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Clinton has frequently differed with Obama– on foreign policy

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At the Democratic debate in Milwaukee last week, Hillary Clinton sought to bind herself to President Obama and show that Senator Bernie Sanders has taken issue with the president on numerous occasions. Clinton’s calculation is that she can win over progressive Democrats who like the sitting president, especially African-American voters.

Sanders responded: “Have you ever disagreed with a president? I suspect you may have.”

In fact, Clinton has frequently disagreed with President Obama’s policies in the Middle East, and embraced a leader who has repeatedly undermined President Obama– Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Bernie Sanders could make political hay with these disagreements, though doing so would entail being more forceful in opposing the use of force against Iran and Syria and calling out Clinton over Netanyahu– positions that Sanders seems reluctant to adopt, maybe because he still wants to acquire political capital among liberal interventionist elites. It’s a lot easier for him to talk about Henry Kissinger and Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war in 2002 than it is to talk about Netanyahu and Syria.

Here’s a list of Hillary Clinton’s disagreements with Obama foreign policy in the Middle East.

In summer 2014 she called Obama’s policy on the Syrian civil war a “failure.” Reuters:

Distancing herself from President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, potential 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in an interview published on Sunday that the U.S. decision not to intervene early in the Syrian civil war was a “failure.”…

“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,” Clinton said in an interview with The Atlantic…

At that time, Clinton also took Israel’s side in the Gaza slaughter, thereby distancing herself from the– very mild– criticisms issued by the Obama administration of Israel.

The Obama administration, while supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, has rebuked Israel at least once during the current conflict over the deaths of civilians.

[Clinton said,] “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the (Hamas) rockets. Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command and control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.”

Sanders himself said that Israel had “overreacted” in its attack on Gaza that left 2200 dead, including nearly 500 children. But he was reluctant to go much further. In that sense his position was very close to the Obama administration.

At that time, Clinton also knocked Obama’s famous non-interventionist doctrine:

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said.

As an interventionist hawk, Clinton later called for American ground forces in Syria, in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations last November in which she sharply departed from Obama policy on several occasions.

[W]e should be honest about the fact that to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS…

But if we press forward on both sides of the border, in the air and on the ground, as well as diplomatically, I do believe we can crush ISIS’s enclave of terror.

And to support this campaign, Congress should swiftly pass an updated authorization to use military force. That will send a message to friend and foe alike that the United States is committed to this fight.

She certainly sounds like an Iraq-war neoconservative in those remarks. But though Sanders has repeatedly said that we should not send more young Americans to “perpetual warfare” in the “quagmire” of the Middle East, in recent debates, at least, he has not called out Clinton for the ground forces in Syria recommendation.

Last November, Clinton also called for creating a no-fly zone in Syria, a proposal that Obama has described as “half-baked.”

Fareed Zakaria: Bob Gates was opposed to a no-fly zone in Syria, thought it was an act of war that was risky and dangerous. This seems to me the major difference right now between what Obama’s administration is doing and what you are proposing. Do you not—why do you disagree with Bob Gates on this?

CLINTON: Well, I believe that the no-fly zone is merited and can be implemented, again, in a coalition, not an American-only no-fly zone…

She again stated her differences with the president over the question of arming the rebels in Syria.

ZAKARIA: A couple of days ago the New York Times had a headline that said, “Paris Attacks Complicate Hillary Clinton’s Alignment with Obama.” Has it?

CLINTON: Well, it’s not the first headline I’ve disagreed with. (Laughter.) Look, I have made clear that I have differences, as I think any two people do….

But even when I was still there, which is publicly known, I thought we needed to do more earlier to try to identify indigenous Syrian fighters, so-called moderates, and I do think there were some early on, that we could have done more to help them in their fight against Assad.

And of course Clinton has repeatedly distanced herself from the Obama administration’s at-times frosty stance on Benjamin Netanyahu, the politician who has sought to undermine the president’s Iran policy. She routinely refers to Netanyahu as “Bibi,” in her book and in State Department emails. In July 2014, she told Fareed Zakaria that she was good friends with Netanyahu and he could help to create a Palestinian state. She seemed to back away from earlier criticisms of Netanyahu, saying that as secretary of state she had had to be the “designated yeller.”

I have a very good relationship with [Netanyahu], in part because we can yell at each other, and we do. And I was often the designated yeller. Something would happen, a new settlement announcement would come and I would call him up, what are you doing? You’ve got to stop this. And we understood each other because I know how hard it is to be the leader of a relatively small country that is under constant pressure and does face a lot of legitimate threats to its existence from those around it.

And I also care deeply about how Israel is able, not just to survive, but thrive, and just fundamentally disagreed with Bibi in the ’90s that I was in favor of a two-state solution. I was the first person associated with any administration to say that out loud. And he did not. But then when he came back in, in 2009, he did. And I’ve sat with him, as you and I are sitting, and I really believe that if he thought he could get adequate security guarantees for a long enough period of time, he would be able to resolve everything with the exception of Jerusalem which is the hardest issue.

Clinton continued the praise of Israel’s diplomacy at the Saban Forum last December. She distanced herself from Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks that Israel through its unending settlement policy was creating a one-state reality that endangered the dream of a supposed Jewish democracy. She said:

I don’t think it’s useful to be pessimistic

Then she doubled down on her closeness to Israel and Netanyahu, . “What would you do on your first day in the oval office?” asked Haim Saban, the billionaire toymaker whose only issue is Israel and who has been pouring millions into her campaign. Clinton replied:

I’ve said there are a number of issues that I need to address on the first day and one of the things that I have said is that on the first day I would extend an invitation to the Israeli prime minister to come to the United States hopefully within the first month, certainly as soon as it could be arranged to do exactly what I briefly outlined. To work toward very much strengthening and intensifying our relationship on military matters, on terrorism and on everything else that we can do more to cooperate on that will send a strong message to our own peoples as well as the rest of the world. So that is on my list for the first day. It’s a long list, but it’s on the list and it’s near the top

At that same appearance she emphasized that she still has the military option on the table vis-a-vis Iran– a country that she said in the last campaign in 2008 she would  “totally obliterate” if it launched a nuclear strike on Israel. Clinton went on to express pure distrust for the Iranians:

Oh, yes, the military option, thank you…. Yes. Yes, that the military option would not be taken off the table with respect to their nuclear program. So that was the shorthand, right?I have every reason to believe the Iranians are going to test it, they’re going to violate it, they’re going to be provocative about it, and we need to respond quickly and very harshly. And if we have any evidence that they are back into moving toward a nuclear weapon, then we will have to act even more directly…

Compare that to Sanders saying that he would move “aggressively as we can to normalize” relations with Iran– a pledge he has walked back ever since, under fire from Clinton.

Anne Gearan reported in the Washington Post that Israelis regard Clinton as a great improvement over Obama:

From Netanhayu’s perspective, Clinton would be an improvement over President Obama, who has all but washed his hands of an Israeli leader he finds overbearing, Israeli officials and observers said in interviews here.

“They have a long relationship of mutual intellectual respect,” [Michael] Oren said. “They both are very, very smart people, and people of very strong physical stamina.”

The neoconservative Washington Post editorial board applauded her steps to distance herself from Obama last November, and cited numerous disagreements and a clear “contrast” between Clinton and Obama.

President Obama has struggled to distance himself from Israel, not very successfully. But Clinton would end any distance in an instant. Sanders could play the Obama card on these issues. The question is whether he has the stomach to take Clinton on. Doing so would mean getting past Henry Kissinger’s crimes and dealing with the Middle East today. Sanders would have to emphatically reject the idea of militarism against Iran, reject ground forces in Syria, and reject Clinton’s embrace of Netanyahu. To separate himself from Clinton, he could address Israel’s one-state reality, its unending settlement policy and its war crimes in Gaza, as well as the millions Clinton has accepted from the billionaire Haim Saban and the millions that she and her husband and daughter made speaking to pro-Israel groups. And in taking these stands, Sanders could say that he was closer to Obama than Clinton is.

Sanders would need to articulate a populist non-interventionist foreign policy that doesn’t put Israel’s interests at the top of the American to-do list. His failure to do so suggests that he fears the political fallout among Jewish pro-Israel voters, or from the interventionist establishment. You can only undertake so many revolutions at once.

P.S. Could Sanders’s own youthful Zionism be a factor in his reluctance? Of course. But it’s not like any of these positions is radical, and I want to believe he’s caught a clue about the real state of Israel and Palestine today.

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17 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    February 15, 2016, 3:19 pm

    Weiss “Sanders would have to emphatically reject the idea of militarism against Iran, reject ground forces in Syria, and reject Clinton’s embrace of Netanyahu. -”

    Why would he have to “emphatically reject the idea of militarism against Iran?” I think any President has to always say “all options are on the table” However Bernie has and will continue to say that diplomacy will always be the most important and logical option on the table. The use of WMD’s is another issue in regard to a response.

    I think Bernie is inching his way towards hammering her on the Clinton war policies and either Obama going along with or basically supporting her neocon agenda in Libya, Syria.

    Finally so many pieces on Clinton’s deep involvement with the military intervention in Libya and arming rebels etc in Syria. Basically off the radar for almost all MSM outlets over the last four years. All we heard was “Assad must go, Assad must go” repeated on many outlets.

    Military to Military
    Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war

    Jeffrey Sachs has been understandably relentless with the facts

    Former head inspector for the IAEA Scott Ritter

    Ralph Nader on Hillary’s bloody war record

    at the Intercept

    Henry Kissinger’s War Crimes Are Central to the Divide Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

    • JWalters
      February 15, 2016, 6:30 pm

      I agree Bernie is “inching his way” forward in this debate, a necessary tactic in my view. Dropping a bit of history about the US overthrow of democracy in Iran during the last debate was such a step.

      Adding to your list of hopeful links, here’s an interesting article on Donald Trump’s truth-telling about the Iraq war in the last GOP debate –

      The conversation on this topic may be opening up.

  2. kalithea
    February 15, 2016, 4:15 pm

    I want to comment on this but I just listened to Donald Trump’s latest press conference and let me make a prediction: if Donald Trump wins the Presidency, I predict he’ll be impeached by members of Congress on BOTH sides of the aisle before his first term is up.

  3. just
    February 15, 2016, 5:07 pm

    With regard to foreign policy, Hillary is as bad as or worse than any of the rethuglicans.

    “” I think any President has to always say “all options are on the table” …”

    I disagree, Kathleen. It’s an unnecessary and belligerent threat that I am sick to death of hearing. It would be so refreshing to never hear it again, and to behave and speak better than the bully and annihilator that the US continues to be. Why is it that “all options” are not on the table with regard to Israel and KSA anyway???

    • Kathleen
      February 15, 2016, 5:21 pm

      So in the case of another nation using WMD’s first you don’t think that a President has to say “all options” are on the table? I do

      Not saying that that would be the automatic response…however there is something to the strategy of MAD…”mutually assured destruction” Sick but there is something to it.

      • Mooser
        February 15, 2016, 5:42 pm

        So in the case of another nation using WMD’s first you don’t think that a President has to say “all options” are on the table? I do”

        If another nation uses WMDs first, do you really think the US President will be unable to act if he hasn’t previously declared “all options are on the table” in a belligerent fashion during the campaign?
        Or is there somebody waiting to launch ICBMs at us the second it is determined the winning Presidential candidate hasn’t said “all options are on the table” ?

      • Kathleen
        February 15, 2016, 8:58 pm

        Mooser …So what would be the objection to saying it up front. If they are not willing to say it they would lose hordes of people

      • Keith
        February 15, 2016, 9:44 pm

        KATHLEEN- “Mooser …So what would be the objection to saying it up front.”

        Well, for starters, when a nuclear superpower states that all options are on the table, that is a direct threat to use nuclear weapons if the US doesn’t get its way. Nuclear blackmail. Anyone who makes this type of threat should be disqualified. Furthermore, continuing to have nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert will eventually result in nuclear annihilation and should be eliminated immediately as a first step towards nuclear disarmament, something the US agreed to do in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but has failed to implement in violation of that treaty. It says volumes about our society that this form of nuclear blackmail has become so normalized as to be defended. Shame on you! Seriously.

  4. JWalters
    February 15, 2016, 6:21 pm

    Thanks for this analysis. I agree this is an opening for Sanders, but it’s one he would have to handle with care. Most Americans are not yet aware that Israel is a bad actor, and the entire Establishment media would come down on “dangerous” facts about Israel like a ton of bricks.

    So whatever he does, it seems to me, would have to be in small steps. It would be great if some other public figure could blow up that dam for him. It would be a yuge help if Mondoweiss readers fanned out to other websites and posted links to some of Mondoweiss’ extremely informative articles, like this one –

    and this one –

    Mainstream news sites that are not especially progressive, especially on Palestine, would be the most valuable targets, e.g. PBS Newshour, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and of course the Washington Post and the New York Times.

  5. February 15, 2016, 7:15 pm

    “President Obama has struggled to distance himself from Israel, not very successfully. But Clinton would end any distance in an instant. Sanders could play the Obama card on these issues. The question is whether he has the stomach to take Clinton on.”

    He won’t, and he hasn’t.

    “Could Sanders’s own youthful Zionism be a factor in his reluctance?”

    The Zionist in Sanders will play as much a part in his reluctance as it did in your willingness to hug Jewish settlers. Zero. “Being a Jew,” I believe are the words you’re looking for, as reluctant as you seem to be to say them.

    The stakes were raised considerably the other night when Trump accused Bush of lying us into war. Trump just became not only the front-runner for the White House, but the favorite. Certainly Clinton and Sanders will be asked about it; how mealy-mouthed will their answers be? I’m guessing very; the only thing they’ll likely agree on the whole campaign.

    I always love it when someone you greatly admire agrees with you on something odd and particular. And the late great Howard Zinn (my old professor, a great teacher and a wonderful man) said voting is about the least effective thing you can do in a democracy. Hear-hear. I haven’t voted in an election in years. I write letters to editors, I call my senators, congressmen, and the White House. (And NPR.)

    But I will vote for Trump if Sanders goes mealy-mouthed on the use of American military power, if he refuses to denounce American empire, for as long as empire remains the cause in Washington, nothing will change. But Trump could change. Winning the presidency could be just the reality check he, and this country, needs.

    • lysias
      February 16, 2016, 8:37 am

      If Trump is willing to say that Bush lied about the WMDs, I wonder if a President Trump would be willing to reveal the truth about the JFK assassination. What better way to discredit the CIA and the war party?

      Jeffrey Sachs, formerly the architect of neoliberal “reforms” in Russia, seems to have had a conversion moment. He just posted this piece on Huffington Post: Hillary Clinton and the Syrian Bloodbath. It ends with the following startling paragraphs:

      Clinton herself has never shown the least reservation or scruples in deploying this instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Her record of avid support for US-led regime change includes (but is not limited to) the US bombing of Belgrade in 1999, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Iraq War in 2003, the Honduran coup in 2009, the killing of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and the CIA-coordinated insurrection against Assad from 2011 until today.

      It takes great presidential leadership to resist CIA misadventures. Presidents get along by going along with arms contractors, generals, and CIA operatives. They thereby also protect themselves from political attack by hardline right-wingers. They succeed by exulting in U.S. military might, not restraining it. Many historians believe that JFK was assassinated as a result of his peace overtures to the Soviet Union, overture he made against the objections of hardline rightwing opposition in the CIA and other parts of the U.S. government.

      Hillary Clinton has never shown an iota of bravery, or even of comprehension, in facing down the CIA. She has been the CIA’s relentless supporter, and has exulted in showing her toughness by supporting every one of its misguided operations. The failures, of course, are relentlessly hidden from view. Clinton is a danger to global peace. She has much to answer for regarding the disaster in Syria.

      (Emphasis added.)

  6. February 15, 2016, 10:42 pm

    From the Times:

    ‘Mr. Trump seemed undeterred by the denunciations of his insults and name-calling. He described Senator Ted Cruz of Texas as a “basket case” and unstable, and returned to one of his favorite subjects: Senator Marco’s Rubio tendency to sweat at debates.

    “I was standing next to Rubio, and I thought he just got out of a swimming pool,” Mr. Trump said.’

    And Sanders better start changing his stump speech and fast, because, w the months left, he’ll soon start sounding as robotic as Rubio, if w/out the sweat.

  7. kalithea
    February 16, 2016, 1:18 am

    I hate discussing anything Hillary says. I wish she would ride off into the sunset and never look back on politics; that’s how sick of her I am. She’s so artificial and such an enabler of Zionist injustice. It’s like the Palestinians don’t even exist in her mind and her perception of them is so one-track, almost as racist as Zionists perceive their presence.

    Look Obama pandered to Israel for a while and got nowhere and then he probably said to himself: I don’t need this; no matter what I do; it’s never enough. So I’ll go through the motions and ignore that pain in the ass, Netanyahu, and when he starts to really annoy me; I’ll give him the cold shoulder. And as far as the Palestinians are concerned; I’ll just hand it over to the next Administration. He just didn’t care enough.

    With Iran he pushed for a solid deal so the next President doesn’t try to start a catastrophic war.

    Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake besides using drones was appointing Hillary SoS. It’s like he had some misplaced loyalty or something. Along with Zionist meddling, and Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Hillary is partially responsible for the rapid rise of ISIS and the chaotic mess in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Hillary’s using the Zionist Foreign Policy Playbook; that’s why she’s so dangerous. On the other side, her equivalent is Rubio.

    I’m pessimistic about Bernie. It’s going to be a nightmare for everyone who’s hoping for a sensible candidate. Everyone on the Republican side, including Hillary, is a threat to our security and optimism. I mean, if Trump wins the nomination; Hillary might end up accusing him of gender abuse; who knows. It’ll be a mess.

    This campaign is a circus in every sense, and sadly, that’s the only thing that makes it interesting. Hillary’s not interesting. Today she was barking like a dog and that’s about the most authentic moment she’s demonstrated. I thought she was more authentic barking like a dog than getting all teary-eyed in 2004. Trump’ completely over the edge and W’s back!

    Bernie’s got an up hill battle and right now it’s not the foreign policy issue that’s holding him back; it’s effectively communicating the social justice message to blacks and Latinos and gaining their trust. That’s his problem right now. Never mind the elites; he’s not going to sway much there. The people he has to work the foreign policy issue with are Independents. A lot of Independents are sick and tired of war. There’s a whole lot of war fatigue he can exploit there; but he has no guts. Trump’s doing a much better job grabbing up Independents despite his racist, misogynistic, insensitive comments and his broad statements and bombastic, empty promises. I’d say Trump is getting some Independents and the most racist end of the Republican political demographic. Then you have Rubio, the neocon protégé and Bush who’s what else? Another Bush and of course Cruz who wants to carpet bomb and repeal Obamacare. The only positive thing about Cruz is that he’s not into regime change but then neither is Trump so Trump’s getting the Independents instead and splitting Libertarians with Cruz.

    The best outcome possible for Bernie should he get the nomination would be a Cruz nomination on the other side. With Trump he has less of a chance. But, unless Hillary gets indicted or something; I don’t know how he’s going to make it. I just can’t figure out how any progressive or liberal can support that she-hawk; unless of course it’s a progressive or liberal Zionist; because Zionists are never progressive on foreign policy dealing with the Middle East.

    Sure Bernie can try to point out how Hillary digressed from Obama’s foreign policy; but his problem right now is getting blacks and Latinos on board.

  8. kalithea
    February 16, 2016, 1:44 am

    Sanders is a Zionist and a Zionist of any persuasion is always part of the problem and not the solution. I see Sanders doing exactly what Obama did on the issue of Palestinian rights: absolutely nothing while Zionists decimate more Palestinians and steal more of their land until they have nothing left to call their own. He gets a D- from me on Israel.

    As far as the rest of the Middle East is concerned: I doubt he’s an imperialist; that’s good. So he’s not into regime change. His position on Iran is similar to Obama’s – not great but passable. The Leveretts get an A. Not sure where he stands on Russia or China but I doubt he’d want to antagonize them. I’d give him a B- on foreign policy. Compared to the F I’d give Hillary and the D I’d give Obama; that’s pretty good.

  9. Citizen
    February 16, 2016, 6:27 am

    Trump has provided the main media with perfect opportunity to discuss how Bush & neocon-Zionists handful & their Office of Special Plans seduced us into attacking Iraq by tailoring intel evidence (as Downing Street memos noted). Will Bernie pick this up? Will the main media? This same media who was complicit in this fraud, continuing right down to every embed who dropped down with the troops? Follow up with how this arrogant disaster bred ISIS?

  10. lysias
    February 16, 2016, 8:54 am

    ‘They caused problems’: CIA involved with Gitmo inmates’ suicides – former guard to RT:

    A former Guantanamo guard, who says he witnessed hunger strike “leaders” being brought to a secret CIA “black site”, is accusing the agency of having staged their suicide to get rid of the “problem”. At the time, the US said the men hanged themselves.

    On June 10, 2006, the Department of Defense reported that Saudi Arabians Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, and a Yemeni citizen, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, “killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact.”

    “Two Saudis and one Yemeni, each located in Camp 1, were found unresponsive and not breathing in their cells by guards,” Joint Task Force-Guantanamo said at that time, adding that “all lifesaving measures had been exhausted.”

    The following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown.

    Contrary to the official statement, unsubstantiated reports started to surface, accusing the Bush administration of hiding the truth behind what was described as a “planned event”.

    Nearly 10 years on, former Guantanamo guard Joseph Hickman is stepping forward to unveil what he saw in the few hours leading up to the secretive deaths. Speaking to RT, Hickman shared why he thinks that the US government might have had an interest in silencing the prisoners who “caused a lot of problems for the command” of Guantanamo Bay.

  11. February 16, 2016, 9:56 am

    May I add, Sanders’ response to the death of the thug Antonin Scalia, briefly interrupting his “political revolution” tour — ‘“While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court”’ — was pathetic. Scalia’s “legacy” was to break down constitutional and democratic limits on state power; his rulings that the American president had unlimited and unreviewable powers for the duration of the “war on terror” was closer to Nazi Germany than America. He openly defended torture and internment camps, and in the 5-4 decision that stole the 2000 election he wrote a concurring opinion declaring that the Constitution did not give the people the right to elect the president. Fittingly, Scalia’s his last judicial act was to deny a stay of execution.

    Doesn’t exactly fill one w hope that he’s made of the stuff that will do, or even say, anything different about Israel, or Netanyahu.

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