Are the folks at CNN abandoning President Obama’s foreign policy? Well, yes, but only to throw praise upon former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of a likely 2016 presidential run. On the August 11 edition of New Day, a panel discussed President Obama’s airstrikes in northern Iraq and Mrs. Clinton’s comments about his often disjointed foreign policy.
Reacting to Hillary telling The Atlantic that “don’t do stupid stuff” does not represent coherent foreign policy, host Kate Bolduan seemed to support Clinton, doubting it was enough. CNN contributor and Daily Beast editor John Avlon agreed with the New Day host, saying it was “not an organizing principle,” and praised Clinton for differentiating herself from the President on issues of foreign policy. He argued, in fact, that Hillary was the kind of Democrat neo-conservatives could support: [MP3 audio here; video below]
Remember, she was the Senator from New York during 9/11, she was a hawkish member of the armed services committee. In many cases she was sort of the neocons’ favorite Democrat. She has a record, as we've learned from reporting, that, especially in those internal administration debates, of being more hawkish.
Avlon even offered campaign advice for the former First Lady, asserting that Clinton would be best served by taking a middle road between Presidents Obama and Bush:
So I think you're seeing it's who she is and part of a world view differentiation that's going to drive her campaign. Because she can't really run simply as a successor. It's a triangulated approach between Bush and Obama, consistent with her husband.
Bolduan applauded Clinton’s “careful” and “nuanced” critique of the President, and questioned, “is this purely a political strategy, or is Hillary Clinton more hawkish?” Republican consultant Margaret Hoover argued that it was actually both, explaining that Clinton’s comparatively more hawkish position on Syria was “probably right,” and that Obama did not have an “organizing principle” for his policy on Syria and the Middle East.
Liberals a few short years ago mocked calls for intervention in Syria. However, with Mrs. Clinton’s presidential run fast approaching, the media have been increasingly willing to tout the former Secretary of State’s more interventionist foreign policy.
The relevant portion of the transcript is below.
August 11, 2014
6:42 a.m. Eastern
JOHN AVLON, Daily Beast: In fairness, of course, the United States wasn't going to be single-handedly creating a pluralistic democracy. The point is that if we kept troops in, it could have been – bought time. And again, the reason – one of the reasons we left was that Maliki and the Iraqi government was not going to guarantee our success. Now, you can argue we should have pushed for it harder and the absence of troops created this crisis. But we are where we are. So now, of course, we're getting back involved in the country. And we have mission creep going on right now in the north.
KATE BOLDUAN, host: That's exactly what I wanted to ask you about. I mean, we’ve got a president – you’ve got a President that we all need to remember and everyone is kind of remembering this at this point, he ran and won at least in part on saying he was going to get out of Iraq. Lawmakers, you heard him on the Sunday shows really split along ideological lines about are we not doing enough, is the President not doing enough in Iraq or is there already mission creep and there's a lot of concern that the President’s gonna go too far, even with these targeted strikes. What do you do?
AVLON: One thing is pretty clear, I would be shocked if the President put boots on the ground. He’s anathema to that philosophically in general, as well as in the case of Iraq. What I think you will see is an escalation of air strikes. And the question is, how much do you do to try to dismantle ISIS? To what extent does the administration see this – after their initial dismissal – as a national security threat to the United States? And I think you are seeing them, the President saying the other day that this is not a question of days anymore, this is weeks, possibly months.
MARGARET HOOVER, Republican strategist: Let's just be very clear. ISIS now is larger, has more territory, than Al Qaeda did at its height. The reason we're going in for ISIS is, while the humanitarian mission is incredibly important, this is a threat against United States's national security. It is in the United States's interest to make sure Iraq is stabilized, simply for our own national security interest.
BOLDUAN: Well, and – go ahead. I’m sorry
HOOVER: Which is exactly why we need to be there. This is not –
BOLDUAN: I also want to get your take, though, because this leads right into this. Hillary Clinton in this interview with The Atlantic, really stepping further away from the President on foreign policy than she has in the past. She's being careful. It is nuanced. She does call – that the President did not do more to arm rebels in Syria a failure. Let me read you, just in part, the key quote: The failure to 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 with the jihadists which the jihadists have now filled. Why is she doing it? Is this purely a political strategy or is Hillary Clinton more hawkish?
HOOVER: I think it's both. And conveniently, it works for her in both ways. It appears from all accounts that she is not just being a political opportunist, that that's really how she felt and that’s what she argued internally within the administration at the time. It also appears she was probably right. It appears that the President didn't have an organizing principle or a strategy for his foreign policy, vis-a-vis Syria or, frankly, really, the Middle East at that time. And I think it's a very fair point that she says, look, not doing stupid stuff isn’t an organizing principal. You need a world view that you can overlay on a region, that you can use so your allies know what you're going to do.
BOLDUAN: And you have talked about this in the past. The fact that the President has a difficult time articulating his foreign policy position might make him vulnerable. Don’t do stupid stuff, is that enough?
AVLON: No, it's not organizing principle, as Hillary Clinton said. And this interview is significant because it is the most direct steps Hillary Clinton has taken to differentiate herself. But as Margaret said, it's a credible differentiation because it's rooted in her history. Remember, she was the Senator from New York during 9/11, she was a hawkish member of the armed services committee. In many cases she was sort of the neocons’ favorite Democrat. She has a record, as we've learned for reporting, that, especially in those internal administration debates, of being more hawkish. So I think you're seeing it's who she is and part of a world view differentiation that's going to drive her campaign. Because she can't really run simply as a successor. It's a triangulated approach between Bush and Obama, consistent with her husband.
HOOVER: It would be great if someone asked her what she would do now. What we see now is there doesn't seem to be a clear strategy –
BOLDUAN: You’re talking about the then, but what about the now?
HOOVER: And what is the – President Obama doesn't have a clear strategy now, right. If we are bombing parts of ISIS, but there's no name even for the military operation. What would she do now? What should be our goal? What should be our end point now? That's what, frankly, Americans need to be asking our government.