As Hillary Clinton works to repair relations with President Obama following an interview in which she criticized his foreign policy, the progressive anti-war left that helped sink her 2008 presidential ambitions are threatening a return to barricades.
The interview with The Atlantic magazine sparked tensions between the otherwise friendly Obama and Clinton camps, which spilled into public Tuesday morning when Obama confidante David Axelrod took a thinly veiled shot at Clinton on Twitter. Both sides have worked hard since Clinton's loss in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary to present the politicians as close allies and like-minded policy thinkers.
Clinton's team moved to try to smooth things over Tuesday, even after saying previously they would not comment on the fracas. The president and potential future 2016 candidate will both be on Martha’s Vineyard this week, where “she looks forward to hugging it out” with Obama Wednesday, according to a statement from a Clinton spokesperson first reported by Politico. Clinton called Obama Tuesday to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies, or his leadership,” spokesperson Nick Merrill added.
But progressives, which have been quietly eyeing Clinton’s re-emergence onto the political stage, may not be as quick to make up. After a long period of relative detente between the left and Clinton, the honeymoon appears to be over as numerous groups opened fire on Clinton. The response was slow in coming, with conversations happening behind the scenes Monday before gaining traction Tuesday afternoon.
Democracy for America, the grassroots organizing group founded by former presidential candidate Howard Dean, told msnbc in a statement that Clinton needs to decide which side of the party she represents, both on foreign policy and economic issues.
"The entire progressive movement is trying to figure out how Hillary Clinton has changed from the last election,” said Neil Sroka, the group’s communications director. “If she hasn't changed her stance on the foreign policy issues which she was disastrously wrong on in 2008, how are we to believe she's evolved on the issue that will define the 2016 election, income inequality?"
Obama’s victory over Clinton in 2008 is widely credited to his vote against the Iraq War.
Stephen Miles of the Win Without War coalition told msnbc that Clinton’s comments “confirmed suspicions” long held by the left. “It’s not a surprise that once again we’re finding out that she’s more hawkish than the base of the party is. And it’s going to give people a lot of deja vu and a lot of angst remembering some of the uncomfortable feelings they had back then,” he said.
Miles added that the constant in Clinton’s international posture is that it reflects the foreign policy consensus in Washington, but is “disconnected with the worldview of people outside the Beltway.”
Meanwhile, MoveOn.org, which was founded to defend the Clintons in the late 1990s and then became a key figure opposing the Iraq War in the Bush era, fired a shot over Clinton’s bow in a statement Tuesday. She needs to “think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq,” said Ilya Sheyman, the executive director of the group’s political arm.
Murshed Zaheed, the deputy political director of the liberal grassroots group CREDO Action and a former staffer to Harry Reid said on Twitter that “Hillary Clinton's Republican-lite neocon comments on foreign policy already making me nostalgic re. Obama presidency.” On the social media site, it’s easy to find rank-and-file liberals dismissing Clinton as a dreaded “neoconservative.”
Gerry Condon, the vice president of the board of Veterans for Peace told msnbc that "as veterans who have experienced the horror and futility of war, we are quite concerned that Hillary Clinton seems to be promising an ever more aggressive foreign policy.”
Indeed, Robert Kagan, the veteran Washington scholar of interventionist foreign policy, approved of Clinton's foreign policy in a recent interview.’ “It’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else” he told The New York Times.
Polls show liberal Democrats overwhelming support Clinton. And as she considers a presidential bid, the standard line from progressive activists is that they would be happy to support her as long as she comes down the right way on a few key issues. So they’ve been mostly happy give her a pass when they could have attacked, such as when she skipped Netroots Nation in July, to wait and see what she does.
The question is whether this week is an aberration or marks the beginning of more open conflict from the left, and if she will offer the progressive base anything like hug she plans to give Obama.