Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Sir Walter Scott’s warning on the complications of dishonesty seems to apply to the recent travails of Hillary Clinton, who has spent the past week or so attempting to distance herself from the disaster of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. That’s a neat trick for someone who served as Secretary of State for four of the five-plus years of the Obama administration, and the White House and its supporters have already lashed out about it, if indirectly.
How is the project working? So far, conservatives aren’t buying the switch, CBS News concludes:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, seemingly in preparation for a 2016 presidential run, has some pundits on the right crying foul.
By criticizing President Obama’s handling of foreign affairs, Clinton is attempting to distinguish Mr. Obama’s view of America’s role in the world from her own. Conservatives, however, are questioning how much Mr. Obama’s former top diplomat can truly distance herself from the administration. …
“If she wants to achieve separation, she will have to answer some tough questions in the period ahead, such as: how hard did she really fight for arming and training the Free Syrian Army?” [Washington Post columnist Marc] Thiessen wrote. “Did she threaten to resign? What specifically did she advocate doing to help the opposition? Did she advocate air strikes against ISIS? And – most importantly – did she oppose Obama’s complete withdrawal from Iraq, which also ‘left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled’?”
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, called Clinton’s remarks “the worst sort of political opportunism for which she is infamous.”
“For a year and a half after leaving the administration, she has not spoken out against the president on Syria or much of anything else,” Rubin wrote. “She did not have the nerve to resign out of principle on Syria, as did former ambassador Robert Ford. Only now, when the entire region has gone to seed she decides the Obama critics were right on some key aspects of foreign policy.”
If Hillary isn’t convincing conservatives, she has to be impressing liberals, right? Not really, writes Katie Glueck at Politico:
Hillary Clinton is giving some liberals flashbacks to 2008, and not in a good way.
Progressives are wincing over Clinton’s foreign policy comments in a blockbuster interview with The Atlantic, saying her statements are excessively hawkish and reminiscent of her past support for the war in Iraq. Some foreign policy experts, meanwhile, are criticizing her views as too simplistic; one analyst called them downright disloyal to President Barack Obama.
In the interview with prominent foreign affairs writer Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton called Obama’s decision not to back Syrian rebels early on a “failure;” stood staunchly with Israel in its fight against Hamas; took a tough tone on Iran; and said that the West Wing’s foreign policy mantra — “Don’t do stupid stuff”— is “not an organizing principle.”
Clinton has always been more of a hawk than Obama, whom she served under as secretary of state during his first term. But for many liberals, whose enthusiasm will be important if she runs again for president in 2016, her comments simply felt like code for Bush-era interventionism.
Ironically, in attempting to distance herself from Obama’s foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has just modeled it for us. Contrary to her implicit claim in her interview with The Atlantic, Hillary has no “organizing principle” for herself either except that which gets her elected. Both she and Obama are entirely reactive; they have no policy except that which derives the best short-term benefits. Obama’s foreign policy was popular during his first term even while setting the stage for the predictable disasters that would follow, so she was more than happy to be along for the ride.
Now that Obama’s foreign policy has produced disasters and crises, she’s suddenly venting her Inner Hawk and attempting to rewrite history — with a little help from her friends, Joe Concha argues:
[I]n a crystal ball moment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell and Joe Scarborough sounded more like campaign operatives than objective analysts in an attempt to separate likely-candidate Clinton from Secretary of State Clinton.
“It’s almost like Hillary understands, like most foreign policy experts we have talked to over the past month understand, that ISIS is the beginning of a great unraveling of the Middle East,” Scarborough said.
“She understands it, she understood it then,” Mitchell agreed, adding later, “What Hillary Clinton is trying to do here is show the distinction,” Mitchell continued, “that she had the vision, if you will, to see that Syria was the heart of it.”
So the takeaway from this exchange is: A) The former Secretary of State understands what ISIS could do to destabilize the Middle East if it takes Baghdad and beyond (all despite a lack of evidence of said former Secretary of State attempting to do and say anything about ISIS while she had the power to do so); and B) She apparently had the vision to see the mess in Syria would spill over into vulnerable neighboring countries like Iraq, but not many speeches or interviews can be found indicating such. Except, of course, when she admitted this back in June:
““I never thought it (ISIS) was just a Syrian problem. I thought it was a regional problem. I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state. That’s why it’s a wicked problem.”
Yup, she sure understood ISIS then, as Mitchell contended. And by the way, where was Mrs. Clinton’s leadership and initiative on this before throwing an unpopular president under the bus? Mr. Obama is the Commander-in-Chief and has the final say on these matters, yes. And to ask her to call out her boss in public isn’t rooted in reality, of course. But part of her job was to earn the respect and trust of the president she serves. If she felt we should have approached the Syrian conflict differently (via arming “moderate” rebels to squash radical armies like ISIS), then why wasn’t she able to make a more effective argument internally?
That’s the question Hillary has to answer. More importantly, she has to convince voters that she has her own “organizing principle,” or principles of any sort other than the need to live in the White House again. Otherwise, Hillary Clinton will have the astonishing accomplishment of making Barack Obama look deliberative and strategic in comparison.
Update: Here’s a good question for Clintonistas to answer, too:
Yes, this distancing seems both recent and very convenient, no?
Update: Trimmed down two of the excerpts.