TIME Foreign Policy

Hillary Clinton Criticizes Obama on Syria Policy

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

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew a foreign policy line between herself and President Obama in an interview this week, saying the President should have assisted Syrian rebels early in the bloody three-year conflict there, and issuing a dig at his Administration’s minimalist doctrine.

The Obama Administration’s wariness about assisting rebels out of fear that aid would fall into the hands of extremists was misguided and ineffectual, Clinton said in an interview with the Atlantic, and allowed for the rise of Islamic extremists who are now threatening to take over wide swaths of Iraq.

“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.

President Obama resisted calls to arm moderate Syrian rebels, and did not initially send nonlethal aid to opposition forces. Clinton said that vetting, training and equipping the moderate Free Syrian Army, who in the early days of the revolution were at the core of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, would have provided better insight into the war in Syria and would have helped bolster a “credible political opposition.”

Clinton also criticized Obama’s foreign policy mantra on careful American foreign involvement, using a less foul-mouthed version of a doctrinal phrase that began emerging from the White House earlier this year. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said.

Even while she created an ideological distance between Obama and herself, Clinton had admiring words for the President, calling him “incredibly intelligent” and “thoughtful.”

[The Atlantic]

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