Conservative media are cherry-picking Hillary Clinton's recent praise of President Bush's work on HIV/AIDS relief in Africa to suggest she was embracing Bush's leadership and distancing herself from President Obama. But in the same interview Clinton issued a sharp rebuke of Bush's record and offered support for Obama's foreign policy initiatives.
On the July 27 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, Clinton briefly noted President Bush's work on HIV/AIDS relief in Africa, saying "whether you agree or disagree with a lot of what else he did -- and I disagree with a lot of it -- I am proud to be an American when I go to Sub-Saharan Africa and people say, I want to thank President Bush and the United States for, you know, helping us fight HIV/AIDS."
Right-wing media immediately fixated on the comment, misleadingly framing it as a rebuke of Obama. Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy called it a "shocking confession," asking if Clinton was "trying to distance herself from her former boss." Fox host Bret Baier agreed with Doocy, calling it a "subtle dig" and claiming she was "in essence, criticizing the current administration." The Washington Times concurred with the headline, "Hillary swats aside Obama."
But in the same CNN interview, Clinton issued a sharp criticism of Bush's foreign policy record while defending Obama administration initiatives.
On Iraq, Clinton said she had given President Bush "too much of the benefit of the doubt," and that his decisions had taught her "to be far more skeptical of what I'm told by presidents" (emphasis added):
CLINTON: I had worked closely with President Bush after the attack on 9/11. I supported his efforts to go after bin Laden and al Qaeda and, by extension, the Taliban, which were sheltering them in Afghanistan. And I, frankly, gave him too much of the benefit of the doubt. My view at the time -- and this is still true today -- is that the threat of force can often create conditions to resolve matters, and sometimes what we call coercive diplomacy is necessary. And I thought that that's what the president would do. It turned out not to be the case. And then following the invasion, the decisions that were made, everything from disbanding the military and disbanding, you know, the political structure turned out to be very ill-advised and we ended up with a dangerous situation, which then, you know, the Americans did not convince Maliki to allow a follow-on force that might have given us some ability to prevent Maliki from beginning to undermine the unity of Iraq.
She also stood by many of Obama's foreign policy choices. She noted that she supported the Obama administration negotiations with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which failed only after Maliki refused terms with the U.S. When asked if Obama was handling the current crisis in the Ukraine appropriately, Clinton noted that the president was facing "the same challenges that American presidents face when dealing with threats within Europe," and urged allies to fully participate with the president's efforts. And she defended the president from Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer's claim that Obama is not focusing enough on global issues (emphasis added):
ZAKARIA: Charles Krauthammer, a conservative critic, has said the world is going to hell and President Obama is playing golf. Is he playing too much golf while all these crises are popping up?
CLINTON: No. I think that's an unfair comment to make. I know from my own experience with the president where we work so closely together, and as I write in the book, you know, went from being adversaries to partners, to friends, that he is constantly working and thinking. But he also wants to do what will make a difference, not just perform. He wants to be sure that we know what the consequences, both intended and unintended are.
Moreover, contrary to the suggestion that praise for Bush's record on HIV/AIDS relief is an implicit and noteworthy criticism of Obama, Obama himself has also lauded Bush's work in Africa, saying he deserves "enormous credit." Obama told ABC News that AIDS relief was one of Bush's "crowning achievements ... Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of people's lives have been saved." Former President Bill Clinton has also praised Bush's work in this area back in 2012, noting that the relief efforts "saved the lives of millions of people."