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. Say WHAT???

    Hillary Clinton attacking Obama.... I think I just heard a nuke go off in the Democrat Party!!! This ought to be real good. Going to get my popcorn.

    August 11, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  2. luke, AZ

    Hillary Clinton is not presidential material. Why does she think she can hold the highest office in the nation. Elizabeth Warren far outshines Mrs. Clinton.

    August 11, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  3. definitely

    salty dog Wealthy wall street traders, bank officials took the opportunity to make big money, they knew it would hurt many Americans beyond repair, it didn't stop them, the rich did great, we got the bill, the wealthy xterm usually gop IMHO.

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

    What is your problem with gaining wealth? Do you hate Obama because he is rich? Did you know 8 of the top ten richest senators are democrats?

    Here is a kicker! What have the rich done to prevent you from having a good life?

    August 11, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  4. captains courageous

    Go get it, you'll of course watch while your Republican candidates render each other unelectable?

    August 11, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Say WHAT??? says:
    August 11, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm
    Hillary Clinton attacking Obama…. I think I just heard a nuke go off in the Democrat Party!!! This ought to be real good. Going to get my popcorn.

    If you consider what she said an attack then I see why the GOP keeps wanting war. She did not attack him, she gave her opinion which actually means nothing since she's not an elected official. But go ahead and gloat if it makes you feel better and keep changing your screen name daily to fit whatever narrative the do nothing GOPT is pushing that day.

    Your clown candidate should win in a landslide.... Go ask Rover.

    August 11, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC


    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!

    Sorry, but you're wrong. The A.D.D.I of 2004, "American Dream Downpayment Act", is the program that was designed to help lower income, first time home buyers purchase a home. It was passed by a Congress that saw Republicans holding the majority in both chambers, and signed into a law by a Republican POTUS.

    Try doing a web search on it, particularly the speech that GWB gave to introduce it. He said that he wanted to make home buying less complicated, to make it as easy as taking out an auto loan, no legal advice required.

    August 11, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  7. Tony

    Definitely, Saddam, like all Middle East dictators, was interested in his personal power. Unlike terrorists, Saddam did not want a worldwide caliphate, in which clergymen rule by sharia law. Saddam was not interested in that. Saddam also had no desire to take on the United States, unlike the terrorists who blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11. Iraq became a training ground for terrorists when we decided to remove Saddam, creating a power vacuum that has allowed terrorists to thrive.

    August 11, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. smith

    @Tampa Tim- Yes, GWB had his role in the meltdown as well. That is why I said ONE of the main reasons.

    August 11, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  9. definitely

    Tommy G,

    I can hardly wait until cnn comes out in support of somebody else, anybody else,. This is getting embarrassing.

    August 11, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  10. Abbey

    Obama+Clinton=Debacle in the Middle East.

    August 11, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  11. Abbey

    Democrats turning on each other is normal. They don't stand a chance in 2014 and 2106.

    August 11, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  12. Sniffin

    Calm down people. Hillary isn't saying what we don't already know. Obama is just too dammed smart, knows it all and refuses to take advice, whether it is from her, or the military, our anybody else. If something doesn't meet his leftist ideology, then he won't agree with it, even if it puts this country in danger. After all, it is the USA that has been the evil empire in the past.

    August 11, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. definitely

    luke, AZ Hillary Clinton is not presidential material. Why does she think she can hold the highest office in the nation. Elizabeth Warren far outshines Mrs. Clinton.

    August 11, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |

    Can't be liberals say nobody, ( n o b o d y ) can beat Hillary. Oh! I guess that was just another lie by liberals.

    August 11, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
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