The White House was on the defensive Thursday after former President Bill Clinton told a private event that he supported a more aggressive U.S. intervention in the violent conflict gripping Syria.

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks to reporters about the so-called "sequester" at the White House in Washington February 28, 2013. Positions hardened on Wednesday between the U.S. President and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week. Looking resigned to the $85 billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque White House press secretary Jay Carney.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday that President Obama would make a decision about the U.S. role in Syria on his timeline – not that of critics.

“We're assessing options all the time, including, providing weapons to the opposition,” Carney said. “The president makes a decision about the implementation of national security options based on our national security interests, not on what might satisfy critics at any given moment about a policy.”

Clinton’s comments, which came at a private event hosted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), aligned him more closely with the position of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who also pushed for a more aggressive U.S. posture toward Syria. He supported a proposal by former CIA director David Petraeus to provide arms to the Syrian rebels.

At the event on Tuesday, Clinton said presidents should not rely too much on public opinion in deciding whether to intervene in a crisis, recalling his own efforts to stop ethnic conflict in Kosovo and Bosnia, as reported by 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 in Manhattan on Tuesday. “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.”

“Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria,” Clinton said, according to Politico, which obtained audio of the event. “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?”

Carney said Obama is weighing the question of whether to do more in Syria “through the prism of U.S. national interest.” He added, “Obviously a lot of people who have expertise in the matter both outside of government and in Congress and inside of government have perspective to add, and opinions to contribute and analysis to provide. And the president welcomes all of that.”