At a closed-door event in New York City with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Tuesday evening, former President Bill Clinton suggested that President Barack Obama should ignore public opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria and give rebel groups “a decent chance” of winning their war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
According to Politico, which obtained a surreptitious recording of Clinton’s remarks, the former President said that even strong public opposition should not be taken at face value. “What the American people are saying when they tell you not to do these things, they’re not telling you not to do these things…I simply mean when people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.'”
A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this week showed that the American public is “extremely hesitant” to intervene in the Syrian conflict, where several of the leading rebel groups are linked to Al Qaeda. Tens of thousands have already died in the Syrian civil war, marked by brutal attacks against civilians by the regime.
Politico described Clinton’s stance as a “split” with the Obama administration. However it may have been a trial balloon. The recent nomination of Samantha Power as UN Ambassador is thought by some to signal a shift towards intervention in Syria. Power has argued for military intervention for humanitarian reasons as part of a “responsibility to protect” doctrine, and is thought to have played a key role in pushing for intervention in Libya in 2011.
In contrast to intervention in Syria, the Iraq War enjoyed the support of a majority of Americans when the administration of George W. Bush launched military strikes against the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.