Clinton Addresses Syria Strike For First Time

Hillary Clinton supports her former boss’s plans in Syria — at least, it seems like she does.

Clinton briefly addressed the most recent developments in the Syrian conflict for the first time Monday in a prelude to a speech on a completely different topic (illegal wildlife trafficking, in case you were curious). While she did voice support for the Obama administration’s plans, her comments were measured, limited, and pretty vague.

She said that the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad “demands a strong response from the international community.” But “strong response” could mean anything from a toothless condemnation by the United Nations to a full-scaled military invasion, so that’s not really saying much. She explained that it’s “about protecting the Syrian people...and our friends in the regions,” but that’s been the U.S. position since before she even stepped down as Secretary of State, so nothing new there.

Clinton, who talked with Obama and White House officials before making the comments, did voice support for the new, seemingly out-of-nowhere proposal that would involve the U.S. calling off military action in exchange for the Syrian regime giving up the chemical weapons it once denied having.

“If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control as was suggested by Sec. Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step,” Clinton said. “But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction.”

Secretary of State John Kerry floated this suggestion earlier today in response to a theoretical question, and made it clear that he didn’t think it was going to happen. His phrasing suggested that the administration hadn’t even really considered the prospect, but in a surprising twist, Russia jumped on the idea and demanded that Syria give up its chemical weapons. Syria immediately replied that it "welcomed" the offer, prompting Kerry to announce that if Syria handed over its chemical weapons within a week, the strike would be called off.

Clinton added, however, that “this discussion only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States.”

So, Clinton at least supports the threat of attacking Syria. But would she favor actually following through on said threat? It’s not clear. She did make calls to two Senators prior to giving the speech, but it’s hard to conclude anything from that, given that one of those senators, Chuck Schumer, already supports a strike, while the other, Mark Pryor, opposes it.

Clinton was originally set to give a “robust policy speech” tomorrow in Philadelphia, but those plans were put on hold after Obama announced that he himself would be giving a robust policy speech the same day. While that speech was announced last week, the timing is somewhat apt, as a poll out today has some pretty harsh numbers for the president. A CNN/ORC International survey shows Obama with a 40 percent approval rating on foreign policy, the lowest of his presidency, and 30 percent approval on his dealings with Syria. He's surely hoping to move those numbers upward with his speech today, but it'll be a steep climb.