When a “split” looks a lot more like a “boost”

posted at 10:01 am on June 13, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Did Bill Clinton “split” with Barack Obama on Syria, as Politico claims?  Maghie Haberman reports on an appearance two days ago in which the former President and Senator John McCain debated foreign policy.  Clinton told McCain that he sided with the Senator, and said that waiting on polls to intervene in Syria would end up making Obama look like “a fool”:

Bill Clinton told Sen. John McCain he agrees that President Barack Obama should act more forcefully to support anti-Assad rebels in Syria, saying the American public elects presidents and members of Congress “to see down the road” and “to win.”

At another point during a closed-press event Tuesday, Clinton implied that Obama or any president risks looking like “a total fool” if they listen too closely to opinion polls and act too cautiously. He used his own decisions on Kosovo and Bosnia as a point of reference. …

His remarks came during a question-and-answer session with McCain, who has been among Obama’s harshest critics over what he calls a failure to take “decisive” action in Syria. Obama has come under growing pressure to step up American intervention by sending military and other assistance to the rebels.

“Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” Clinton told McCain during an event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan Tuesday night. “Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”

The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin also reports this as a Democratic split, one including the other Clinton:

Clinton, who rarely speaks on foreign policy in opposition to the current president, now joins a growing chorus of current and former officials who have broken with Obama’s policy on Syria, which until now has amounted to providing humanitarian and limited amounts of non-lethal military aid while pushing for a political solution to be negotiated with the assistance of Russia, which is providing arms to the Syrian regime.

Last summer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey all supported arming vetted, moderate elements of the Syrian opposition but were rebuffed by the White House. Hillary Clinton told the New York Times in Februaryshe had been an advocate for more forceful action in Syria, a move seen by many as an attempt to distance herself from Obama’s Syria policy just before she left office and in advance of her 2016 presidential run.

Color me … skeptical.  This looks more like a battleground-shaping exercise than a split, in part because Obama clearly isn’t opposed to intervention of some kind.  The White House seems to be encouraging the demand for action at least by not publicly opposing it, and by drawing red lines … even when we don’t follow up on them.

Furthermore, the appointment of Samantha Power to the UN seems a very clear tell on the side of intervention.  Power spent years arguing for muscular interventions to stop genocides and other ethnic cleansing activities, most infamously suggesting that the West occupy Israel to neutralize the IDF.  Obama didn’t pick Power to front a non-intervention policy in Syria or anywhere else.

However, there are a couple of key differences between Clinton’s form of interventions in the Balkans and the Libya model that Obama would use in Syria today. First, the US and NATO paired up for both air and ground interventions in order to stop genocides, rather than a flat-out attempt to settle the civil wars there.  We had boots on the ground almost from the beginning, although that didn’t stop the massacre at Srebrenica, which exposed the lack of will on the part of the interventionist forces at the time.

We put no boots on the ground in Libya and therefore didn’t have any opportunity to shape the outcomes there, with disastrous results. There doesn’t seem to be much support for putting boots on the ground in Syria either, which means we’ll topple another tyrant on behalf of whatever forces can bully their way to the top of the opposition again.  Not surprisingly, it’s not going to be the “moderates” any more than it was in Libya.  That kind of intervention will create another failed state as we did in Libya, with long-reaching consequences in our fight against Islamist terror networks in the region.

Clinton is doing Obama a big favor in glossing over the big differences in intervention strategies between the Balkans in the 1990s and what Obama and NATO did in North Africa over the last two years.  I don’t think that can be described as a “split,” but a boost is probably more accurate.

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Maybe Bark and Slick can “shape” the battlefield to look like a Nobel Peace Prize.

Bishop on June 13, 2013 at 10:05 AM

At this point, what difference does it make…?

d1carter on June 13, 2013 at 10:09 AM

About the only thing Obama appears to be committed to is his next scheduled round of golf—-priorities.

Rovin on June 13, 2013 at 10:11 AM

I’ll right out and say it – Team SCOAMT’s goal is to create as many Afghanistans as possible before they (hopefully) depart in January 2017.

Steve Eggleston on June 13, 2013 at 10:11 AM

We put no boots on the ground in Libya and therefore didn’t have any opportunity to shape the outcomes there,

The late Mr Stevens and those told to stand down would beg to differ.

abobo on June 13, 2013 at 10:12 AM

There’s that, and Billy Jeff was just named father of the year.

Potemkin would be in awe of the world we live in.

Akzed on June 13, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Stalemate may be the best we can achieve here. Neither Sunni nor Shia extremists will be our friends and bleeding Iran and Hezbollah financially and literally may be a positive.

KW64 on June 13, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Why Democrats and RINOs are so itching to get us into a shooting war is beyond me. Unless Obama is intent on creating another Middle East theocracy, I see no point to it. And it’s rather disconcerting if that’s his plan — doing for Iran what it has always dreamed but can’t do itself.

Liam on June 13, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Gotta get the radical America haters in charge somehow.

IlikedAUH2O on June 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Obama is intent on just effing things up so bad…

He has to leave a ‘legacy’ don’t you know…

As for a ‘shooting war’ it just looks good right?

Barky, says one thing and does another…

He’s a lying azzhat…

Scrumpy on June 13, 2013 at 10:31 AM

After scurrying out of Somalia and later debating the definition genocide while 700,000 Rwaandans were hacked to death and ultimately doing nothing so Belgium could save face, who cares what the Big Stain’s opinion is on foreign policy?

Roc on June 13, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Tax payer supported and pro-government propaganda outlet National Progressive Radio had a weepy, “something must be done because children are dying!” story on Syria this morning. They were reporting on a just released UN report on the casualty count.

I hope President Ladies Tee continues to dither. The US should give the Baathists and Islamists all the time they need to slaughter each other.

RobertE on June 13, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Bill Clinton is desperately trying to shift focus from the scandal(s) of his wife’s deplorable administration of the State Department to basically calling Obama a pollweenie.

1. Obama is a Fascist poll weenie.

2. Hillary Clinton is an incompetent craven self-centered lying Hag.

3. Bill Clinton is the same self-serving Putz he’s always been.

4. America is sick of the Clintons & the Obama’s.

Hey Bill…”What difference does it make”

workingclass artist on June 13, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Bill Clinton – Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia…

workingclass artist on June 13, 2013 at 10:59 AM

what started off as a “Syrian spring” is fast becoming a Muslim World War, with parties on both sides of the Shiite/Sunni Islam already having ‘boots on the ground’.

Bringing down Assad is no longer an issue of choosing between two bad options. It would be tantamount to declaring war on the Shiite world. (and vice versa if anybody decides to support Assad).

Phoenician on June 13, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Tax payer supported and pro-government propaganda outlet National Progressive Radio had a weepy, “something must be done because children are dying!” story on Syria this morning. They were reporting on a just released UN report on the casualty count.

I hope President Ladies Tee continues to dither. The US should give the Baathists and Islamists all the time they need to slaughter each other.

RobertE on June 13, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Does NPR think we should allow Syrian Christians to immigrate to the US…likely not.

workingclass artist on June 13, 2013 at 11:01 AM

Hmmmmm…

“President Mohammed Morsi gathered a group of politicians last week who thought they were speaking privately at a parliamentary meeting. But as seen in an Egyptian television video of the meeting — excerpts of which were later translated by the Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) — they were actually on live television, cringingly discussing secret ways to stop Ethiopia’s Nile River dam project which threatens water flowing to Egypt.

The New York Times blog reports:

Unaware that their words were being broadcast live on a state-owned television channel, many of those seated around the table said the dam was in fact a secret American and Israeli plot to undermine Egypt that must be stopped at all costs.

