Hillary Clinton criticized her former boss President Barack Obama in a new interview, citing the “failure” of his administration to contain the spread of Islamic jihadists in Syria who are now marching through Iraq.
Clinton told the Atlantic in an interview published Sunday that the administration - of which she was a part of as secretary of state during Obama’s first term - faltered when it did not do enough to actively lead in coordinating insurgent factions fighting Bashar Assad’s government in Syria. This power “vacuum,” she said, led to the rise of the extremist group Islamic State that has since splintered away from Al-Qaeda and is violently gaining territory in northern Iraq.
"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.
As secretary of state, Clinton, a likely but yet-undeclared presidential candidate in 2016, was an unsuccessful advocate of doing more to aid the array of rebels fighting Assad in Syria’s civil war.
Clinton was interviewed before President Obama’s Thursday decision to call for airstrikes against the Islamic State’s latest offensive in Kurdistan, where thousands of minority refugees were forced to flee to inhospitable, resourceless terrain. In addition, US facilities in the region were threatened, leading to multiple bombings of Islamic State positions.
After the withdrawal of most US troops in Iraq in 2011, Obama said he would not send soldiers back into the country, and he urged Iraq to fight jihadists through the formation of a unified government.
But Clinton suggested in the interview that the Obama administration has a lackluster strategy for confronting Islamic militants now on the rampage in Iraq.
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle," she said, dismissing an Obama administration slogan.
She added that the US needs an “overarching” plan to quash Islamic extremism, comparing it to the long Cold War-era struggle with the Soviet Union.
"One of the reasons why I worry about what's happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States," she said. "Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d'etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories.”
"How do we try to contain that? I'm thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat," she said.
Clinton suggested that the United States government has withdrawn from global events more than necessary following the misadventures during George W. Bush’s terms in the White House. America needs to explain itself with more clarity, she seemed to convey.
“You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” she said. “One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.”