By Peter Sullivan - 08/12/14 06:00 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton is staking out a more hawkish foreign policy stance than President Obama as she moves toward a run for the presidency in 2016.
From Syria to Israel to Iran, Clinton is beginning to draw contrasts with the man she served under as secretary of State.
Clinton’s foreign policy differs from Obama’s in that it is “a little more muscular, a little more deliberate and less deliberative,” he added.
The strongest break came over the weekend, when in an interview Clinton criticized Obama’s “failure to help build up a credible fighting force” in Syria, while faulting his foreign policy approach in broad strokes.
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle," she told The Atlantic.
Clinton aides said the interview was part of her book tour, and not about the 2016 campaign or any political strategy.
Nonetheless, the remark could be the start of a more aggressive effort by Clinton to distance herself from Obama’s foreign policy, which scored an approval rating of just 36 percent in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
But shaking off her association with the president could be a tall order, given that she helped shape major policy decisions from within his Cabinet.
Republicans eyeing a presidential run in 2016 have begun to make the link between Obama and Clinton a point of attack.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over the weekend blamed the “failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policies” for the rise of Sunni militants in Iraq.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another rising GOP star, criticized Clinton for backing the U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011.
“There are some who call Libya ‘Hillary’s war.’ She was all for it. … And if you look objectively at Libya now, it’s a jihadist wonderland there,” he told The Washington Post earlier this month.
And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CNBC that under the Obama administration there has been “chaos all over the world,” with Clinton “at the State Department while all this was happening.”
Clinton has stressed that she often disagreed with the president’s policy moves, most notably on Syria, where she failed to persuade him of the need to arm rebel fighters.
“We pushed very hard,” Clinton told CNN in June. “But as I say in my book, I believe that Harry Truman was right, the buck stops with the president. And the president had very legitimate concerns.”
Obama, by contrast, told Thomas Friedman of The New York Times last week the idea that arming the Syrian rebels would have made a difference in the conflict is a “fantasy.”
Clinton has also begun to diverge on the conflict in Gaza.
The administration has repeatedly criticized Israel for not doing enough to prevent civilian casualties, earlier this month stating that the United States was “appalled” by the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza.
Clinton took a different tack. Asked by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “Do you think Israel did enough to limit civilian casualties?” Clinton responded, “It’s unclear. I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets.”
She went on to criticize the international reaction against Israel, adding, “You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism as an explanation.”
The daylight on policy extends to Iran, where Clinton has aired doubts about the ongoing nuclear talks.
“President Obama has said that the odds of getting a comprehensive agreement are 50-50,” Clinton said in May. “I personally am skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver.”
Clinton and Obama famously clashed on Iran during the 2008 campaign when Obama said he would be willing to meet with then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “without preconditions.” Clinton at the time called the position “irresponsible and frankly naïve.”
Clinton’s criticism of Obama is not as sharp-edged now. While critiquing his “Don't do stupid stuff” mantra, she cautioned that it doesn’t encapsulate Obama’s full policy approach.
“I think that that’s a political message,” she said. “It’s not his worldview, if that makes sense to you.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Clinton was not diverging on policy but instead making a point about how Obama’s motto could leave U.S. foreign policy without a “clear voice.”
“It’s more disagreeing with the messaging,” said O’Hanlon, who has co-authored a new book with James Steinberg, Clinton’s deputy secretary of State.
Clinton told The Atlantic her organizing principle is “peace, progress and prosperity,” and emphasized the role of ensuring domestic prosperity to win support for foreign policy.
“You’ve got to take care of your home first,” she said.
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