Hillary Clinton backs Obama on Syria strikes

Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will support the president’s actions in Syria and hopes Congress will, too. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
September 9, 2013

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday endorsed President Obama’s call for military strikes against Syria and said “it would be an important step” if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surrendered his stockpile of chemical weapons.

“The Assad regime’s inhuman use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order, and therefore it demands a strong response from the international community, led by the United States,” she said.

Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, made her first public remarks on Syria during a previously scheduled appearance at the White House. She said she had just come from a meeting with Obama, during which they discussed a proposal advanced by Russia to avert U.S. military strikes by having Assad turn over control of the country’s chemical weapons to international monitors.

She said that such a move would be important but that “this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction, and Russia has to support the international community’s efforts sincerely or be held to account.”

She also suggested that the Russian proposal came about only because of a “credible military threat by the United States.”

Until Monday, Clinton had not commented publicly on an alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say Assad carried out. A Clinton aide issued a statement last week saying that the former secretary backs Obama’s effort to win support in Congress for a strike.

Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, has made no public statements about Obama’s push for a military attack.

Hillary Clinton’s endorsement comes amid one of the most intensive White House lobbying campaigns of Obama’s presidency. On Tuesday, Obama will meet with senators on Capitol Hill before addressing the nation in the evening from the White House.

Clinton spoke with Obama about Syria on Sunday and has had several conversations in recent days with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a Clinton aide said.

Clinton is expected to make similar remarks about Syria on Tuesday evening in Philadelphia, where she will accept the National Constitution Center’s 2013 Liberty Medal. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), another potential 2016 presidential candidate, will present the award in his capacity as the center’s chairman.

Clinton had initially signaled that she would deliver a robust policy address in Philadelphia about national security surveillance policies.

But an aide said Monday that she shelved that plan as developments in Syria intensified in recent weeks. Instead, Clinton plans to give relatively short remarks, mindful that Obama will address the nation about an hour after her speech, the aide said.

“She will celebrate the National Constitution Center’s focus on bipartisanship and ‘active citizenship,’ and honor Americans who serve their communities and our country,” said Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman.

As secretary of state, Clinton generally advocated a more hawkish position on Syria than other administration officials, pushing for the U.S. government to support rebels fighting Assad’s regime.

But her move to embrace military action comes with political risks, with Democrats deeply divided over whether the United States should enter another Middle East conflict. Many liberal lawmakers, even as they voice outrage over the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, have come out in opposition to military action.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Clinton was haunted by her 2002 vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, used the issue to gain traction in the primaries.

Clinton made her remarks about Syria on Monday at a White House forum on combating wildlife trafficking, a cause she adopted at the State Department and now champions through the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, the foundation’s vice chairman, also spoke Monday.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton joined Bill Clinton on Monday evening at a pair of private events in Washington to raise money for their family foundation. They held a cocktail reception at the Italian Embassy, with tickets costing $1,000 a person, and later a dinner at their home across the street for $25,000 per couple.

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