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. Bill from GA

    It is fairly easy to pick and choose policy after the fact to say how one might do it differently.

    Much like to decision to pull our troops out of Iraq rather than do whatever it might have taken to keep them there, arming the so-called 'good' rebels in Syria is not a slam-dunk decision Hillary makes it seem to be. And if any of the arms got into enemy hands, and so many groups there are not reliably friendly, Obama would be blamed for that. (Somehow. W escapes blame for the heavy armaments now in the hands of ISIS.) Democrats and repubs in Congress mostly opposed it, when they had a chance to vote on it.

    Obama did achieve a major goal in Syria with the elimination of chemical weapons Unlike w-cheney in Iraq, Obama did it without significant American dollars and lives lost, but who notices??

    Getting more involved in Syria, which, like Hillary, I did support, involved much greater risk and an uncertain gain. It is easy to say, now, that "If only we had done this rather than that", but neither option had guaranteed results. Now Hillary looks like the Monday morning quarterback, saying I Told Him So. Cheap shot, Hil.

    August 11, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  2. Bill from GA

    ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’

    Don't belittle that statement. If the whole world took that as rule, most of our problems would be solved.

    August 11, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    captains courageous says:
    August 11, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am
    Tom what is it exactly you think the unions are forcing the dems to do? Since when is a workers rights organization a bad thing? Keep buying the gop BS, and watch what happens when your rights as a worker are what the ultra rich decide, your biggest mistake is thinking your one of them, look at your bank account, your not!

    Now now captain. Employees should just be happy they have jobs. Take the few scraps they throw you, apply for SNAP and suck it up. Don't complain that you can't afford a decent place to live, a decent car to drive or to put food on your table. Don't get mad because the billionaires are getting richer and richer while the average person gets poorer and poorer. Because if you do that simply shows you're jealous of their wealth. The wealthy can't help that they are billionaires looking out for one another, making sure they all have multiple homes, yachts and cars. Jump in your 85 Yugo and get to those fields. That cotton ain't gonna pick itself!!!

    August 11, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  4. Joyce

    Not only is she setting herself up for the election, she is setting the stage for when/if she is elected, she can blame everything on her predecessor, just like Obama has done. It's a Democrat thing.

    August 11, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  5. HenryMiller

    "... ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,"

    That may be the first time I've ever agreed with Hillary Clinton.

    August 11, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  6. sifto77

    Will she still blame bush or will she actually blame obama..anybodys guess after she is guess is..bush..

    August 11, 2014 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  7. sifto77 thing is certain..she will not blame spite of being sec of state for obama and advising him every day..

    August 11, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  8. rob

    And the liberal media will take whatever Mrs. Clinton says without pointing out the obvious? HRC ran the US State dept for 4 years. She was in the presidents cabinet and we have to assume she helped shape the Foreign Policy of this administration which lead directly to all the chaos going on in the world. The only way she can get away with distancing herself from the horrible record of this administration is with the total cooperation of her allies in the liberal media. The NYT, WAPO, the big 3 Network News and Cable news will have to bend over backwards to protect her. They have already shown they will.

    She might have made a better President than Obama but she does not deserve to hold that office after being a part of this administration.

    August 11, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  9. Red River

    Up until 9/11, most Americans could live life in in an ignorant bliss when it came to international events. The issues we face domestically pale when compared to the changes that are now occurring throughout the world. The Middle East as we know it is now dissolving into a series of religious and sectarian civil wars that will probably go on for decades. China and Russia are now resurgent yet their internal issues render them marginally stable. And all this is occurring on the 100th anniversary of World War I. If you aren't concerned, then you are not paying attention.

    August 11, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  10. salty dog

    Joyce, and exactly how much responsibility do you think that George w policies hurt our economy, and never mind what expert economist's say, what would they know, they should just listen to the Republicans, easier than thinking for yourself. Your delusional honey, get a grip, do some research, not fox news. Sorry but that statement was ludicrous, at best, get informed, it only takes the desire to learn the truth.

    August 11, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  11. Lynda/Minnesota

    "You'll call Rand Paul a plagiarist yet won't acknowledge joe Biden did the same thing. I could give u more examples is you want. Some day you will realize that you are just being played."

    Democrats have consistently called out John Walsh, Joe Biden AND Rand Paul for plagiarism, tom. But of course, you already knew that.

    August 11, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  12. American Worker

    Obama – It's Bush's fault.

    H. Clinton – It's Obama's fault.

    Obviously, no accountability will be from Hillary.

    August 11, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  13. 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 |
  14. smith

    I`ve been talking about this split in the Dem. party for some time now. Traditional Dems and progressives are the two sides. While some are in denial about the split, anybody with an unbiased veiw can see it plain as day.

    August 11, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  15. tarura

    Hillary criticizing Obama on ISIS:

    It depends what Is-is !

    August 11, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  16. salty dog

    So our economy crashing in 08 is Obama's fault? Going to war based on lies from w and Cheney was a good thing and of course that has nothing to do with why the rest of the civilized world doesn't ask our help, refuse to work with us, the wars hurt their counties too . I find it swallow, how hard it is for some to see that the gop has nothing to offer but more bush policies, you know the ones the rwnj don't call failure, yet decimated our economy workers 401k, depleted our army ignore the vets when they come home, wtf do you see?

    August 11, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  17. Red River

    @American Worker
    Obama – It's Bush's fault.

    H. Clinton – It's Obama's fault.

    Obviously, no accountability will be from Hillary.
    Dead on.

    August 11, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  18. salty dog

    Oh and Walsh retired, why doesn't Rand do the same, come on, I love the hypocrisy from the right, makes you oh so credible.

    August 11, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  19. definitely

    salty dog
    "Joyce, and exactly how much responsibility do you think that George w policies hurt our economy, and never mind what expert economist's say, what would they know, they should just listen to the Republicans, easier than thinking for yourself. Your delusional honey, get a grip, do some research, not fox news. Sorry but that statement was ludicrous, at best, get informed, it only takes the desire to learn the truth."

    Whoa! Dude, Hillary's husband bill's initiative for providing affordable housing to people who couldn't afford them (mortgage, insurance, taxes, utilities, normal repairs, oh! Hell now what?), KA-BOOM 2008 housing bubble explosion!


    August 11, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  20. jjveilfester

    If Benghazi represents Billery's approach to foreign policy this nation is deep trouble.

    August 11, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  21. Laverne

    If Hilary hope to get the MANY Obama supporters, she best watch herself. She can not win without his supporters. She keep putting her foot in her mouth and probably won't stop, but it may cost her AGAIN!!!

    August 11, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  22. Tampa Tim

    Did you RWNJs forget that W looked in Putin's eyes and gave him Georgia, no questions asked. Yet you whackos call the Bush Doctrine a foreign policy?

    August 11, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  23. Tony

    Definitely, at least we were fighting actual communists in the Vietnam War. Terrorists did not exist under Saddam.

    August 11, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  24. Tampa Tim

    If Benghazi represents the only thing that repubes can run on, they got nothing. Four findings of no wrongdoing is not enough, let's spend several more millions of taxpayer money with Howdy Gowdy in charge.

    August 11, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  25. 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.

    August 11, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
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