Since Hillary Clinton made it perfectly clear what she thinks of President Obama's "don't do stupid stuff" foreign policy, the question now is how awkward things will be between them. As far as in-person encounters go, we'll likely reach peak discomfort when the two cross paths at a birthday party Wednesday. But for Clinton, the real battle will be withstanding the wave of criticism her comments have brought on.
Mike Allen at Politico reports that Clinton and Obama will likely see each other for the first time tomorrow night, when they attend the same Martha's Vineyard birthday party. As Allen put it, "This could be awkward." Of course, the only way to make a situation like that more awkward is to ignore it — a White House official told CNN that “the President and First Lady are very much looking forward to the occasion and seeing Former Secretary Clinton.”
Over the weekend Clinton and Obama gave rival interviews on the question of whether the U.S. government should have armed moderate Syrian rebels to prevent extremists groups like ISIL from gaining power. Speaking with Thomas Friedman at The New York Times, Obama said the idea has “always been a fantasy." During an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, published two days later, Clinton said "the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."
In reference to the president's "Don't do stupid stuff" mantra, she said: "Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
But while the big wigs at Martha's Vineyard will be waiting for that moment when the two have to make eye contact and pretend not to see one another, the real question is whether Clinton's unfiltered foreign policy strategy will make things awkward for her. As CBS News noted, liberals are remembering that they thought she was too hawkish in 2008, and conservatives are skeptical of her attempts to distance herself from the president's policies. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn released this statement, saying that it would "continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation":
Former Obama advisor David Axelrod tweeted this dig:
Just to clarify: "Don't do stupid stuff" means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place, which was a tragically bad decision.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) August 12, 2014
(Clinton voted for the Iraq War.) John Cassidy at The New Yorker wrote that "what really stands from the interviews is the strident tone that Clinton adopted in her comments on Gaza and radical Islam. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote that Clinton doesn't really have an organizing principle, and "it so happens that I think 'don't do stupid stuff' is a pretty good approach to foreign policy at the moment."
The Washington Post's conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the interview was "the worst sort of political opportunism for which she is infamous," while the Republican National Committee sent out this cheeky memo:
Clinton is probably more worried about the backlash from her comments than whether or not Obama will say "hi" to her tomorrow.