The participants learned they were on live TV only after Magdi Ahmad Hussein, chairman of the Islamic Labor Party, suggested that all present vow not to leak any information to the media. Before being told he was on television, Hussein described the U.S. as an enemy [emphasis added]:

I’m very fond of battles. With the enemies, of course – with America and Israel, but this battle must be waged with maximum judiciousness and calm. Even though this is a secret meeting, we must all take an oath not to leak anything to the media, unless it is done officially by sister Pakinam [el-Sharkawy, a Morsi aide]. We need an official plan for popular national security, even if we…

The viewer sees him being handed a note, which presumably points out that his words are not confined to the room. Hussein laughs, then continues with the anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric: “Okay… Fine… The principles behind what I’m saying are not really secret… Our war is with America and Israel, not with Ethiopia. Therefore, engaging in a war… This is my opinion…”

President Morsi says out for the benefit of all in the room, “This meeting is being aired live on TV,” a comment which prompts laughter all around.

In damage control mode, as if he knew all along that he was on camera, Hussein followed up by saying, “I am not presenting a secret plan or anything. All the countries do what I am saying and what has been said by others. All countries with regional conflicts do that.”

“I say to the Egyptian people: Nobody can turn off your water supply – unless they want to turn the Egyptians into the world’s most extremist people. Imagine what this people would do if its water were turned off – what all 80 million of us would do to Israel and America if our water were turned off,” Hussein concluded [emphasis added].

According to the New York Times, someone afterwards could be heard off camera saying, “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”…”

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/06/12/im-very-fond-of-battles-egyptian-cabinet-minister-caught-on-hot-mic-discussing-war-with-enemies-israel-and-america/

workingclass artist on June 13, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Bill Clinton is desperately trying to shift focus from the scandal(s) of his wife’s deplorable administration of the State Department to basically calling Obama a pollweenie.

workingclass artist on June 13, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Billy Jeff is beginning the campaign to distance Hilary from Ogabe. Hilary spent the past four years living in Ogabe’s shadow and mouthing Ogabe’s foreign and domestic policies. That’s some really heavy baggage she has to dispose of to become POTUS, and Billy Jeff is just the man to do it. For all his faults, his political abilities are second to none.

catsandbooks on June 13, 2013 at 12:49 PM

At another point during a closed-press event Tuesday, Clinton implied that Obama or any president risks looking like “a total fool” if they listen too closely to opinion polls and act too cautiously. He used his own decisions on Kosovo and Bosnia as a point of reference. …

Where Clinton conflates Kosovo and kumquats. About the only similarity between Bosnia or Kosovo and Syria is that some of the victims are Muslims.

The hodgepodge of formerly independent countries called Yugoslavia only held together because Tito, a Croat, tried to distance himself somewhat from the Soviet Union while offering equality to the Serbs. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Milosevic came to power and tried to exert Serbian dominance over all of Yugoslavia, non-Serbian countries revolted and seceded in rapid succession: first Slovenia, then Croatia, then Bosnia, then Kosovo. Bosnia itself was a hodgepodge, with a Catholic Croatian majority in the west, an Orthodox Serb majority in the east, and a small Muslim community caught in the middle. Clinton was very late intervening in Bosnia, and only intervened in Kosovo from the air. This was prior to the 9/11 attacks, when the threat from Al Qaeda was still veiled. After Milosevic was ousted, Croatia and Bosnia quickly normalized diplomatic and trade relations with the new Serbian government, while remaining independent countries.

Unlike Bosnia and Kosovo, Syria has no Christian majorities in its population, and the fight is between supporters of Baathist Assad and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood that has taken over Egypt and Libya. Both are hostile to the United States–why should we fight FOR either of them?

A better analogy would be to compare Syria with Rwanda–there was a horrible genocide there, but the US didn’t really have any allies there, so the United States (under Clinton) stayed out of that war.

We need to listen to Bibi Netanyahu. He is sending any troops toward the border to defend Israeli territory, but he is not sending any troops into Syria or Lebanon. If Israel, our only real ally in the region, doesn’t want to get involved, why should we?

Steve Z on June 13, 2013 at 2:30 PM

Clinton implied that Obama or any president risks looking like “a total fool” if they listen too closely to opinion polls and act too cautiously.

Really, during Clinton’s reign, the joke was he’d stick a wet finger in the air to decide policy.

socalcon on June 13, 2013 at 6:49 PM