- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hillary Clinton dismissed a question in the second presidential debate about President Obama’s weak policy toward Syria’s civil war by saying “I was gone” from the administration by then, but a newly leaked email shows that she was still advising the White House on the Middle East more than two years after leaving her post as secretary of state.

In an email to presidential counselor John Podesta on Aug. 17, 2014, Mrs. Clinton gave the White House a nine-point plan for defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, a road map she said was based on her sources, including “Western intelligence and U.S. intelligence.”

At the time, Mrs. Clinton told Mr. Podesta that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL,” an acronym for the Islamic State group.

“We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” she told Mr. Podesta, who now serves as her presidential campaign chairman.

Eleven days after Mrs. Clinton sent the email, Mr. Obama returned from a summer vacation and famously quipped to reporters that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for bombing the Islamic State in Syria.

Jim Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Mrs. Clinton “certainly appeared to be attempting to influence policy, although it is not clear what impact she had.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that he “wouldn’t rule out that there may have been an exchange of views” between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton on Syria after she left the administration. But he said there was “no sort of sustained dialogue on these issues.”

“He’s got a robust national security team that’s in place that’s focused on these issues every day that he gets advice from,” Mr. Earnest said. “And quite frankly, Secretary Clinton had other things that she was focusing on in terms of starting on the presidential campaign.”

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Mrs. Clinton’s charge against the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar is “very dramatic.”

“I’d like to hear what her evidence is for that, which she may or may not have heard when she was secretary of state,” Mr. Bolton said on Fox News. “The Obama administration has hardly said anything like that. It’s a pretty significant fact. If this is what she really thinks is going on in the Middle East, we need to hear more about it. It tells us something about where she’s getting her information.”

The email was published by WikiLeaks. Mr. Podesta has confirmed that his email account was hacked but hasn’t commented on the accuracy of specific emails.

In his reply to Mrs. Clinton’s plan for fighting the Islamic State, he told her, “I think we are headed down this path in Iraq, but the Syria elements are vexing.”

Mrs. Clinton told the White House that the U.S. should rely on peshmerga fighters of the Kurdish Regional Government, coupled with U.S. advisers and air support, to fight the Islamic State extremists on the ground.

“If we provide advisers and planners, as well as increased close air support for the peshmerga, these soldiers can defeat ISIL,” she wrote.

The email’s contents could further raise tensions with NATO ally Turkey, which has accused the administration of harboring a fugitive cleric whom it blames for fomenting a coup attempt in July. Mrs. Clinton recommended providing the Kurds with heavy weapons such as artillery and armored vehicles to fight the Islamic State.

The U.S. previously honored an agreement with Turkey not to provide Kurdish fighters with heavy weaponry, out of concern that the rebels would use it for attacks against Turkey. But Mrs. Clinton said fighting the Islamic State should be the priority.

“The current situation in Iraq, not to mention the political environment in Turkey, makes this policy obsolete,” she told Mr. Podesta.

Said Mr. Phillips, “I think her views correctly pointed to the importance of working with Kurdish militias to defeat ISIS, but she glossed over or underestimated the difficulties of working with Kurdish militias inside Syria because of Turkish opposition.”

Mr. Obama ordered airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq beginning on Aug. 8, 2014. The U.S.-led military coalition eventually expanded airstrikes against the extremists in Syria, and Mr. Obama has deployed a small number of special operations forces in Syria to fight alongside the Kurdish troops.

But Syria’s civil war has raged for more than five years, with Russia’s military support for President Bashar Assad appearing to gain momentum. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian aid for refugees, but Mr. Obama has refused to get drawn into that conflict and has accused Moscow of deepening the war and the suffering.

Mrs. Clinton’s email also touches on Libya, where she advocated for airstrikes in 2011 that led to the overthrow of Col. Moammar Gadhafi but also created a power vacuum filled by violent militias, the Islamic State and other groups.

After having been accused of neglecting the security situation in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in 2012, Mrs. Clinton included in her nine-point plan a curious note about the effect of American air power on Islamist extremists there.

“A source in Tripoli stated in confidence that when the U.S. Embassy was evacuated [in July 2014], the presence of two U.S. Navy jet fighters over the city brought all fighting to a halt for several hours, as Islamist forces were not certain that these aircraft would not also provide close ground support for moderate government forces,” she wrote.

She also asked Mr. Podesta in a follow-up note: “Any idea whose fighters attacked Islamist positions in Tripoli, Libya? Worth analyzing for future purposes.”

Mr. Phillips said, “She asked Podesta for information on which group was behind an attack in Libya, a country that apparently remained a mystery to her long after the 2012 Benghazi attack.”

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