It’s been almost four years since Hillary Clinton agreed to come on a Sunday talk show, and here’s the most memorable line from her Face the Nation appearance this morning: “I am a real person!”
Clinton’s ongoing struggle to humanize herself—the bane of her advisers’ strategy work, by the way—continues to overshadow any policy message. Behind the slide in her poll numbers is a loss of trust among voters. She’s trying to reverse that by sitting for more media interviews, a.k.a. the likeability tour.
On Face the Nation, she showed off a comfortable fluency in foreign affairs—raising alarms about Russia’s motives in Syria and calling for the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees. But her defense of using a private email server for official business once again came off as parsed and hair-splitting: “I didn’t make the best choice.” And: “What I did was permitted and above board.”
It was, she acknowledged, a “failure in judgment.” Why? Because she skirted administration policy and potentially exposed confidential national security communications? No, because the controversy has overshadowed her accomplishments as Secretary of State in her 2016 bid for president.
“I’m sorry that I made a choice that has raised all of these questions because I don’t like reading that people have questions about what I did and how I did it,” she sold CBS’ John Dickerson. “I’m proud of the work we did at the State Department.”
The Clinton personality question gets in the way of her foreign policy expertise—and a willingness to stand up her former boss, Barack Obama. As Secretary of State in 2012, she and other top officials advised President Obama to vet and arm moderate rebels to fight Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. The President ignored that advice and the country has since plunged into civil war, with a refugee crisis now engulfing Europe.
Since then, a small effort to train moderate troops has failed abysmally, with nearly all of them killed. “Where we are today is not where we were,” Clinton said. “And where we are today is that we have a failed program…I wouldn’t give up on train and equip, but I sure would push the Pentagon to take a hard look at why what has been done has been such a failure and what more we can do to support Kurdish fighters who are on the front line.”
Clinton also had tough words for Assad’s fellow strongman and ally, Russian President Vladmir Putin, who has begun a military intervention in Syria. Eighteen months after Russia invaded Crimea, Clinton raised alarms about Putin’s motives in Syria. And she warned that if Russia supports the Hezbollah—“a deadly threat to Israel”—the U.S. should take action, such as new sanctions against Moscow. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia is fighting inside Syria to bolster Assad.
Clinton also called for the U.S. to do more to protect refugees fleeing Syria, raising from 10,000 to 65,000 the number who can qualify for refugee status. “We’re facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II and I think the United States has to do more,” she said. She also called for beefing up mechanisms to screen refugees, and to focus on protecting persecuted religious minorities from the region such as Christians and Yazidi women who have been kidnapped and sexually enslaved by ISIS terrorists.
Clinton’s too-practiced demeanor came in handy when Dickerson asked her about the growing likelihood that Vice President Joe Biden will throw his hat into the ring as her rival for the Democratic nomination.
Without missing a beat, Clinton said simply: “This is such a personal decision and the vice president has to sort this out….I just have the greatest respect and affection for him and I think everybody just ought to give him the space to decide what’s best for his family.”
We’ll see if those effusive words hold if Biden steps onto the Oct. 13 Democratic debate stage in Nevada.
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