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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT