Hours before President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes in Syria, the woman who almost beat him to the White House weighed in on Syria, indicating her approach might not have been different than his.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Thursday, discussed her take on the civil war in Syria, some of which unfolded while she served as secretary of state in the Obama administration. Her reflections came hours before the president ordered a missile strike on Syrian government-controlled air bases in retaliation for chemical attacks carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them," she said, anticipating the maneuver Trump would make hours later.
Syria is a stain on the Obama administration and in Clinton's legacy, and Kristof asked her whether she believes it was Obama's worst foreign policy mistake as president, or hers.
"When I was secretary of state I teamed up with Dave Petraeus, then director of CIA, Leon Panetta, then secretary of defense, to present a plan for us to move more aggressively to support protesters to try to provide some back up in what was -- I thought -- likely to turn out to be a very one-sided battle," she said. "This was before ISIS came to public awareness for a caliphate and their setting up headquarters in Rocca. I believed that and I've said this repeatedly that we should've done more at that point."
She clarified that such decisions aren't easy.
Clinton promoted and still believes the U.S. should have enacted a no-fly zone and been more willing to confront Assad. She noted that Russia and Iran were slow to get involved in the early days of the conflict.
She called Syria's Assad a "prisoner of his family's expectations," noting that it was his late brother, not him, who was expected to succeed his father in power.
"He is absolutely a prisoner of his family's expectations, his dead father's looming president, and his delusion that I believe he now probably could pass a lie detector about that everybody who opposes him is a terrorist," she said, comparing him to Russian President Vladimir Putin in that line. "That's how Putin thinks. And Putin has basically weighed in, particularly, with air power to support this fight-to-the-death policy that Assad has. I think that we've got to try to change the dynamic."
Russia, an ally to Syria, condemned U.S. airstrikes in Syria on Friday, calling the move an "aggression against a sovereign nation" carried out under an "invented pretext." It suspended a 2015 memorandum of understanding on air operations between Russia and the U.S.
Iran spoke out against the United States' actions as well, saying that they would lead to "the strengthening of failing terrorists" and complicate the situation in the region.
Clinton on Thursday admitted she is no friend of Russia or Putin and spoke at length about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election to stack the deck against her. She invoked her take on Russia and Syria on the campaign trail.
"All through the campaign I would say, 'I'm for a no-fly zone,' and immediately, whether it was in the primary or the general election, people would ask, 'Aren't you afraid of Russians?' It's time the Russians were afraid of us because we were going to stand up for human rights, the dignity and the future of Syrian people, and I actually had a lot of confidence that I could say to Putin and his team, 'Look, whether you're with us or against us with this no-fly zone and here's what we're going to do,'" she said.
Of course, it is now Trump who is on a potential collision course with Putin and will shape the future of Syria policy for the United States.
"I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types," Trump said in a statement Thursday evening. "We hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony, in the end, will prevail."
"It is in our interest, we've got to start, once again, recognizing norms of behavior in our own country and globally as just as important to keeping peace and preventing atrocities as any law that is written down," Clinton said just hours before him. "People have to know that they will be held accountable as war criminals, as committing crimes against humanity, if they engage in these kinds of aggressive violence acts."
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