Bill Clinton’s dissent on Syrian action puts White House on the spot
WASHINGTON - A day after former President Bill Clinton endorsed a more robust U.S. intervention in Syria, the White House pushed back Thursday on an issue that has Clinton aligning himself with Sen. John McCain, who has faulted President Barack Obama for his reluctance to get entangled in the bloody civil war there.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing that while Obama welcomed the perspective of outside experts like Clinton, “The president makes a decision about the implementation of national security options based on our national security interests, not on what might satisfy critics at any given moment about a policy.”
Carney declined to say whether Obama disagreed with Clinton’s views, noting that the president himself was considering more robust options, including arming the rebels.
Speaking Tuesday at a private session in New York with McCain, Clinton, drawing on his own experience as president in dealing with conflicts in Rwanda and the Balkans, said, “Sometimes it’s best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit.”
“Some people say, ‘OK, see what a big mess this is? Stay out!’” Clinton said. “I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” he added, gesturing to McCain, R-Ariz., who has called for supplying the rebels with weapons and conducting airstrikes.
Clinton’s remarks, which were first reported Wednesday by Politico, came near the end of a wide-ranging conversation with McCain. He did not recommend a specific course of action on Syria or explicitly criticize the Obama administration’s policy.
The former president, a person close to the Clinton family said, was “talking broadly about a hypothetical situation” and did not intend his remarks to be a “broadside” against Obama’s policy.
Last summer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who departed as secretary of state in February, joined the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, David H. Petraeus, in arguing in favor of funneling arms to the rebels. They were rebuffed by Obama, however.
Recent advances made by the forces of President Bashar Assad, and the deepening involvement of outside players like Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, have prompted the White House to again consider arming the rebels and even conducting airstrikes against the Syrian air force. Clinton’s comments came in the context of those gains.