National Security Brief: President Clinton Says Polls Shouldn’t Guide Obama On Syria

President Clinton on Wednesday at an event with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that President Obama risks looking like “a total fool” in paying to much attention to opinion polls on Syria, according to Politico.

A recent poll found that 68 percent of Americans said the U.S. should not use military force to end the civil war in Syria should diplomatic efforts fail.

“Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” Clinton told McCain. “Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.” Clinton didn’t get into specifics about what the U.S. should be doing outside of current policy, but added:

“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.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a top Syrian rebel commander “has issued a desperate plea for weapons from Western governments to prevent the fall of his forces in Aleppo, pushing the Obama administration to decide quickly whether to agree to arm rebels for the first time or risk the loss of another rebel stronghold just days after the regime’s biggest victory.”

Obama’s top national security aids, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey reportedly met at the White House on Wednesday to discuss U.S. policy on Syria.

The New York Times reported that “Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said Thursday, with 92,901 killings documented there through the end of April, a number that may understate the magnitude of the violence in the 25-month civil war.”

In other news:

  • The Israeli website Ynet reports: Knesset Member Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid ) slammed the Israeli policy in the [occupied] territories and asserted Israel is on its way to become South Africa. Shelah said the West Bank settlements pose an obstacle to a peace agreement. “The occupation corrupts Israeli society, the IDF , Israeli justice, Israeli media, Israeli psyche and Israeli mode of speech,” he claimed. “Thinking the world will get used to this situation is similar to what white people used to say in South Africa.”
  • The Washington Post reports: Once-secret surveillance programs were crucial in enabling the U.S. government to thwart dozens of terrorist attacks, says the director of the National Security Agency in a forceful defense of spy operations that have stirred fears of government snooping and violations of privacy rights.
  • The AP reports: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday that four members of Army special forces in Tripoli were never told to stand down after last year’s deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, disputing a former top diplomat’s claim that the unit might have helped Americans under siege.
  • The New York Times reports: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered on Wednesday to hold a referendum to decide the fate of the park in central Istanbul that has become the locus of protests against his government and presented him with the most serious challenge he has faced in his decade in power.