The Paris terrorist attacks have been a game-changer on the Democratic side of the aisle, prompting allies of President Barack Obama President Barack Obama to revolt against his national security policies—for many, his efforts in Iraq and Syria have been weak gruel.
Leading Democratic national security thinkers have begun to diverge from the president’s viewpoints to urge more aggressive action, and to think more strategically about how to combat terrorism worldwide. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the most vocal example of this Thursday, delivering a foreign policy speech that was notably more hawkish than the administration in which she served.
“It is time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes, and a broader target set,” Clinton said.
She reiterated her call for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian refugees fleeing violence in the country, and called for an anti-ISIS bombing campaign that was more aggressive that the president’s current strategy. For the first time, Clinton said that she would, as president, arm the Kurds directly if the Iraqi government in Baghdad continued to hamper the process.
The fact that leading national security Democrats are bolting from President Obama’s foreign policy strategy is a startling, implicit condemnation of their own party’s leader.
And it’s not only Hillary Clinton, who even inside the Obama administration was advocating for a more muscular approach in the Middle East. Other leading voices in the Democratic Party have begun to speak out, as well—on a broad variety of topics.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized the president for sending an insufficient number of special operations forces to train and assist Syrian partners against ISIS.
“We certainly need more than 50 specials ops and we need the ability to really make a difference on the ground,” she said on MSNBC this week.
Feinstein was particularly taken aback by President Obama’s comments—just prior to the Paris attacks—that ISIS had been “contained.”
“I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding,” Feinstein said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also broke with the president this week by calling for the creation of a safe zone in Syria that would protect civilians while simultaneously providing an area where anti-ISIS forces could be trained and rallied.
Schiff said the United States, along with allies, could create “a safe zone, or buffer zone, that would be policed on the ground by Turkish or Gulf nations and from the air by the United States and the coalition.”
Even the president’s current Secretary of State, John Kerry, has raised the potential of a no-fly zone in Syria behind the scenes, despite the president’s skepticism of the concept, according to CNN.
This is on top of the strategic criticisms made by national security thinkers from within the Democratic Party, who have criticized their own for not being thoughtful enough on overall foreign policy doctrine, from a bird’s-eye view.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, slammed the administration’s quippy strategy of “don’t do stupid stuff” as utterly insufficient for meeting the national security challenges of the day.
Kaine called for broader thinking on how to shore up democracies and dealing with authoritarians—rather than the case-by-case thinking advocated by an administration suspicious of grand strategies.
“That’s not a big enough doctrine,” Kaine said at a breakfast of defense reporters several weeks ago, because it doesn’t include “doing stuff that’s stupid not to do.”