Bill Clinton slams Obama for dithering on Syria

‘Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying,’ former president says, decrying US reluctance to arm rebels

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Former US president Bill Clinton (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Former US president Bill Clinton (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

President Barack Obama should act more forcefully to help the Syrian rebels, former president Bill Clinton told John McCain Wednesday, seconding the Republican senator’s opinion that the US should be more involved in the ongoing civil war.

“Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake,” Clinton was quoted in Politico as saying during a Q&A session with McCain. “I agree with you about this.”

“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,” Clinton said.

The American public, the former president continued, elects its leaders in Congress and the White House “to see down the road,” and, eventually, “to win.”

Clinton also indicated that excessive caution and over-reliance on opinion polls could make any president “look like a total fool,” mentioning US decisions to intervene militarily in Bosnia and Kosovo during his tenure as commander in chief.

McCain recently visited war-ridden Syria and called on the international community to arm the Free Syrian Army, saying he was confident the weapons could be given to the right people.

“They just can’t fight tanks with AK-47s,” the senator said. “There’s no doubt that they need some kind of capability to reverse the battlefield situation, which right now is in favor of Assad.”

Despite growing alarm over the Syrian government’s military advances, Obama administration officials are split over whether to arm the country’s rebel forces or make other military moves that would deepen US involvement in the conflict.

Obama’s top national security advisers met at the White House on Wednesday to air their differences. The administration’s caution persists despite its nearly two-year-old demand that President Bashar Assad step down, its vows to help the Syrian rebels on the ground and its threats to respond to any chemical weapons use.

Obama’s moves throughout the 27-month civil war, from political support for the opposition to nonlethal aid for its more moderate fighters, have occurred in close concert with America’s partners in Europe. All agree at this point that the efforts haven’t done enough.

Desperate for weapons, even more so with an estimated 5,000 Hezbollah guerrillas propping up Assad’s forces, the opposition is warning that Western inaction will mean that al-Qaeda-linked and other militants will increasingly take over the rebellion. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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