Monday, August 18, 2014


President Obama has long ridiculed the idea that the U.S., early in the Syrian civil war, could have shaped the forces fighting the Assad regime, thereby stopping al Qaeda-inspired groups—like the one rampaging across Syria and Iraq today—from seizing control of the rebellion.

Well, his former secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, isn’t buying it. In an interview with me earlier this week, she used her sharpest language yet to describe the "failure" that resulted from the decision to keep the U.S. on the sidelines during the first phase of the Syrian uprising.
While there's much to admire about Hillary Clinton, she made several statements in her recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic that worry me.
“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.
I remember my doubts about the suggestion to arm "vetted rebels" in Syria. What could possibly go wrong?

As I see it, Clinton is not wise to so quickly distance herself from President Obama. As you may recall, Al Gore hardly, if ever, mentioned President Clinton during his campaign to succeed him, nor did he allow Bill Clinton to campaign on his behalf, even in carefully chosen locations where Clinton was quite popular. Still, the president was always the ghost on the stage of every campaign event. I've always believed that Al Gore would have won by a large and indisputable margin, had he not run such a poor campaign and had he not so obviously run away from Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton ought perhaps to take a lesson.
Of course, Clinton had many kind words for the “incredibly intelligent” and “thoughtful” Obama, and she expressed sympathy and understanding for the devilishly complicated challenges he faces. But she also suggested that she finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good.
How's that for damning with faint praise?  Au contraire, Madame Secretary, the president is wise to step away from the fantasy of American exceptionalism in which we bear the burden of setting the world to rights, as we see the right.  Also, for a Democratic would-be candidate to criticize the Democratic president in these difficult and tumultuous times seems disloyal.  I realize that she will inevitably differentiate her policies from those of the president, but she seems to be making serious mistakes in her statements in the interview.

If Clinton is the candidate, I believe she could lose the election by taking the anti-Obama track.  She cannot win without an enthusiastic turnout by African-American voters, and Obama still retains a fair amount of support among Democrats of all colors. She appears opportunistic, and, even worse, ruthless in her ambition.

Clinton takes a harder line against Iran than Obama, but negotiations require some wiggle room unless one's position is, "My way or the highway."
HRC: I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out. So, little or no enrichment has always been my position. 
Not much wiggle room there.

Clinton's seemingly unreserved support for the policies of the present Israeli government is worrisome, too.
Much of my conversation with Clinton focused on the Gaza war. She offered a vociferous defense of Israel, and of its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well. This is noteworthy because, as secretary of state, she spent a lot of time yelling at Netanyahu on the administration's behalf over Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. Now, she is leaving no daylight at all between the Israelis and herself.

“I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets,” she told me. “Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.”
While it's true there is wrong on both sides, Israel's response seems disproportionate, as is indicated by a comparison of the numbers of Palestinians and Israelis killed and wounded.  Also, if the Israeli government truly wants peace, perhaps the leaders might consider a bold, unilateral, admittedly risky move to lift the blockade of Gaza, remove the checkpoints which make travel so difficult for the Palestinians, and stop the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  So long as Israel's neighbors in Gaza live in miserable conditions, Israel will not have peace.

Note: To disagree with the present policies of the Israeli leadership does not make me antisemitic any more than disagreement with the policies of my own government makes me un-American.

If the interview is Clinton's pre-season launch of her candidacy for the presidency, and I think it is, then she's made several missteps, and, I hope she sets herself aright.  I don't think any candidate, except in certain circumstances, a sitting president, is entitled to anointment as the chosen candidate for a political party, but I fear the stage is being set for anointing Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate.  I hope other prominent Democrats in the party rise to challenge Clinton, so we have a real contest and open discussions of various policies for moving the country forward and winning the election in 2016.


Anonymous said...

'she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good.'

I think all of us believe that America is often a force for good in the world. But I wish that American politicians would realize how the rest of the world rolls its eyes when we hear them use unqualified, categorical statements like 'America is an indispensable force for good'.


June Butler said...

Tim, my eyes roll with the rest of the world when Clinton suggests the US is "indispensable". How I wish the idea of American exceptionalism could be laid to rest.

