EDGARTOWN, Mass. — President Barack Obama will spend a bit of his summer vacation with Hillary Rodham Clinton, a get-together that comes amid signs that the former secretary of state is seeking to distance herself from Obama’s foreign policy ahead of a possible 2016 White House bid.
The White House said the president, along with first lady Michelle Obama, planned to see Clinton Wednesday at a party on Martha’s Vineyard for Ann Jordan, wife of Democratic adviser Vernon Jordan. Clinton is on the Massachusetts island for a memoir-signing session at a bookstore, while the Obamas are in the midst of a two-week vacation.
It was unclear whether former President Bill Clinton also planned to attend the party.
In an interview published last weekend, the former secretary of state drew the sharpest distinctions yet from Obama in a rebuke of his cautious approach to global crises. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said in a weekend magazine interview, referring to a version of the phrase Obama and his advisers have used privately to describe his approach to foreign policy.
Asked for her organizing principle, she replied: “Peace, progress and prosperity. This worked for a very long time.”
Clinton wrapped her critiques in expressions of respect for the president and sympathy for the tough global decisions he grapples with from the Oval Office. On Monday, a vacation day for Obama, he dealt with issues involving Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, as well as terrorism and Ebola in Africa.
“He’s thoughtful, he’s incredibly smart, and able to analyze a lot of different factors that are all moving at the same time,” she said. “I think he is cautious because he knows what he inherited, both the two wars and the economic front, and he has expended a lot of capital and energy trying to pull us out of the hole we’re in.”
In a wide-ranging interview published on The Atlantic’s website, Clinton offered an uncompromising defense of Israel’s battle against Hamas in Gaza and argued against Obama’s decision not to build up a rebel fighting force to confront Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Clinton previously described her advocacy for the Syrian rebellion in “Hard Choices,” her memoir about her time leading the State Department. Obama has said supporting the rebels would not have stopped al-Qaida-inspired groups from rampaging across Syria and inside Iraq today.
Clinton and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly argued for arming the rebels who first stood up to Assad three years ago. Since then, the question of “arming the rebels” has become more complicated, as fighters linked to al-Qaida and other fundamentalist Islamist groups have joined the rebellion.
She told The Atlantic she can’t say definitively that her recommendations as secretary of state would have made a difference, but “the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
The White House declined to respond to Clinton’s comments, but said her team gave them a heads-up before the interview was published.
Clinton, who lost to Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, has not said definitively whether she will run in 2016. But her decision to sit down for an in-depth interview about her foreign policy vision and to distinguish herself from the unpopular incumbent for whom she worked is the latest signal she’s seriously preparing for a bid.
Republicans say she won’t be able to escape that she carried out Obama’s foreign policy for his first term without public complaint. “Hillary Clinton spent four years executing Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and in year five of Obama’s term it’s ridiculous for Hillary to try to swindle voters into thinking what’s happening around the world isn’t a product of Obama-Hillary diplomacy,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski said in response to Clinton’s interview.