WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s longtime political adviser fired back at Hillary Clinton over her recent criticism of the commander-in-chief’s foreign policy doctrine of avoiding messy entanglements.
“Just to clarify: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision,” David Axelrod tweeted Tuesday. Obama aides often have been quoted in news stories using that mantra to describe the president’s guiding principles.
In a Sunday interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton said: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Axelrod’s response on Twitter escalates an already tense fight between a White House eager to defend its foreign policy at a time of global chaos and a Clinton operation equally eager to separate the former secretary of state from Obama decisions she fell in line to support. Her efforts to do that could hurt her with Democratic primary voters should she run for president in 2016 and help her with independents and national-security-minded Republicans in a general election.
Clinton told Goldberg that she advocated arming moderate Syrian rebels in 2012 and was rebuffed by Obama. The Islamic State, a militant force now sweeping across Iraq, took root in the Syrian conflict. A Clinton aide said in an email that what Clinton said in the interview was no different than what she’d written in her book.
Clinton didn’t make public her disagreement on Syria policy while she served in the government, and she told Goldberg that she couldn’t say for certain that her approach would have yielded any different outcome.
The timing of her remarks caused discomfort for the White House because of the crisis in Iraq. In addition, Clinton and the president are scheduled to appear together Wednesday night on Martha’s Vineyard at a birthday party for Ann Dibble Jordan, wife of Vernon Jordan, the former president of the National Urban League and a confidant of both Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
The anti-war base of the Democratic Party has long mistrusted Hillary Clinton’s support for a muscular foreign policy. Obama used her vote as a U.S. senator to authorize the Iraq war as a cudgel in defeating her in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, and some of her political critics are re- emerging.
“Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of the political action arm of MoveOn, a Democratic group, said Tuesday in a statement.
Clinton and Axelrod have been political “frenemies” for many years. She has appeared at fundraising events for the charity that Axelrod and his wife created to fight epilepsy, a disorder that afflicts their daughter. Clinton and Axelrod grew apart during the 2008 campaign as he led Obama’s messaging campaign against Clinton.
All seemed forgiven in 2013, though, when Clinton headlined a fundraiser for the epilepsy-research charity and Axelrod called her the organization’s “patron saint.”