Obama, Clinton defend record in Middle East

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended their foreign policy record in the Middle East, saying in an interview aired Sunday that they wisely chose not to “shoot from the hip.”

In a joint interview aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the president and secretary of State said the United States has not retreated from the world stage, a charge made by critics urging the Obama administration to do more to intervene in Syria and take a tougher stance with Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Obama cited both Egypt and Libya as instances where his administration played a leading role, saying that former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi “probably does not agree with that assessment” of U.S. retreat.

“We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, where we take on things without having thought through all the consequences of it," Obama said in the interview.

Gadhafi was deposed from power after a NATO-led air campaign backed rebel forces seeking his ouster.


Obama said that in Syria the U.S. needed to tread carefully.

“Syria's a classic example of where our involvement, we want to make sure that not only does it enhance U.S. security, but also that it is doing right by the people of Syria and neighbors like Israel that are going to be profoundly affected by it. And so it's true sometimes that we don't just shoot from the hip,” the president said.

Obama's critics have argued that the administration should do more to help the rebels locked in a civil war with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, from providing weapons to creating a no-fly zone. They’ve argued that Obama’s calls for Assad to step down have proven toothless without the support to back up the rhetoric, allowing the death toll to keep rising.

Clinton said the administration has thoughtfully weighed difficult choices in deciding what to do — and not to do —to respond to the civil war in Syria.


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“Are there what we call wicked problems like Syria, which is the one you named? Absolutely,” Clinton told “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft.

“And we are on the side of American values. We're on the side of freedom. We're on the side of the aspirations of all people — to have a better life, have the opportunities that we are fortunate to have here,” she said. “But it's not always easy to perceive exactly what must be done in order to get to that outcome."

Kroft sat down with both Clinton and Obama — at the president’s request — for the interview that aired Sunday, where Obama praised Clinton’s record at State as she prepares to leave the administration and called the outgoing secretary a "strong friend."

Both of them played down any questions about Clinton’s potential ambitions in 2016, which have been sparked anew by the joint interview.

"I don't think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year," said Clinton.

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