Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hillary Clinton pummels Obama foreign policy

By Frida Ghitis
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years:
HIDE CAPTION
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hillary Clinton rejects idea of foreign policy based on "don't do stupid stuff"
  • Frida Ghitis: Clinton declared her independence and her interest in running in 2016
  • She says Clinton advocated a more muscular, ideological policy than President Obama
  • Ghitis: Clinton would have aided Syrian rebels earlier and backed Israel more strongly

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Yes, Hillary Clinton is running for president, and she is running away from President Barack Obama's record on foreign policy.

That's a very clear message from the interview just published in The Atlantic in which she drew sharp distinctions between her view of America's role in the world and those of the President, while also expressing significant disagreements with him over the right approach to ongoing crises in the Middle East.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

In a dramatic dismissal of the Obama administration's self-described foreign policy doctrine of "Don't do stupid stuff," Clinton declared, "Great nations need organizing principles and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle."

Clinton clothed her criticism in respect of her "incredibly intelligent" former boss, but Obama may have clenched his jaw with irritation when he read the polite pummeling from his former secretary of state. Clinton promptly explained that even she didn't think that Obama really meant that is his foreign policy doctrine. (The name Obama used to describe the policy, incidentally, uses a four-letter word instead of "stuff.") She claimed that the catchy phrase was an effort to convey to Americans wary of U.S. misadventures in faraway lands that he was not about to do "something crazy."

Still, Clinton articulated a vision for a much more assertive U.S. role in the world, one that contrasts sharply with Obama's. In doing so, she brandished a lacerating analysis of the administration's foreign policy. Most troubling for Obama was her intimation that some of the most difficult, dangerous and deadly problems raging in the Middle East today might have been avoided if Obama had acted more promptly and less hesitantly.

Clinton splits with Obama on foreign policy

Clinton breaks with Obama policy

The interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg was a landmark moment in her quest for the office. She has made the big break with Obama and filled out an important part of her job application, telling Americans concerned about the country's place in the world why they should vote for her.

Clinton: Putin is arrogant and tough

Like any statement made by a political candidate, there were unmistakable political calculations in her well-chosen words. It is clear that she believes her biggest political challenge lies on the right, not on the left, if nothing happens to dissuade her from running, which she evidently wants to do. The strategy is already that of a nominee, safe in the support of her party, seeking to peel away centrist voters and even conservative voters in the general election rather than courting the Democratic base in the primaries.

Many in the base, the hard-core, left-of-center Democrats, will resent her implied denunciation of Obama's cautious style which, she contended, has swung too far in the opposite direction after the Bush years.

"When you're down on yourself," she said, "when you're hunkering down and pulling back, you're not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward." The government, she said, has a tendency to swing between those extremes.

She proposes a midcourse. "We've learned the limits of America's power to spread freedom and democracy," she acknowledged, "but we've also learned the importance of our power, our influence, and our values appropriately deployed and explained." Right now, she argued, "We don't tell our own story very well."

When the Soviet Union fell, an ideological vacuum was filled by dangerous ideologies. Clinton appears to view Islamic extremism as the foremost foe facing America. She also is concerned about muscular nationalism of the kind Russian President Vladimir Putin is utilizing to spread Russia's influence.

America's main threats are Jihadi groups, now controlling territory in Syria and Iraq and determined to expand; Clinton views them as ideological enemies of the United States. "I'm thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat," she said, drawing a parallel with the Cold War era.

She did not push back against the suggestion that the rise of the Islamic extremists of ISIS might have been prevented if Obama had armed Syrian moderates three years ago.

Although he has approved increased support, Obama has rejected the notion that "former farmers or teachers or pharmacists" in the opposition could have succeeded with U.S. help. But Clinton disagrees. By failing to arm a force of carefully vetted moderates, the United States made it possible for extremists to take over the fight. Some of those extremists, who have captured large swaths of Syria, are now in Iraq, where Obama reluctantly agreed last week to intervene in what is a strategic and humanitarian calamity.

Clinton took what appears to be a harder line than the administration on nuclear negotiations with Iran. She laughed in describing Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's position "that they don't have any intention of having a nuclear weapon but they nevertheless want 190,000 centrifuges." She rejected Iran's claim that it has a right to enrichment, and said America's stance should allow only a minimal number of centrifuges for research purposes.

Regarding Israel and the Palestinians, she spoke in words that Israel's supporters will find reassuring. "There's no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict." Israel, she said emphatically, "has the right to defend itself." That is something Obama has said repeatedly, but Clinton spoke much more forcefully than the Obama administration has.

Regarding civilian casualties, she spoke of the difficulty of fighting an enemy embedded in civilian areas. "The ultimate responsibility," she said, "rests with Hamas."

Hamas, she said, is not a group the United States could work with, given its commitment to the destruction of Israel, "married to very nasty tactics and ideologies, including virulent anti-Semitism." Clinton argued that international criticism of Israel and disproportional attention to what it does is partly the result of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.

She listed the many times Israel has made far-reaching peace proposals to Palestinians. "I don't care about revisionist history," she said. "I know that (Yasser) Arafat walked away," and expressed sympathy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position on a military withdrawal from the West Bank. "If I were the prime minister of Israel," she said, "You're damn right I would expect to have control over security, for a number of years." "With Syria and Iraq," she said "it is all one big threat."

It is no secret that Clinton has advocated a much more internationally engaged, muscular and even ideological foreign policy, aimed at promoting America's values, which "also happen to be universal values."

She has now cast herself apart from the Obama administration on key aspects of world affairs, and sent a message to centrist voters, and to international audiences, that a Hillary Clinton administration would not look like its predecessor's.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT