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If you want evidence that Barack Obama’s foreign policy is imploding, just look at how desperately one of its chief architects – Hillary Clinton – is distancing herself from it. In an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton took a not-so-veiled swipe at Obama, declaring that his “failure” to support the moderate opposition in Syria “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
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…. Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.
Obama quickly swiped back, telling The New York Times that idea that arming Syrian rebels would have stopped the rise of ISIS has “always been a fantasy.” Said the president:
This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well–armed state but also a well–armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.
This is absurd. As Gen. Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explained a year ago, there is plenty the US could have done to stop the rise of ISIS. As I argued last fall, Obama should have bombed both the Syrian regime and ISIS after Assad repeatedly violated Obama’s red line. Even after his failure to enforce his red line, Obama could still have hit ISIS with drones – as the Iraqi government was pleading with him to do. Instead, he stood by and did nothing while they massed their forces, marched into Iraqi cities, and proclaimed a radical Islamic state.
Now, Obama tells the Times, “We’re not going to let [the Islamic State] create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq.” Too late, Mr. President, they already have. The only questions are how big that caliphate will get – and when it will train its sights on the American homeland.
No wonder Clinton is distancing herself from this Obama–created debacle in Iraq and Syria. But it’s not that simple. If she wants to achieve separation, she will have to answer some tough questions in the period ahead, such as: how hard did she really fight for arming and training the Free Syrian Army? Did she threaten to resign? What specifically did she advocate doing to help the opposition? Did she advocate air strikes against ISIS? And – most importantly – did she oppose Obama’s complete withdrawal from Iraq, which also “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled”?
And when she’s done answering those questions, she is going to have to figure out a way to disown her now disastrous “reset” of relations with Russia – which has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and helped separatists shoot down a civilian airliner. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In other words, Obama’s secretary of state is going to have a hard time separating herself from Obama’s foreign policy. But the fact that she is trying to do so shows just what a disaster it is – and how vulnerable it makes her in 2016.
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