Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State in the Barack Obama administration's first term in office, blamed U.S. foreign policy under President Obama for the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
In a recently published interview in The Atlantic, Clinton blamed Obama's policy of remaining on the sidelines in the insurgency against Syria’s President Bashar Assad and not backing more moderate factions during the Syrian civil war, leading to the emergence of the most extreme Sunni rebel faction in the Middle East, the Islamic State.
"The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad -- there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle -- the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled," Clinton told The Atlantic.
Widely considered to be a potential contender in the next presidential elections in 2016, Clinton had unsuccessfully advocated arming moderate Syrian rebels during her term as Secretary of State.
Obama on Thursday ordered limited air strikes on the Islamic State’s positions in Iraq to check the Islamists' advance into Kurdistan, which threatens the safety of U.S. facilities and citizens there, and has created a state of panic in Iraq with thousands of refugees fleeing into the mountains.
U.S. withdrew from Iraq in 2011 under Obama who promised not to send back U.S. troops into the country, and has called on Iraqis to take control of their country by forming an inclusive government to check the rise of jihadist groups.
Clinton also criticized Obama's informal foreign policy canon of “Don’t do stupid shit," a thumb rule that reportedly aims to be "interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral," and suggested that Obama lacked a strategy in dealing with the Islamist threat.
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle," she said, adding that the U.S. must develop an well-rounded strategy to confront Islamist extremism in the world by drawing comparisons to U.S. policy during the Cold War to check the rise of Soviet-led communism.
"One of the reasons why I worry about what's happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States," she said, adding: "Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’être is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank-and we all fit into one of these categories."
"How do we try to contain that? I'm thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat," she added.
Political analysts see Clinton's statements, which echo Republican criticism of the current government, as an attempt to distance herself from Obama, who is accused of allowing a power vacuum to develop in conflict regions around the world from Syria to Iraq to Ukraine.