Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday night the United States should lead the international community in a “strong response” against Syria and described allegations that President Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons as violating “the universal norm at the heart of our order.”
“This debate is good for our democracy,” she said during an acceptance speech in Philadelphia for the 2013 Liberty Medal. “As our founders knew, fervent argument is the lifeblood of our government. How could a republic last if citizens had no opinions of the issues of the day or were too intimidated to express them?”
A few dozen protestors across the street from the venue carried signs and chanted, "hands off Syria."
“Sometimes it can get pretty noisy,” Clinton said in a nod to the protesters. “But it’s the American way. It’s natural and right in a democracy for us to debate. For us to disagree forcefully even. It’s what distinguishes us from authoritarian societies where dissent is forbidden.”
Clinton spoke an hour before President Obama addressed the nation on Syria.
On Monday, Clinton publicly backed Obama’s call for military strikes against Syria and said it would be “an important step” for Assad to surrender his stockpile of chemical weapons.
It was the first time she commented publicly on the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
“The Assad regime’s inhuman use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order, and therefore it demands a strong response from the international community, led by the United States,” she said.
The chairman of the National Constitution Center, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, presented Clinton with her award Tuesday night.
He joked that he and Clinton "disagree about lots of things but we do agree on the wisdom of American people, especially in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
Both Clinton and Bush are possible contenders in the 2016 presidential race although neither has officially announced they will run.
Other recipients of the Liberty Medal include Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as President George H.W. Bush and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.