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. rick

    Some will argue. But on the aid of food and water being dropped to the people in dire need of it. This is my and everyone elses tax dollars being used for something that makes me proud to be a american. And our aircraft and weapons used to PREVENT it from being stolen from them. Several times in my past I was part of humanitarian missions. I was exausted from the work. But a satisfied smile when got some sleep. Our millitary is not just to fight a war. It is used in disasters.. Missions like the one in Iraq now. Sea rescue. So. Be proud of what you see when the pictures of pallets of food and water are flying out the cargo hold. Its going to a great need. Children are hungry.. No matter where. No argument on use of taxes from me.

    August 11, 2014 05:50 am at 5:50 am |
  2. lex

    As usual, Hillary is an opportunistic politician. Why didn't she speak up and quit when she had the opportunity. Now its all just politics.

    August 11, 2014 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  3. Marie MD

    @Smitty, the WH asked for money for our embassies' protection around the world. The teaklans in their quest to see our President fail no matter what denied the money.

    August 11, 2014 06:50 am at 6:50 am |
  4. AmericansRights

    Two idiots at best

    August 11, 2014 06:50 am at 6:50 am |
  5. scmtns

    Let's face it. She's running. We all know it. She knows it. Why tapdance around it anymore?

    August 11, 2014 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  6. Joe Obama

    Must be tough to split something that neither person knows very much about.

    August 11, 2014 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  7. kevin

    what a smokescreen !!

    August 11, 2014 07:33 am at 7:33 am |

    "he knows what he inherited." Nice jab from a woman who couldnt give extra security to Benghazi.

    August 11, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  9. ho ho ho

    So you want to give McCain in a dress? No. Please tell the CFR and the B-Team that we are not going to agree to death for anyone. Death is bad. Who forgot to send her that memo?

    August 11, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  10. Let's prosecute W

    After Bush/Cheney's 8 years of criminal behavior on the world stage, ALL your criticism rings hollow. We will forever be cleaning up their mess – both foreign and domestic. You would all like to forget, sweep it all under the rug. But the stink just won't go away.

    August 11, 2014 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  11. TAJ

    Policy? Policy?? Policy??? Your joking...right?

    August 11, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  12. definitely

    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."

    Yes, over 58,000 killed and hundreds of thousands wounded in Vietnam started under L.B.Johnson. when you are out of diapers you will understand!

    August 11, 2014 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  13. booger booo

    Ahh come on ......
    Everyone us just being silly...
    We all know what's going on 🙂

    Clinton wants Obama to help finish off Palestine to appease her daughter's hubby and in laws (even though those criminals not invited to the wedding or have any association with the Clintons).

    Welcome to the United States of Israel.
    Nothing wrong with that we are all happy in the USA – but we just need to be honest whose pulling the political Testicals behind the scene.

    August 11, 2014 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  14. jpmichigan

    Obama is a day late and a buck short. One does not supply weapons to rebel forces in Syria know to be sympathizers of Al Queda. These AL Queda fighters now go by SISI. One needs to go after terrorist no matter where they are. Obama is not just overly cautious , he is always politically inspired. When one rather be at a fund-raising event, then to lead this great nation away from acts of terrorism, he prefers fund-raising. I strongly believe Hillary has more backbone then Obama and many decisions made by her as Sect. of State were directed by Obama WH advisors, who know nothing about foreign affairs, they just PLAY at it at our expense.

    August 11, 2014 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  15. Gurgyl

    She is better off if she shuts up, at least for a while. Nothing wrong with Pres. Obama foreign policy. True. Muslim nations saw worst than this.

    August 11, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  16. definitely

    Who would win the dumbcrts nomination between Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton? Lol

    August 11, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  17. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    David in MA says:
    August 10, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm
    This from the former sec. of state?
    Democrats eat their young, now your seeing it!
    Anything or anyone is expendable, for the party.

    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.

    August 11, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  18. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Republicans protect each other, no matter how rotten, stupid or corrupt they may be. Democrats on the other hand tear each other apart. Not a very smart move on Hillary's part.

    August 11, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  19. Steve, New York City

    Gearing up for that presidential run. Looks like Hillary is trying to demonstrate to the AIPAC that she will be obedient.

    August 11, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  20. 1984

    Clintin will not run, her time has passed. Out of all the people in the US why is there only 2 families who are related running the country?

    August 11, 2014 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  21. JJR

    The next while leading up to the presidential elections should be fun to watch the former Obama minions distance themselves.

    August 11, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  22. Harold

    Put me down as officially not supporting Hillary for President. This is why she lost against Obama in the beginning. She is trigger happy and would be Bush on steroids for our military. She has to prove she is tougher than the toughest man.

    August 11, 2014 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  23. Anonymous


    @Tony yes dems have, please read a few history books so you can post with a little knowledge
    But, that's the whole point ... to post stuff using as little knowledge as possible. He's rewriting history.

    August 11, 2014 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  24. Dan

    If you can't see thru Hillary you have a major problem.

    August 11, 2014 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  25. Anonymous

    sol August 10, 2014 07:35 pm

    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
    The belief that that U.S. has armed Syrian rebels is a common misconception on the right. The U.S. has only sent humanitarian aid to displaced refugees in Syria and Turkey. In fact, military action and involvement in Syria was voted on by the Congress, and it failed to pass.

    August 11, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
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