Hillary Clinton blames rise of ISIS on Obama “failure” to intervene in Syria civil war

The likely future presidential candidate also argues criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza stem from anti-Semitism

Published August 10, 2014 4:40PM (EDT)

  (AP/Cliff Owen)
(AP/Cliff Owen)

During a long and in-depth interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, former secretary of state and likely future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton distanced herself from President Obama's foreign policy, implying the Islamist extremist group ISIS would not be so powerful had the president listened to her advice and thrown American power more forcefully behind "moderate" Syrian rebel forces.

“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.

Clinton was known at the time to support a larger American investment in the Syrian civil war, and reiterated her belief that not doing so was a mistake in her recently released book about her time as secretary of state, "Hard Choices."

In addition to highlighting her differences with Obama on Syria, Clinton also subtly broke from the administration when discussing the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel, speaking in support of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu without chastising the IDF for not doing more to protect civilian lives, as Obama's State Department has sometimes done.

"I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets," Clinton said. "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."

Clinton went on to assign blame for Palestinian civilian deaths entirely to Hamas: "I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are ... that hasn’t made errors," she continued, "but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas." Going further, Clinton also endorsed an argument frequently put forward by Israel's most hard-line defenders, that criticism of the state for its warfare in Gaza is rooted at least in part in anti-Semitism.

Despite the fact that there is bloodshed ongoing in Syria as well as eastern Ukraine, Clinton said, "we do see this enormous international reaction against Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself, and the way Israel has to defend itself." She added, "You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism ... there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV."

Notably, at one point during the interview, Clinton appears to at least hint that she intends to run for president. After describing her view of the U.S. as the leading global power and promoter of freedom — as the vanquisher of fascism and communism and protector of liberty — Clinton noted that this form of nationalism may be "old-fashioned" but that she had no intention of changing.

"I feel that this might be an old-fashioned idea," Clinton granted, "but I’m about to find out — in more ways than one."

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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