Updated 12:55 p.m. ET, 8/15/2014
Washington (CNN) – Hillary Clinton reached out to President Barack Obama on Tuesday to tell him that headline-grabbing comments she made about his foreign policy were not meant as a political attack.
The potential presidential candidate called Obama to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies, or his leadership," Nick Merrill, a spokesman for the former secretary of state, said.
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In an interview with the Atlantic published Sunday, Clinton dramatically distanced herself from Obama’s approach to foreign policy.
In it, she trashed his self-coined mantra for a cautious foreign policy: "Don't do stupid stuff."
"Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle," Clinton said.
She later labeled Obama's decision not to arm Syrian rebels, something she disagreed with, a "failure."
According to Merrill, though, Clinton "was proud to serve” with Obama.
"While they've had honest differences on some issues, including aspects of the wicked challenge Syria presents, she has explained those differences in her book and at many points since then," Merrill said. "Some are now choosing to hype those differences but they do not eclipse their broad agreement on most issues."
David Axelrod, Obama's former top adviser who now acts as his biggest defender outside the White House, rebuffed Clinton with a tweet that knocked her for her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq War.
Clinton said in the interview that “don't do stupid stuff" did not really reflect Obama’s big-picture thinking.
“I think that that’s a political message. It’s not his worldview,” Clinton said. “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.”
Clinton’s comments put into sharper focus an effort to put more space between herself and Obama, something she’s been doing slowly in speeches and interviews since releasing her book, “Hard Choices,” in June.
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.
In her book, Clinton outlines how she and Obama disagreed on arming Syrian rebels. And during the book’s promotional tour, she has drawn small divisions with him over second-term leadership and partnering with Iran to combat extremism in Iraq.
But the reaction to Clinton's comments, which inflamed the left, show how careful she has to be when trying to separate herself from her fellow Democrat while he’s still in office. It’s a task made even more complex by the fact that she served as America’s top diplomat under him for four years.
MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy and organizing group, also warned Clinton about taking too hawkish a tone, something it accused her of doing when she ran for president in 2008.
Clinton’s call to Obama came a day before they were expected to attend the same party at the Martha's Vineyard home of Vernon Jordan, a former close adviser and golfing buddy of her husband.
"Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, she looks forward to hugging it out when they see each other tomorrow night," Merrill said.
A White House official declined to comment, saying they will leave it to Clinton's aides to handle this for now.
CNN's Ashley Killough and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.