Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has put the largest amount of space yet between herself and a rapidly more-unpopular President Barack Obama, calling his refusal to "build up a credible fighting force" in Syria to battle the Assad regime a "failure" that led to jihadists such as the Islamic State (ISIS) moving in.
“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 in an extensive interview with The Atlantic's national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg.
The Clinton interview was conducted last week before the president ordered targeted airstrikes and humanitarian deliveries in Iraq, but she still used her toughest language yet to distance herself from Obama's string of decisions concerning Syria and Iraq.
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Goldberg notes in his article that Clinton's separation from Obama was only a matter of time, and as she comes closer to announcing her own candidacy, she was notably more blunt in her interview with him, which is to date one of the longer interviews she's given any journalist as she makes her decision whether to seek the 2016 Democratic nomination.
She all but admitted to the veteran journalist she is planning to run, saying that her still -remaining ideas on defeating fascism and communism might be "an old-fashioned idea, but I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.”
Meanwhile, Goldberg said Obama has maintained for some time that the United States could have helped the rebel forces in Syria, telling him in an interview in February that doing so would not have stopped al Qaida-related groups like ISIS from taking control.
But Clinton, who wrote in her memoir "Hard Choices"
that she has long advocated helping the Syrian rebellion, a stance that her supporters say is supported by the downturn of recent events.
Clinton, in the interview, did refer to Obama as "thoughtful" and someone with "intelligence," but she said his recently quoted foreign-policy doctrine of "don't do stupid stuff" does not work.
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don’t do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle," she said.
Clinton softened the blow on Obama a bit, saying he may have been "trying to communicate to the American people that he's not going to do something crazy," but also voiced concerns that the United States' position in the world seems to be moving backwards.
Further, Clinton argued that there is a difference between posturing, which she said was how former President George W. Bush handled foreign policy and a government that focuses on withdrawal.
"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," she told Goldberg. "One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days."
The United States, she said, needs to develop an "overarching" strategy to resist Islamist terrorism, comparing it to how the United States battled communism.
"One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States," Clinton said. "Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West — against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank — and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat."
She admitted that the United States "supported really nasty guys" while fighting communism, but "we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism. That was our objective. We achieved it.”
During the interview, Clinton also stood her ground in defending Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though her battles with the Israeli leader were notorious when discussing Israel's West Bank policy when she was still in office.
"I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets,” she said. "Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult."
But she admitted Israel, like the United States, is careful to avoid civilians, but "mistakes are made."
Ultimately, though, the blame for the conflict "rests with Hamas."
But it is "impossible to know what happens in the fog of war," but "there's no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict. … So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”
Clinton also told Goldberg that Hamas is guilty of "stage-managing" the conflict with Israel.
"What you see is largely what Hamas invites and permits Western journalists to report on from Gaza," said Clinton. "It’s the old PR problem that Israel has. Yes, there are substantive, deep levels of antagonism or anti-Semitism towards Israel, because it’s a powerful state, a really effective military. And Hamas paints itself as the defender of the rights of the Palestinians to have their own state. So the PR battle is one that is historically tilted against Israel."
She also defended Netanyahu's statements that the rise of Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East means he can't withdraw troops from the West Bank.
"If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security," said Clinton. "Even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat."
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