Did Hillary Clinton think a military victory was possible in Syria?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has periodically sought some distance from her former boss, President Obama, on foreign policy issues. That's particularly true when it comes to the crisis in Syria: As secretary of state, Clinton advocated for arming the Syrian rebels back in 2012, a move that Mr. Obama rejected at the time.

She told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in 2014 that failing to build a credible force to fight Syrian President Bashar Assad created the vacuum that was later filled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Then, in an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose that aired Tuesday on "CBS This Morning," she seemed to suggest that arming the Syrian opposition might have made it possible to take down Assad.

"Right now we're not gonna see a military defeat of Assad. That's not gonna happen....It might have been possible a few years ago. It's not gonna happen now," Clinton said.

But in Clinton's own words - the ones she wrote in her memoir, "Hard Choices," she explicitly said that defeating Assad wasn't the intent of arming the rebels.

"The goal was not to build up a force strong enough to defeat the regime. Rather the idea was to give us a partner on the ground we could work with that could do enough to convince Assad and his backers that a military victory was impossible," she wrote.

Before pushing to arm the Syrian rebels, Clinton was working actively toward pursuing a diplomatic solution that would push Assad from power and wrote about her frustration at being stonewalled by the Russians, who were his allies.

She wrote multiple times in the book of her belief that Assad would fall from power like other dictators who had seen uprisings during the Arab Spring. Eventually, however, Syria's civil war seemed to take another direction.

"In the second year of civil war, it seemed increasingly possible that Assad would hang on, even if it meant tearing the country apart and fomenting destructive sectarian strife. Syria could be doomed to a long and bloody stalemate," she wrote after detailing the ways Russia shielded Assad from international criticism.

Watch more of the interview on CBSN and the full interview on Charlie Rose, airing Tuesday night.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.