By Alexander Bolton - 06/14/14 06:00 AM EDT
The growing crisis and threat of all-out civil war in Iraq has cast a cloud over Hillary Clinton’s book tour touting her accomplishments as secretary of State.
The release of “Hard Choices” was supposed to remind people of the foreign policy credentials she burnished in the Obama administration.
But those résumé bullet points are now up for debate as Iraq has erupted in violence and insurgents linked to al Qaeda have captured four cities, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest metropolitan center.
“It’s going to be a problem for her starting now,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said of the country’s collapsing stability.
"You have the White House three days ago talking about one of her greatest accomplishment was eradicating al Qaeda in Iraq. One of her greatest accomplishments was winding down war in Iraq. Forty-eight hours later we’re dealing with a situation where we’re talking about how to best help eradicate an al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq," he said.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine said it’s too early to say what impact Iraq may have on Clinton’s White House hopes in 2016 but added the stakes are high for both her and President Obama.
“If he deals with it decisively in the next couple months and achieves real progress I think the Iraq story will be a good one for him and Hillary Clinton,” Devine said. “If things deteriorate and there’s a terrible situation that develops there over the course over the next couple years that presents a threat to the United States it will not be good for either one of them.”
A spokesman for Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.
Earnest stood by his statement enumerating Clinton’s accomplishments after telling reporters, "in terms of important foreign policy accomplishments for which Secretary Clinton can rightly claim her share of the credit, I would put ending the war in Iraq, responsibly winding down the war in Afghanistan, and decimating and destroying core al Qaeda.”
Administration officials have drawn a distinction between al Qaeda’s core membership, which has been mostly wiped out, and other jihadist groups that have claimed affiliation.
The militant group that has overrun Mosul, Tikrit and other cities was formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq but has since changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Al Qaeda reportedly disassociated itself from the group earlier this year after a leadership dispute.
Clinton has wrestled with the Iraq war since 2002 when former President George W. Bush asked Congress to vote for a resolution authorizing an invasion.
She was one of 29 Democratic senators who voted yes, and it came back to haunt her in the 2008 presidential primary when Obama criticized her.
Clinton writes in her new memoir that she should have said she regretted the vote “sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible.” She later supported withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq without leaving a residual force to ensure security.
In a 2011 interview as secretary of State, she downplayed the possibility of civil war breaking out.
“I think that Iraq is a very new democracy of course but it has made tremendous strides in taking care of its own security,” she told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
She noted that the United States would have a security relationship with Iraq to train and support their military, similar to cooperative agreements with other country.
In that interview three years ago, she said the U.S. would place military trainers and support personnel at its embassy in Baghdad and train Iraqis to use military equipment purchased from the United States.
When asked if the Obama administration risked civil war by withdrawing without leaving a residual force, she emphasized that Bush set the deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
“Are the Iraqis all going to get along with each other for the foreseeable future? Well, let’s find out. We know that there will be continuing stresses and threats as we see in many of the countries that we work,” she said then.
Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, on Thursday criticized Obama and Clinton for failing to address national security threats in Iraq and elsewhere.
"I mean there's almost not a place in the world that's better off because of her leadership in the State Department. Look what's happening in Nigeria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, look at what China is doing in the South China Sea — all over the world, a policy of weakness and accommodation that came from the Obama and Hillary Clinton team," Romney told Fox News.
However, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane argued Clinton would not suffer politically in 2016 from Iraq because the security mess is primarily the fault of a former GOP president.
“There is going to be a lot that will happen between now and 2016 that could impact the race - but it would be a triple bank shot to hold someone who was neither the Republican president responsible for going into Iraq under a false promise of [weapons of mass destruction] and a Democratic president who campaigned on the kept promise of getting out of Iraq responsible,” he said.
In recent days, Clinton has opposed another military intervention in Iraq to stop ISIS.
“I agree with the White House’s rejection and reluctance to do the kind of military activities that the Maliki government is requesting, mainly the fighter aircraft to provide close support for the army and also to go after targets,” she told the BBC.
“That is not a role for the United States,” she added. “There needs to be a number of steps that Maliki and his government must take to demonstrate that he’s committed to an inclusive Iraq — something he has not done up to date.”
Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Clinton is still trying to distance herself from her past support for the invasion of Iraq.
“What she’s trying to do now is so obviously related to living down her now-regretted Iraq war vote. If she’s going to base her candidacy on trying to whitewash her previous political record, no one will take her seriously,” she said.
Spicer, the GOP spokesman, argued that it “was pretty clear that Hillary Clinton is letting her political considerations drive her national security policy.”
But Democrats and Lehane say the reality is that most Americans decided a long time ago that they want the United States out of Iraq.