Reports: Obama Blocked Hillary's Attempts to Tackle Syrian Conflict

Image: Reports: Obama Blocked Hillary's Attempts to Tackle Syrian Conflict Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and US President Barack Obama. (Jewel Samad/Getty Images)

Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 12:47 PM

By Melanie Batley

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President Barack Obama repeatedly refused to allow his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take action on the escalating civil war in Syria, which may be one of the reasons behind Clinton's decision to publicly criticize his foreign policy this week.

According to The Daily Beast, the White House repeatedly ignored warnings by Clinton and her senior staff that the Syrian conflict was worsening, and refused to allow her to talk directly to moderate Syrian rebels.

In an interview published Monday in The Atlantic, the former first lady blamed the president for the deteriorating situation in Syria.

"The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against [Syrian leader Bashar] 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.

The comments signaled an attempt to distance herself from Obama in advance of a widely anticipated 2016 presidential bid, and represented the first major criticism of the president's foreign policy approach since she stepped down from the administration last year.

The White House was reportedly furious about the comments, prompting Clinton on Tuesday to call the president to make amends in advance of a party Wednesday on Martha's Vineyard where they were expected to "hug it out" to resolve their differences.

While at the State Department, Clinton was pressing for the United States to engage directly with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the loose group of modern armed rebels which had been asking for U.S. assistance, The Daily Beast reported.

Clinton's State Department had also warned the White House that Iraq could be destabilized by the Syrian conflict.

"The State Department warned as early as 2012 that extremists in eastern Syria would link up with extremists in Iraq. We warned in 2012 that Iraq and Syria would become one conflict," said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, according to The Daily Beast.

"We highlighted the competition between rebel groups on the ground, and we warned if we didn't help the moderates, the extremists would gain."

Obama's inner circle, however, resisted calls to develop relationships with the rebels until 2013 when the administration began to train and equip selected brigades. Many in the White House believed it was too little, too late.

"Clinton understood that the guys with the guns mattered," Ford said, "And that it could become one large operating area for al-Qaida."

He added, "In 2012 and the start of 2013 the most we could do was to provide help to the civilian opposition. We had no permission from the White House to help the FSA, so we did not do so."

Another State Department official told The Daily Beast that there were heated arguments with the White House over whether to help the rebels.

"[The State Department] tried to get the opposition to a place where if the president did decide to arm the rebels, it would be easier to do," the official told the Daily Beast. "But the institution of the State Department and the institution of the White House were not on the same page. The president didn't budge, and Hillary had no control over that."


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