Hillary's Predictable Syria Protest

The purpose of Mrs. Clinton’s seemingly provocative comments is clear—to distance herself from Obama’s increasingly unpopular foreign policy.

Much has been made of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, where she deliberately, albeit delicately, disparaged certain aspects of the Obama foreign policy. Immediately after, the Washington punditry began in earnest to promote the narrative of a rift between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama over the latter’s management of U.S. foreign affairs. Obama’s neoconservative and liberal-internationalist critics quickly exploited the comments in efforts to vindicate their perennial belligerence. Charles Krauthammer uncharacteristically praised Clinton, writing in the Washington Post that she was altogether correct in her criticism. On CBS, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer echoed Krauthammer's sentiments. Even The Weekly Standard, no friend of Clinton’s, couldn’t help but to enthusiastically wade into the supposed rift, running a Special Guest Editorial entitled “Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures,” which featured verbatim excerpts from the now famous interview.

In response, Obama confidant David Axelrod took the dispute to Twitter to invoke the memory of Clinton’s infamous vote for the Iraq War, hoping to draw a stark contrast between Clinton’s reckless past behavior and Obama’s allegedly indelible low tolerance for “stupid stuff.” The interview would precipitate a “hug summit” between Obama and Clinton to patch things up, reminiscent of Obama’s rather silly “beer summit” at the White House in 2009. Yet the purpose of Mrs. Clinton’s seemingly provocative comments was clear: In order to stand out in the upcoming Democratic primary contest, as well as in a general-election setting, Clinton is frantically searching for ways to distance herself from Obama’s increasingly unpopular foreign policy, a foreign policy she integrally participated in crafting during Obama’s first term, even if the policies she now professes support for are not all too different from the ones her former employer presently advocates.

Aside from cozying up to Bibi Netanyahu and wearing her advocacy of overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi like a badge of honor, the supposedly key moment in the interview came when Clinton voiced dissent over Obama’s admittedly incoherent Syria policy. According to Clinton, the rise and subsequent expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria was largely the result of the Obama administration’s decision not to actively arm and finance “a core group” within the Free Syrian Army. “The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” said Clinton.

At no point in the lengthy interview did Clinton reflect on or even acknowledge the obviously failed U.S. policy of seeking regime change in Damascus, and what that policy has entailed for Syria and the region. By encouraging armed revolt against the Assad regime, the administration indirectly helped foment the jihadist insurgency now controlling a third of both Syria and Iraq. In other words, the vacuum now filled by violent jihadists that Clinton speaks of was not created by Obama’s lack of initiative when it came to nurturing the development of the Free Syrian Army. As long-time commentator and correspondent Patrick Smith recently observed in the Fiscal Times, Free Syrian Army democrats intent on establishing an inclusive polity in a post-Assad order “were born and raised in Washington imaginations.” Furthermore, Obama has consistently and routinely offered rhetorical and material support to the anti-Assad rebels, most recently by asking Congress to authorize half a billion dollars in arms, training and equipment to “vetted” rebel factions.

Rather, the vacuum came into being as a result of Washington’s preoccupation with toppling regimes it finds objectionable, even if the alternatives turn out to be exponentially worse. One need only consider the intervention in Libya for confirmation of that. In her interview, Clinton seemed to pat herself on the back for being the administration’s principal advocate of regime removal in Tripoli, proudly stating, “But you know, we helped overthrow Qaddafi.”