WASHINGTON – Former US President Bill Clinton
challenged the Obama
administration's handling of the Syrian civil war on Tuesday and advocated increased support of rebel forces, the Politico website reported.
Speaking at a closed-press event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan, Clinton told Senator John McCain
he agrees that President Barack Obama should act more forcefully to support anti-Assad rebels
in Syria, saying the American public elects presidents and members of Congress “to see down the road” and “to win.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that despite increased support in Congress and the administration for lethal aid, those closest to the president are divided on whether to begin providing Syria's armed opposition with weapons or to consider more drastic steps such as using US airpower to ground Assad's gunships and jets.
During the Manhattan event, Clinton implied that Obama or any president risks looking like “a total fool” if they listen too closely to opinion polls and act too cautiously, using his own decisions on Kosovo and Bosnia as a point of reference.
Obama and Clinton. Difference of opinion (Photo: EPA)
The former president said commanders-in-chief should avoid over-interpreting public opinion polls about whether the US should get involved in crises overseas, Politico reported.
“Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” Clinton told McCain.
“Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”
He further added, "Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria. The only question is now that the Russians, the Iranians
and the Hezbollah
are in there head over heels, 90 miles to nothing, should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they’re supported by a majority of the people, to prevail?”
US soldiers in NATO force in Kosovo (Photo: AFP)
Clinton suggested that "we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past. I don’t think Syria
is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan — no one has asked us to send any soldiers in there. I think it’s more like Afghanistan was in the ’80s when they were fighting the Soviet Union … when President Reagan was in office (and) got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime and then made the error of not hanging around in Afghanistan to try to cash in on the gains."
Asked by McCain about his own decision making process in Kosovo and Bosnia, Clinton said, “What the American people are saying when they tell you not to do these things, they’re not telling you not to do these things, but instead, they’re urging caution. They hire you to win … to look around the corner and see down the road.”
According to Politico, Clinton did not call for specific measures to aid the Syrian rebels while McCain urged Obama to enforce a no-fly zone in the country to give rebels a “safe zone” to fight the Assad regime.
On Wednesday, White House Spokesperson Jay Carney said that despite the deteriorating situation in Syria a decision on US further steps has yet to be made. According to him, President Barack Obama does not rule out any options, but a scenario which will lead to a ground invasion of the country is not foreseeable.
At the same time, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki condemned the Syrian attack in Lebanon, near the border between the two countries, and called it a provocation meant to draw Lebanon
into the Syrian conflict.
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