Bill Clinton implied that President Obama was "a total fool" for not acting more forcefully in Syria.
Speaking at a closed door meeting of John McCain's think tank, Clinton gave a harsh assessment of our policy in Syria, although he softened his criticism by not naming Obama directly.
Clinton, who McCain also asked about his own decision-making process on the violence in Kosovo and Bosnia when he was president, expounded on what the public means in opinion polls when it expresses disapproval of foreign intervention.
"What the American people are saying when they tell you not to do these things, they're not telling you not to do these things," he said, but instead, they're urging caution. "They hire you to win ... to look around the corner and see down the road."
Clinton did not call for specific measures to aid the Syrian rebels. McCain has urged Obama to enforce a no-fly zone in the country to give rebels a "safe zone" to fight the Assad regime.
Clinton repeatedly said it would be "lame" to blame a lack of intervention on opposition in polls or among members of Congress.
If Clinton had ever blamed a lack of action because "there was a poll in the morning paper that said 80 percent of you were against it ... you'd look like a total wuss," he said. "And you would be. I don't mean that a leader should go out of his way or her way to do the unpopular thing, I simply mean when people are telling you 'no' in these situations, very often what they're doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, 'For God's sakes, be careful, tell us what you're doing, think this through, be careful."
Clinton continued, "But still they hire their president to look around the corner and down the street, and you just think - if you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken, is that, 'Oh my God, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.' Right? You'd look like a total fool. So you really have to in the end trust the American people, tell them what you're doing, and hope to God you can sell it" and that it turns out okay in the end.
Clinton may feel liberated following his wife's departure from Obama's cabinet. If so, we can probably expect more of this kind of withering criticism. Ed Klein's book "Amateur" brought up several examples of the real animus Clinton feels toward Obama - a mutual feeling of disregard that the president also holds (Not sure about the truth of all of them, but it's no secret the two hate each other.) Now Clinton has thrown his weight around on Syria and Obama is probably fuming. He has been dithering about whether to supply lethal aid to the rebels and no doubt resents the prod from the former president.
His wife's approval rating took a big hit as a result of Benghazi and perhaps one way for her to recover is for the former president to bring down Obama in stature, making her look good by comparison. And given the president's falling numbers, that may be good strategy. Who knows what Obama's approval rating will be when the campaign rolls around in 2016.