When the White House debated this week over the appropriate response to the chemical attack in Syria, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not release a comment. When the administration declassified an intelligence report Friday detailing the death toll — 1,429 people, including 426 children — Clinton stayed silent. And Saturday afternoon, when President Obama announced he’d “take action against Syrian regime targets,” Hillary Clinton again released no comment.
The nation’s former top diplomat — and until recently a key voice in favor of intervention in Syria — has remained notably quiet on the subject, even as the country seems poised on the precipice of a missile strike that remains contentious among members of both parties and lacks strong public support.
In brief remarks delivered from the Rose Garden, President Obama maintained he has the executive “authority to take military action,” but said he will put the matter before a vote in Congress next month regardless.
Clinton’s position on both White House decisions, however, remains unclear.
Although she has yet to weigh in on the seemingly imminent military intervention, Clinton’s tenure in the State Department suggests she’d be fully in line with the president on his decision to move forward with what he has called a “limited, narrow” attack. (It was her husband, President Bill Clinton, who in June compared the administration’s once reticent stance toward Syria to the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, intimating that Obama might look “like a total wuss” if he didn’t step in.)
While at State, Clinton was more than active on crisis in Syria: She voiced frequent condemnation for President Bashar al-Assad, worked to pledge tens of millions in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, strengthened sanctions against Assad’s regime, and at times took a harder line on the country’s civil war than the president.
In the summer of 2012, Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus proposed that the U.S. arm and train the Syrian rebels fighting to overturn Assad, but the plan was “rebuffed” by the White House, according to a report in the New York Times detailing Clinton’s four-year term at Foggy Bottom.
In an interview with ABC News in January, Clinton said the Assad regime could not be toppled without the use of what she called “a recognized force.” She added that Syria’s “use of chemical weapons” would cross “a red line,” citing the Obama administration’s oft-repeated phrase.
Later in the month, days before Clinton’s exit from the State Department, she was asked in a live-streamed Town Hall interview about her “lasting regret” as secretary.
Clinton was quick to cite the loss of lives in at U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but also mentioned the ongoing civil war in Syria, where over 100,000 lives have been lost, according to the United Nations.
“When you do these jobs, you have to understand at the very beginning that you can’t control everything,” Clinton said. “There are terrible situations right now being played out in the Congo, Syria, where we all wish that there were clear paths that we could follow together in the international community to try to resolve.”
Every day at State, she said, was a struggle to “end crises.”
Now Clinton is thought to be weighing another bid for president in 2016, and her campaign will likely hinge on her legacy as Secretary of State at a time of turmoil in the Middle East.
Clinton’s spokesmen did not return requests for comment Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening.