As Vice President Joe Biden inches closer to a presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has belatedly done something bold, at least by her campaign’s standards. She’s beginning to distance herself ever-so-slightly from President Obama’s record, particularly on foreign policy, tilting to the center even as she’s facing an increasingly serious challenge from the left in Bernie Sanders.
On Sunday, she gave her strongest televised interview in many months (on CBS’s Face the Nation), where she showcased her national security expertise, gave George W. Bush credit for keeping the country safe after 9/11, and implicitly challenged the record of the Obama administration on international affairs. This centrist version of Clinton characterized the administration’s plan training opposition forces in Syria as a “failure.” And in talking about the need for the United States to take in Syrian refugees, she called on the United States to “lead the world”—a jab, perhaps, at critics’ belief that the president is leading from behind.
It’s clear that foreign policy is Obama’s biggest political weakness, and that his potential Democratic successors need to decide whether they’ll defend his record, or keep some necessary distance to prevail in a general election. Even as the economy slowly improves and the unemployment rate drops, the president’s overall approval numbers have been stagnant, thanks to growing anxiety over the threat of terrorism. He struck a nuclear deal with Iran that can barely win one-fifth of the public’s support (per the Pew Research Center) and badly divided his own party. And in an audacious example of avoiding responsibility, his administration is now blaming its critics for its failure to aid Syrian opposition forces to take on ISIS. Those critics include Clinton, who’s taking some friendly fire from a White House looking to protect its legacy.