Smart Power: That Time Hillary Clinton Said Syria's Bashar al-Assad Was A 'Reformer'

Posted: Apr 09, 2017 12:45 PM

The horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria has sort of put the final nail in the coffin on the narrative that Obama’s Syrian policy was a disaster. Sarin gas was reportedly used on the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province, which killed at least 80 people. On Thursday night, President Trump ordered a massive tomahawk missile launch against the airfield where the attack was carried out.

Katie wrote about that time when the Obama administration was patting itself on the back for declaring that they got Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to destroy 100 percent of his chemical weapons stockpile, a move that then-Secretary of State Kerry said was far more effective than airstrikes. And then there’s Hillary Clinton, Kerry’s predecessor, who called Assad a “reformer” in March of 2011. Clinton was interviewed by then-host of CBS’ Face the Nation Bob Schieffer (via Washington Free Beacon):

BOB SCHIEFFER: But I mean– how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Assad’s father killed twenty-five thousand people at– at a lick. I mean, they opened fire with live ammunition on these civilians.


BOB SCHIEFFER: Why is that different from Libya?


BOB SCHIEFFER (overlapping): This is a friend of Iran, an enemy of Israel?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, if there were a coalition of the international community, if there were the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal but that is not going to happen because I don’t think that it’s yet clear what will occur, what will unfold? There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is– is deeply concerning. But there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities, then police actions, which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.

March of 2011 was when this bloody conflict began and Clinton did a masterful job giving voice to Obama’s hesitance regarding the use of military force. Citing members of Congress who called the man a reformer, coupled with the various international benchmarks that have to be met, sounds more like excuses not to intervene—though this past administration was more than willing to bomb Libya. That country has also devolved into a disaster zone. Trump and many presidents after him will be left cleaning up the mess of the Obama White House.