Hillary Clinton Said to Be 'Distancing' Herself From Obama's Foreign Policy

By Susan Jones | August 11, 2014 | 10:41 AM EDT

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a signing for her new book "Hard Choices," in Cambridge, Mass. on June 16, 2014.<br /> (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

(CNSNews.com) - Hillary Clinton, in publicly admitting her disagreement with President Obama's refusal to arm the Syrian rebels, is "obviously beginning the process of maybe distancing herself from some of the policies she disagreed with" as secretary of state, says Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed Clinton for "The Atlantic" magazine.

Goldberg himself was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press."

In his Aug. 10 article, Goldberg asked Clinton, "Do you think we’d be where we are with ISIS right now if the U.S. had done more three years ago to build up a moderate Syrian opposition?" (ISIS is now rapidly advancing through Iraq, and by most accounts, poses a threat to U.S. security.)

"Well, I don’t know the answer to that," Clinton responded, according to a transcript published in "The Atlantic."

"I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad -- there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle -- the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.

"They were often armed in an indiscriminate way by other forces, and we had no skin in the game that really enabled us to prevent this indiscriminate arming."

Writing in "The Atlantic," Goldberg noted that Clinton "had many kind words for the 'incredibly intelligent' and 'thoughtful' Obama, and she expressed sympathy and understanding for the devilishly complicated challenges he faces. But she also suggested that she finds his approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good.

"At one point," Goldberg wrote, "I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: 'Don’t do stupid s***' (an expression often rendered as 'Don’t do stupid stuff' in less-than-private encounters).

"This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: 'Great nations need organizing principles, and Don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.'”

Shortly before Clinton's interview was published in "The Atlantic," President Obama told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that arming the Syrian rebels, as Clinton wanted to do, wouldn't have made any difference: That notion, he said, has “always been a fantasy."

"This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Obama told Friedman that the U.S. still can't find enough secular Syrian rebels to train and arm: "There's not as much capacity as you would hope," he said.

In his interview with Clinton, Goldberg asked her, "[I]f the story of the Bush administration is one of overreach, is the story of the Obama administration one of underreach?"

"You know, I don’t think you can draw that conclusion," Clinton responded. "It’s a very key question. How do you calibrate, that’s the key issue. I think we have learned a lot during this period, but then how to apply it going forward will still take a lot of calibration and balancing."

Clinton noted that the U.S. successfully helped to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddhafi -- but despite "two good elections" in Libya, the security situation is out of control, given the availability of weapons to warring militias.

"So you can go back and argue, either we should we have helped the people of Libya try to overthrow a dictator who, remember, killed Americans and did a lot of other bad stuff -- or we should have been on the sidelines.

"In this case we helped, but that didn’t make the road any easier in Syria, where we said, 'It’s messy, it’s complicated, we’re not sure what the outcome will be.' So what I’m hoping for is that we sort out what we have learned, because we’ve tried a bunch of different approaches."