Bill Clinton took part Tuesday night in a Q-and-A with Sen. John McCain at a semi-private event in New York City, where the former president offered some notably sharp criticism of President Obama’s handling of the ongoing war in Syria, specifically his reluctance to get involved. The event was technically closed to the press but both the Daily Beast and Politico managed to get their hands on a recording of the remarks, as tends to happen with events like this.
Among the more pull-quote ready warnings the former president had for the current man in the White House was that Obama risks looking like a “total fool,” a “wuss,” and “lame” if he keeps the U.S. largely on the sidelines.
—“You just think how lame you’d be… suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘because the House of Representatives voted 75% against it?’” Clinton said. “You look like a total wuss, and you would be.” (via DB)
—“If you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken is, ‘Oh my god, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.’ You look like a total fool,” Clinton said. (DB)
—“Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria,” Clinton said. “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?” (via Politico)
—“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.” (P)
Clinton largely avoided talking foreign policy while his wife was secretary of state, but now that she’s stepped down he has a more room to speak his mind. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2012 election is now firmly in the rear-view mirror. (If these comments would have come last year, they would have no doubt made their way into a GOP attack ad or twelve.)
McCain, of course, has been one of Obama’s harshest critics on Syria. The Arizona Republican recently took a trip to the war-torn nation to meet with moderate rebel commanders, and has only ramped up his criticism since then.