Hillary Clinton steers clear of Syria at awards ceremony

PHILADELPHIA Hillary Clinton mostly stayed away from the Syria debate while receiving the National Constitution Center's 2013 Liberty Medal here Tuesday night, only mentioning the controversy once in her 15-minute speech.

"That violated universal norms," she said of Syrian President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons. "It demands a strong respond from the international community, led by the U.S."

Since President Obama addressed the nation an hour after her remarks, Clinton may have decided to leave it to him to discuss the constantly evolving situation.

Clinton has been cautious in in lending support to Mr. Obama's plan for military action in Syria, especially in light of her presumed presidential aspirations in 2016.

Her early support of the war in Iraq in 2002 while in the Senate is considered one of the reasons she lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Mr. Obama in 2008. She has spoken recently of the importance of involving Congress in any action that is taken, and said it would be an "important step" if Syria surrendered its chemical weapon stockpiles to international control, as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterparts have discussed.

During a meeting at the White House yesterday, she endorsed the use of keeping military options on the table. "It is very important to note that this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control over Syria's stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government, as well as those supporting Syria, like Russia," she said.

Clinton's own designs on possibly returning to the White House came up more than Syria did. She was introduced by former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., who is also considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

"While we disagree about a few things," Bush said, "we do agree about the wisdom of the American people - especially those in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina."

But if the more conservative wing of the Republican Party has its way, Bush won't be making any appearances in those early primary states.

Conservative outlets from Rush Limbaugh to the tea party have been scathing in their reviews of Bush presenting Clinton with the award. Jim Geraghty of the National Review wrote that "this pretty much destroys the 'Jeb Bush 2016' talk, doesn't it?"

Bush presented the award to Clinton in his role as the National Constitution Center's board of trustees chairman.

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, who gave a glowing tribute to Clinton during the awards ceremony, said he expected her "to be the first First Lady to walk back into the White House."