This woman has more faces than a totem pole! Takes credit for stuff that was never around. And passes the blame on stuff she was responsable for. And by the responces read here. I am not the only one who has noticed either. Of course she will try and distace herself.. UNTILL.. Something works like the humanitarian relief that the president has started. And others like France and England will assist. Others will also later. Lets see how long it takes her to start claiming she had a hand in this one. The UNEMPLOYED EX SECRATARY OF STATE. That is the TRUTH. Something she forgets to acnowledge.

    August 10, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  14. Ik Okafor

    I'm a democrat but I don't like Hillary. She's too selfish and self serving. I rather have Senator Warren. I appreciate the fact the president is never eager to use our military might except as a last option. That is not weakness. Its safer for us in terms of human lives, its cheaper and its batter. and I'm sure the military brass appreciate having a responsible commander in chief. Let us give diplomacy a chance. The type of mission we carried out in Libya, Yemen, Syria and now in Iraq with no boots on the ground is better than an all out war. And the lack of a full blown war is the main reason our deficits are arising at the lowest level as a portion of GDP in the last 24 years....Lets us do some nation building back home than spend millions fighting other peoples battle

    August 10, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  15. Bill Davis

    Neither one of the had a problem ignoring the Ambassador

    August 10, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  16. Tinku

    Someone should ask her .. what her response would be to the fact that Israel completely ignored her pleas to stop settlements and why she made them when there was a prospect of her acting as Israel's domestic maid just a few years later. By the way this is one of the main reasons why successive peace talks go nowhere because the main broker is openly biased against justice and democracy.

    What an opportunist and a hypocrite. Though a democratic for ever, I'll vote for any republican than her.. at least they would be more genuine and truthful.

    And why is she blaming an administration which she was a part of until recently.

    August 10, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Bound and rebound. Dumb and dumber.

    August 10, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  18. Joe Pullman

    Nothing new here. Neither one of them has a foreign policy, one ignores the world situation at all costs, and the other allows American to be slaughtered at the hands of Al Qaeda. Throw them both to the curb, both losers.

    August 10, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  19. lifelong Democrat

    Hillary Clinton is apparently not concerned about alienating the Democrats who support President Obama. Elizabeth Warren is looking better and better!

    August 10, 2014 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  20. MaxxxQ

    Nice try were the policy. Now go away like a good grandma.

    August 10, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  21. Steve

    If you are concerned about your political stature, you don't do stupid stuff. If you are concerned about the free world, you lead....

    August 10, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  22. District Nine

    Time to start taxing the middle class and killing the poor folk we send to fight in a foreign land.

    August 10, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  23. ermentrude

    She will be okay as long as she looks at policies that didn't work, without appointing blame to them, and offers new policies. Has to be very careful in her speech. Bad policy is bad policy. Even good people endorse bad policy once in a while. Blame Bush, blame Obama, is not the way out of this.

    August 10, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  24. Zeke

    What a surprise. Clinton changing her tune to run for President. It is amazing how democrats can turn on each other and attack. Obama does not have any coherent policy anywhere in the world. The chickens are coming home to roost from other democrats.

    August 10, 2014 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  25. it must be said

    At this point, after 5.5 years of Obama disaster domestically and internationally, ALL DEMOCRATS are distancing themselves from Obama, not just Hillary Clinton. Every new day brings a new Obama failure. Why do you think NOBODY is out there campaigning with Obama? His poll numbers make him radioactive.

    Look at Hawaii where he endorsed two people and it looks like both are going to lose IN THE PRIMARY. That good old Obama election kiss of death is not to be messed with if you want to keep your seat. Every Democrat knows this but they aren't honest enough to admit it publicly.

    All of this is ensuring Obama goes down as the worse President this country has ever had. I can't even imagine anybody else coming close to this disaster of a president.

    August 10, 2014 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
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