Russ Manley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russ Manley said...

1. America is the only remaining superpower, as far as I know. If you think it is not indispensable, suppose for the sake of argument that a small asteroid wiped out all life north of the Rio Grande tomorrow. Who exactly would be left to keep the thugs of the world from taking over what would be left of it? "Indispensible" may be an impolitic phrase - but we are the big dog, and there's a responsibility that comes with power, like it or not.

2. I have no heart to keep up with all the ins and outs of the Middle East and all the other trouble spots of the world at this late age. I have my own troubles, which are of course trivial in the scheme of the universe, but big enough to occupy me fully. That said, I don't know what the really right course would be with any of these squabbling countries, but the feeling I get is that nobody else does, either. Obama, contrary to all expectation, seems to be a weak-handed player with foreign affairs - but did Ms. Clinton give him the benefit of her oh-so-smart wisdom and counsel when she was working for him, I wonder? Or was she just working for herself, after all?

3. I really don't believe Hillary will ever be president - she is too old now, and has too much baggage. Her time was 2008 - and she would have cinched the job had not Obama parachuted in from seemingly nowhere, as I recall it. People wanted change then, a break with the past, hope for better times - and now with all hell breaking loose in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and other places abroad, immigrants pouring over the border here - so the media says, though I haven't seen it for myself - and with blood in the streets in Missouri, and who knows where next -- I think the country is going to pick a Republican to "straighten out the mess" - I can't see Hillary being elected - a lightning rod for every resentful right-wing naysayer - and the Dems simply have NO ONE else of presidential stature that I'm aware of. Nor do the Republicans, for that matter - but in this whippy-zippy brave new world, branding is everything.

4. I do believe, however, that Hillary would win in a contest against Palin - that's the only hope for the Democrats in 2016 as far as I can see.

Russ Manley said...

PS - Just to make my credentials clear, I voted for Hillary in the 2008 primary - I didn't think Obama had enough experience and was better suited to be Veep than Prez at that time. And I still think Hillary would have known better how to rock and roll with the Republicans in Congress, but she was shut out of the race.

Obama's made some fine accomplishments that I admire him for - but I still think he was insufficiently prepared for the Oval Office, and had to learn on the job.

June Butler said...

Russ, sometimes we are the thugs, as in the invasion of Iraq. The US may be the big dog, but we have not been elected leader of the world, and people in other countries resent our interference in their affairs.

America most certainly cannot fix the Middle East, and we should confine our activities there to humanitarian aid. In fact, we should confine ourselves to humanitarian aid around the world. I do support Obama's decision to aid the Kurds, who seem like the sanest group in Iraq at the moment, and are taking in numbers of refugees escaping from the brutality of IS.

I agree Hillary carries a lot of baggage. She is not my choice as the Democratic candidate, so now is the time to speak out. I also fear you may be correct that the scene is being set for possibility of the election of a Republican "to straighten out the mess".

I don't think Palin stands a chance to be the Republican nominee, but I wish she did.

June Butler said...

If Hillary is the candidate, I will vote for her. I doubt that she could have or would have done a better job than Obama. Besides, she's too militaristic to suit me. She wanted intervention in Syria, which I think would have been a mistake.

Rmj said...

I won't comment on the content of Hillary's statements, although by and large I disagree with it.

I will note that what Hillary is condemning is the actions she took as Secretary of State, and the only conclusion I can draw from that is that she hopes the public forgets the last public office she held, and doesn't hold it against her now.

Because either she was purely a figurehead, carrying out the President's policies while disagreeing with them entirely but being too passive to say so; or she actively engaged in the decisions behind those policies, and now she wants to eat her cake and have it, too.

What she can't do, is condemn those policies and say "I had nothing to do with 'em!"

June Butler said...

Clinton cannot disassociate herself from Obama after playing a prominent role in his administration. As I understand it, she did sometimes disagree with Obama's policies behind the scenes, but once decisions were made, she was a good soldier and carried out the policies. I admired her as Secretary of State. I think she performed better in that role than she will either as the nominee or as president, should she be chosen.