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On Syria, Bill Clinton says Obama decision 'trending in right direction'

Photo from CNN
Friday, June 14, 2013 - 9:00am

After expressing disagreement with President Barack Obama's reticence toward further U.S. action in Syria, former President Bill Clinton said Friday he welcomed news that the United States would begin taking a larger role in assisting opposition forces in the conflict-torn nation.

Clinton's earlier remarks came ahead of Thursday's White House announcement that the Syrian regime had crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons, a conclusion that will prompt the U.S. to increase the "size and scope" of its assistance to rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

"It looks to me like this thing is trending in the right direction," Clinton said on MSNBC.

"I think on balance this should be seen as a positive story, that America has information now about the chemical attacks, they clearly know that there are other outside powers trying to shore up Assad and his repressive tactics," Clinton continued.

Earlier this week, Clinton said at a private session alongside Sen. John McCain that he agreed with the Arizona Republican's calls for a greater U.S. role in assisting Syrian rebels, which differed from Obama's more cautious stance.

"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 said, referring to McCain, who visited with rebel commanders in Syria earlier this month.

Clinton, whose comments were reported by Politico and later confirmed to CNN by a person present at the event, said he would stop short of sending American soldiers to Syria, but that some American intervention is required to prevent outside forces like Hezbollah from getting a foothold in the region.

Comparing the decision Obama faced to his own experience with conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton said it was a mistake to adhere too closely to public opinion polls.

"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," Clinton said, according to Politico. "They hire you to win ... to look around the corner and see down the road."

On Thursday, the White House acknowledged the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale a number of times.

The administration indicated it will increase the "scope and scale of assistance" to rebels in Syria following that acknowledgment, though stopped short of saying it will put weapons in the hands of rebels.

Clinton said Friday it was wise for the White House to withhold specifics about America's increased role in Syria.

"They don't want to talk about details and I don't blame them because the less they talk about the details, the more likely the increases assistance is likely to be effective," he said.

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