Former President Bill Clinton applauded the White House decision to help Syrian rebels and said today the U.S. must “do more” to end the conflict.
Clinton spoke in a Bloomberg Television interview in Chicago a day after the U.S. made clear it would provide small arms and ammunition to the Syrian opposition amid battlefield setbacks for rebels. The move follows U.S. confirmation that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the civil war that began more than two years ago.
President Barack Obama is authorizing lethal military aid to rebel groups under a classified order instructing the Central Intelligence Agency to arrange delivery of the weapons, according to a U.S. official familiar with the decision who asked not to be identified discussing the action.
“I feel good about the announcement and I think we should wait and see what the details are,” Clinton told Trish Regan of Bloomberg Television.
“I don’t think that we should send troops there, but I don’t think we should stay where we are,” he said. “I think we should do more.”
Earlier this week, Clinton said Obama should act more forcefully in Syria, where the fight has taken more than 90,000 lives and created more than 1.5 million refugees, according to United Nations estimates.
The interview with Clinton took place on the second and final day of the annual Clinton Global Initiative America meeting, a gathering that attracted about 1,000 business, government and foundation leaders. Attendees developed 74 new commitments valued at more than $1.6 billion, according to a news release from the organization.
Later, Clinton interviewed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The former president, a Democrat, jokingly described the Republican as “a man whose reputation I have virtually ruined more than once,” after being seen talking to him in public.
For his part, Christie, 50, promoted the need for government in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, which struck New Jersey in late October. He also called on states and the federal government to spend more on dunes that protect shorelines from storm damage.
“You have to start having the cost-benefit analysis of whether or not you need to do this upfront,” he said.
The U.S. National Flood Insurance Program shouldn’t be the country’s “sole” option for protection against such disasters, Christie said, adding that businesses need to be more involved in protecting Americans from the ravages of such storms.
In the aftermath of Sandy, the insurer has been “challenging” to work with, Christie said, adding that it seems more worried about government audits than helping victims.
“I think it is very difficult to understand this until you have been through it,” Christie said. “When this kind of thing happens, Republican, independent, Democrat -- no matter who you are or what you are, you turn to government.”
Christie angered some Republicans when, as Obama visited damaged areas shortly after the hurricane occurred, the governor touted the president’s handling of the initial federal response. The praise came less than a week before Obama won a second term against Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the November election.
Clinton told Christie: “The enduring image most Americans have of you is standing there in your jacket grieving with your people, working with them and working with the president, and you got both praise and damnation for ignoring the political differences that you had then and still have with the president and all of us who are in the other party.”
For Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, his appearance today represented the latest unorthodox political move that has led some Republicans to complain that he’s more concerned with his own ambition than his party’s needs. The first-term governor is seeking re-election in his heavily Democratic state on Nov. 5.
Christie’s visit to Chicago took place as other prospective Republican presidential candidates spoke yesterday and today to the party’s core supporters at a Washington conference hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group based in Duluth, Georgia.
Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, was the headline speaker yesterday at the gathering in Chicago.
Her husband, asked about prospects of another Clinton occupying the White House after 2016, said in the Bloomberg interview, “Chelsea’s still too young,” a reference to his 33-year-old daughter.
He also said: “I don’t know what Hillary’s going to do, but whatever it is, I expect to support it.”
His wife, 65, has been saying she has no plans for a second presidential run following her unsuccessful 2008 bid, while also not ruling out another try.
The former president, while known for his political focus, said that he thinks the subject shouldn’t be such a constant.
“I think that only fixating on politics all the time gives us a form of national attention-deficit disorder,” he said. “We shouldn’t just fixate on the next presidential election all the time.”
“We need to take a little time off to work and think about what our country needs and think about what we can do together and think about what the parties can do together and think about how we can reach across these lines that divide us and make something good happen for America,” Clinton said.