Clinton calls in sick again, innoculating possible 2016 run against Obama Middle East policy

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced another sudden illness, marking the third time since Sept. 11, 2012 that she has distanced herself from President Barack Obama’s faltering Muslim-outreach strategy.

The illnesses — and her pending departure from the job — have protected her from growing criticism about the Middle East strategy, which has helped Islamic theocrats seize or consolidate power in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Mali and Iran.

This distancing may prove particularly useful in 2016 if Clinton decides to run for president.

Obama’s 2009 policy, dubbed “A New Beginning,” gambled that the region’s popular Islamist movements would become more moderate if allowed to gain power. 

Under the strategy, moderate Islamist governments would focus their efforts on economic development and suppress their ideological allies in al-Qaida and other jihadi groups.

Clinton’s latest affliction was announced Dec. 15, when the State Department said that a fainting spell and concussion would prevent her from testifying next week in the Senate hearing about the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA facilities in Benghazi, Libya. (RELATED: Obama administration shifts spin on Benghazi attack)

The State Department suggested Clinton would eventually testify, but did not say when.

“While suffering from a stomach virus, Secretary Clinton became dehydrated and fainted, sustaining a concussion,” said a statement from spokesman Philippe Reines. “She will continue to work from home next week, staying in regular contact with department and other officials. She is looking forward to being back in the office soon.”

The Senate is investigating her agency’s actions prior to the successful Sept. 11 jihadi assault on the poorly-guarded U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. The assault killed four Americans, shut down the only known U.S. facilities in eastern Libya and bolstered the local jihadi groups’ leverage against Libya’s weak government.

Critics say the administration left the sites vulnerable because it was wanted to believe that Libya’s weak Islamist government would successfully corral the jihadi groups proliferating around Benghazi.

Earlier in the week, Clinton’s deputies said the stomach ailment had forced her to skip a Dec. 13 international meeting in Morocco, where the administration and other governments planned to announced their backing for a Syrian rebel coalition.

The meeting was marred when the coalition’s leader asked the United States to not exclude an prominent jihadi group that was created by al-Qaida’ affiliate in next-door Iraq.

The jihadi group — the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant — is fighting alongside the Syrian coalition, and is expected to compete for power if Syria’s Iran-backed dictatorship collapses.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 jihad attack, Clinton declined invitations from several weekend TV shows to explain the administration’s Arab-region strategy.

She “was unavailable after a grueling week,” according to a Dec. 13 statement by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. (RELATED: Rice withdraws from secretary of state consideration)

Because Clinton did not go on the shows, White House officials — likely including Obama — decided to send Rice out to defend the administration’s strategy.

Once on TV, Rice made the controversial claim that intelligence sources indicated the Sept. 11 jihad attack was prompted by Muslims’ anger over a little-known anti-Islam video posted on YouTube by a California-based immigrant.

Rice made the claim despite after-action reports by U.S. officials in Libya that a local jihad group had led the attacks.

Administration officials, including Obama, repeated the claim numerous time for two weeks. On Sept. 25, for example, Obama told the United Nations General Assembly that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama has largely escaped criticism for his policy of blaming the California film producer for the actions of North African jihadis — even through the president reversed himself during the 2012 election campaign and claimed that he had always blamed the attacks on jihadis. (RELATED VIDEO: Did White House edit Benghazi report?)

But on Dec. 13, Rice quit her bid for Clinton’s job when Senate Democrats declined to defend her Sept. 16 claims. In contrast, Clinton has avoided any blowback from the controversial claim that the video spurred the attacks.

Clinton’s imminent departure from the foreign policy job will also protect her as Arab-region problems continue to grow.

Just south of Libya, for example, jihadis have used looted weapons to impose sharia on the northern part of Mali, prompting a wave of refugees to head further south.

U.S. officials are now developing plans with the United Nations and several African countries to counterattack at some point late in 2013.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood movement is cementing its control over the country’s 75 million Muslims and 8 million Christians. Obama has lobbied the country’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, to try to reach political deals with the country’s free-market advocates, Christians and leftists — all with little success.

Prior to Morsi’s narrow election victory, Obama had pressured the country’s secular military to quit politics, without first imposing a modern, secular constitution on the country.

Subsequently, Islamists gained control over the parliament and the presidency, and rafted a constitution that sets Islamic law above democracy.

Obama’s second term is also likely to be plagued by Iran’s rush to develop a nuclear weapon. In 2010, Obama declined to back a wave of urban pro-democracy protestors, who were subsequently shot, jailed and dispersed by the country’s theocratic leaders.

The elimination of Iran’s so-called “Green Movement” has left the Islamic government free rein to develop and test a nuclear weapon sometime in the next few years.

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Neil Munro