By Amie Parnes - 09/10/14 05:37 AM EDT
Allies to former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonRetired general attacks Trump in new Clinton ad Trump: Clinton's Syria policy would lead to 'World War III' Trump's campaign hangs on the gender card MORE are casting a stark distinction between a decisive, assertive Clinton and a pragmatic, deliberative President Obama on foreign policy.
As Obama seeks to make the case for military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in a prime-time address on Wednesday, Clinton supporters are saying that she would have approached the battle with ISIS in a completely different way if she were commander in chief.
Another former Clinton aide took it a step further: “It’s the very notion of decisiveness,” the former aide said. “She’s not gnashing her teeth the way we’re seeing time and time again with Obama.”
Clinton herself used her book Hard Choices this summer to highlight how she and Obama had differing views and strategies on Syria. And in recent weeks, in an interview with The Atlantic, Clinton also said that the administration’s decision not to get involved in the Syrian conflict was a “failure.”
“Secretary Clinton has made it very clear, not only in her book, that she thought the administration needed to be involved in creating a legitimate force in Syria against [President] Bashar al-Assad,” the first former aide to Clinton said.
Evidence of public dissatisfaction with Obama’s presidency is mounting as the situation with ISIS worsens, more specifically the president’s handling of foreign policy.
A CNN-ORC poll this week showed that only 30 percent of Americans think Obama has a clear plan for combating ISIS. The survey followed a Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed one in four Democrats considers the Obama presidency to be a “failure.”
Democrats also have expressed disappointment in Obama’s handling of the battle against ISIS.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who supported Clinton in 2008, expressed concern that the president was being “too cautious” in dealing with ISIS.
Obama and Clinton’s differences on national security date back to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when two very different styles emerged.
Back then, the former first lady accused Obama of lacking the experience necessary to handle world crises. In her famous “3 a.m.” campaign ad in 2008, she said voters needed someone who was “tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.”
Observers say it was easy to see the differences between Clinton and Obama even on the campaign stump.
“One of the great things you saw on display in 2008 was that you got two very different visions on how the two of them would have governed,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. “[Obama] campaigned on America engaging in a different way, getting out of wars and not as muscular. [Clinton] campaigned being very clear that she would continue with a more muscular foreign policy approach. And that’s all coming back into play right now.”
Clinton’s tenure at the State Department highlighted her hawkish tendencies even more. In the lead-up to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011, then CIA Director Leon Panetta approached Clinton early to get her buy-in on the raid, according to the book HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, published earlier this year. Panetta knew that while Obama could be risk-averse, she had what some called a “bias for action.”
But a former senior administration official defended Obama’s approach, saying he is “doing the best he can under trying circumstances.”
“[Clinton and Obama] do have very different styles, but I think they’re more alike than different,” the former official said.
Another former senior administration official familiar with both Obama and Clinton said the former secretary of State is an “interventionist.”
“Would she be quicker than President Obama to order kinetic military action? Yes,” the former official said. “It is reasonable to assume she would be more action oriented than President Obama,” the former official added. “And he is more process oriented. Her tendencies are more bellicose than the president. ... She is a decisive person. She doesn’t speak with a whole lot of semicolons and commas.”
Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination for the White House in 2016 if she chooses to run. In a general election, her hawkish image on foreign policy could help distance her from an unpopular Obama.
It could also affect the arguments of several likely GOP opponents who have less experience in foreign policy, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ken.).
At the same time, Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic nomination for the White House to Obama largely because of liberal unhappiness with her support for the Iraq War. While no one on the left is now seen as a credible threat, there could be calls for alternatives to Clinton from the liberal grassroots if she is again seen as too hawkish.
Clinton allies cringe at the notion that the former secretary is a “hawk.” They call the label “lazy” and say they prefer to think of her as action-oriented, decisive and strong-willed.
And they say that this decisiveness could help her in a general election, especially when it comes to peeling off the votes of independents and some Republicans.
“Should she decide to run, I think that she’s going to get a fresh look by people that are not registered by political party or feel disaffected by the base of their party,” said Ellen Tauscher, the former congresswoman who served as undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs at the State Department under Clinton. “I think that’s why it’s important she wrote her book. In her words, she’s able to give people a very good road map about how her deliberative style, her very defined set of values and her moral compass.”
“I think people will understand that her knee-jerk reaction is not ‘Let’s go bomb them’ or ‘Let’s use military force,’ ” Tauscher continued. “She understands the utility of using military force but it’s not the first thing you reach for. She has always said you have to exhaust diplomacy.”