EDGARTOWN, Mass. — Laying out a foreign policy vision ahead of a possible run for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton made her most aggressive effort yet to distinguish herself from her former boss, President Barack Obama, rebuking his cautious approach to global crises and saying the U.S. doctrine has to go beyond “don’t do stupid stuff.”
“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said in a weekend magazine interview, referring to a version of the phrase Obama and his advisers have used privately to describe his approach to foreign policy.
Asked for her organizing principle, she replied: “Peace, progress, and prosperity. This worked for a very long time.”
Clinton’s critiques come as she weighs whether to seek the White House in 2016, and as Obama wrestles with tough choices on how the U.S. should engage in disputes erupting across the world.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic published on its website, Clinton offered an uncompromising defense of Israel’s battle against Hamas in Gaza and argued against Obama’s decision not to build up a fighting force to confront Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Clinton previously described her advocacy for the Syrian rebellion in “Hard Choices,” her memoir about her time leading the State Department. Obama has said supporting the rebels would not have stopped al-Qaida-inspired groups from rampaging across Syria and inside Iraq today.
Clinton and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly argued for arming the rebels who first stood up to Assad three years ago. Since then, the question of “arming the rebels” has become more complicated, as al-Qaida-linked and other fundamentalist Islamist groups have joined the rebellion.
She told The Atlantic she can’t say definitively that her recommendations as secretary of state would have made a difference, but “the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
In describing what she means by “peace, progress, and prosperity,” Clinton said Americans want to take care of each other and do so in a way that rewards those who work hard and play by the rules.
Clinton wrapped her critiques in expressions of respect for the president’s intellect and sympathy for the tough decisions he grapples with from the Oval Office. On Monday, a vacation day for Obama, he dealt with issues involving Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, as well as terrorism and Ebola in Africa.
“He’s thoughtful, he’s incredibly smart, and able to analyze a lot of different factors that are all moving at the same time,” she said. “I think he is cautious because he knows what he inherited, both the two wars and the economic front, and he has expended a lot of capital and energy trying to pull us out of the hole we’re in.”