That’s how Democratic members of Congress report that President Barack Obama expressed his view of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he appointed, calling him out on his policy toward Syria.
What has become a noticeable rift between two Washington fixtures who most people would assume agree, or should publically pretend to agree, on the Administration’s recent foreign policy decisions began when Clinton blamed Obama for the ISIS advances in a recent interview with The Atlantic.
According to the former top diplomat, the Administration could have made it more difficult for ISIS to gain support throughout the Middle East by doing more to support rebels in Syria when that country was initially besieged by civil war.
“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against 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.
Clinton’s remarks on Syria illustrate a clear disconnect from the view Obama has taken since the earliest days of the civil conflict, that heavily involving the U.S. military in a protest-turned-armed uprising would only make matters worse.
Obama has been criticized by foreign policy hawks on both sides of the aisle (notably Republican Senator John McCain) for not doing more to help Syrian rebels take control of the country and establish a governmental structure.
“The president still feels very strongly that we are deluding ourselves if we think American intervention in Syria early on by assisting these rebels would have made a difference,” Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat present for Obama’s recent rebuttal to the Clinton claim, told The Daily Beast in an interview. “He still believes that. I disagree, respectfully. They were not looking for U.S. troops, they were looking for help and the Syria civil war started with the most noblest of causes.”
Indeed, Obama has remained steadfast in insisting that getting more involved with rebels in Syria not only wouldn’t have helped, but would also have created other geopolitical problems.
“This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards,” Obama said in an August 8th interview with The New York Times.
In another criticism that likely got under Obama’s skin, Clinton mocked the President’s trademark “don’t do stupid stuff” foreign policy motto.
“Great nations need organizing principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said during the Atlantic interview.
On Tuesday, White House senior adviser David Axelrod hit back at Clinton on Twitter, saying, “Just to clarify: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.”
Unlike Obama, Clinton was a supporter of the Iraq invasion launched by Obama’s predecessor, an issue that became a key point of contention when the two both vied for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.
If the current Obama-Clinton drama appears to be an exercise in classic political theater, there’s a reason. Clinton’s very public rebuke of Obama’s foreign policy—at a time when the Administration’s approval numbers on the matter are tanking— has been pegged by most political watchers as the first of many in the beginning stages of a likely Clinton 2016 Presidential bid.