Hillary preferred action on Syria, but she sat on the other side of the table from President Obama, who was against more engagement. ISIS began building strength in Syria.

Hillary preferred action on Syria, but she sat on the other side of the table from President Obama, who was against more engagement. ISIS began building strength in Syria.

It was not the first time, nor the last, that telling a hard truth would cause me trouble. – Hillary Clinton in Hard Choices

THE STRENGTH of ISIS seemingly finding the Obama administration, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence experts on their heels has caused questions to filter up about how the U.S. could have been caught in a position where dire circumstances in Iraq led to the Kurds being threatened. It has led to philosophical foreign policy differences between President Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being discussed, with the separation crucial for Clinton as she eyes 2016.

Her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg includes many moments where Obama’s former Secretary of State finds herself “telling a hard truth” that may indeed “cause (her) trouble.”

“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.” – Hillary Clinton [interview with Jeffrey Goldberg]

If you’ve read Hard Choices, you likely unsurprised by what’s now developing and being discussed. An excerpt:

I returned to Washington reasonably confident that if we decided to begin arming and training moderate Syrian rebels, we could put in place effective coordination with our regional partners. By now interagency planning was in high gear, and Petraeus presented the plan to the President. He listened carefully and had a lot of questions. He worried that arming the rebels was not likely to be enough to drive Assad from power and that with all the weapons already flowing into the country from Arab nations, our contributions would hardly be decisive. And there were always unintended consequences to consider.

…Petraeus and I argued that there was a big difference between Qatar and Saudi Arabia dumping weapons into the country and the United States responsibly training and equipping a nonextremist rebel force. And getting control of that mess was a big part of our plan’s rationale.

What’s more, the goal was not to build up a force strong enough to defeat the regime. Rather the idea was to give us a partner on the ground we could work with that could do enough to convince Assad and his backers that a military victory was impossible. It wasn’t a perfect plan, by any means. In fact, the best I could say for it was that it was the least bad option among many even worse alternatives.

Despite high-level support from the National Security Council, some in the White House were skeptical. After all, the President had been elected in large part because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and his promise to bring the troops home. Getting entangled in any way in another sectarian civil war in theMiddle East was not what he had in mind when coming into office. And the President thought we needed more time to evaluate the Syrian opposition before escalating our commitment.

No one likes to lose a debate, including me. But this was the President’s call and I respected his deliberations and decision. From the beginning of our partnership, he had promised me that I would always get a fair hearing. And I always did. In this case, my position didn’t prevail. …

No one knows better than Hillary Clinton that her robust engagement philosophy may not be popular with some in Democratic primary circles, especially progressive activists. She doesn’t much care, because she’s got enough experience behind her to back up her own philosophy. Her differences with President Obama won’t hurt her with the larger public, even with the majority less interested in foreign involvement, because the President’s approval ratings today aren’t what they used to be. That President Obama’s foreign policy has come under harsh criticism of late, juxtaposed with his promise to have sustained bombing in Iraq, neutralizes most criticisms, the bulk coming from a very small contingent.

Senator Diane Feinstein has warned of ISIS being a threat to the U.S., with Senator Lindsey Graham taking it even further on Fox News Sunday. From Huffington Post:

“[Obama is] trying to avoid a bad news story on his watch,” Graham said on Sunday. “This is not a replacement for a strategy to deal with an existential threat to the homeland. To every member of Congress, we’ve been told by every major intelligence leader in our nation that we’re threatened. The homeland is threatened by the presence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. To change that threat, we have to have a sustained air campaign in Syria and Iraq. We need to go on offense.”

Hillary Clinton’s engagement philosophy will lead to confrontations beyond the left, including one very prominent Republican, Senator Rand Paul, who’s using his summer vacation to tour the primary states, criticizing Clinton wherever he speaks.

Jeffrey Goldberg made the comment to Clinton that “defeating fascism and communism is a pretty big deal.” He describes Hillary Clinton’s reaction to this statement as “enthusiastic,” which was followed up by yet another bread crumb she’s leaving in interviews on the road to announcing her candidacy.

“That’s how I feel! Maybe this is old-fashioned…

I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.”

Clinton also used the interview to come out strong in support of Israel, sending a clear message across the political spectrum that there is no distance between herself and our strongest Middle East ally. It’s making headlines in the Middle East.