January 1st, 2009
06:16 PM ET
9 years ago

Clinton likely in for bumpy ride

Likely the next Secretary of State, Clinton will be confronted with a host of World issues.

Likely the next Secretary of State, Clinton will be confronted with a host of World issues.

(CNN) - The Gaza crisis is an alarm bell and flashing light for incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

As she prepares to become the top U.S. diplomat and the symbol for U.S. policy around the globe, Clinton inherits from the Bush administration a dangerous and unpredictable world in which the violence in Gaza and southern Israel is just one reminder.

Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is winding down her diplomatic responsibilities and has briefed both Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama about what is playing out in the Middle East. Those talks are private and Team Obama is scrupulously sticking to its "only one president at a time" mantra when it comes to international policy.

But the ground keeps shifting. And events in and around Gaza will force the new secretary of state to deal with questions about the Mideast sooner than she and her advisers might have hoped.

"We'll have to see what the landscape is like by January 20," said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We'll have to see what this administration is inheriting."

Makovsky is co-author of a book coming out later this year, "Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction in the Middle East."

"There's going to be a desire to think the new (Obama) administration is better," he said in a telephone interview with CNN. "An administration that prioritizes the Arab-Israeli conflict will be seen as a breath of fresh air."

The two-plus weeks to inauguration day on January 20 could hold new Mideast surprises. Even if a ceasefire is hammered out by then, it will still be fresh and untested, and anger over the latest violence will be raw.

"It's probable this will be a long-festering crisis," said James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, where he is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs.

And the new secretary of state will face the same dilemma as the current one.

"I don't think Hamas will change its ways or its policy of terrorism," Phillips said. "They should realize the U.S. power to affect the outcome is limited as long as Hamas is determined to continue its policy of confrontation."

The Bush administration treaded water on the Mideast for nearly seven years, and then shifted into high diplomatic gear with the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007. That culminated with pledges from the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian authority that a final agreement would be reached before Bush left the presidency.

That optimism faded during 2008, due to what author and former Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller labels "weak leaders combined with tough issues."

And crises such as Gaza tend to distract from other issues.

Edward Djerejian, long-time diplomat and director of the Baker Institute at Rice University, points out that just jumping from one crisis to another can distract decision-makers and muddle U.S. policy.

He says Clinton and the Obama team must look at how to resolve crises not just in the Middle East but across the Muslim world.

"What I mean by that is going from crisis management to crisis resolution - not just putting out fires that erupt all the time in the Middle East, but really making an effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Israeli-Syrian peace treaty (and) the Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty," Djerejian said in a CNN interview.

Clinton herself is seen as staunchly pro-Israel.

As the junior U.S. senator from New York, she represents one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the world. She told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last year that she and Obama are good friends to Israel.

"I know that Senator Obama shares my view that the next president must be ready to say to the world, 'America's position is unchanging, our resolve unyielding, our stance non-negotiable. The United States stands with Israel now and forever,'" Clinton said.

When she takes over at the State Department, Clinton also must grapple with the perception in the Muslim world that the United States gave Israel a green-light to attack Hamas in Gaza by repeatedly placing blame on Hamas for rocket attacks on southern Israel.

The Israeli military action has had the unintended consequence of pushing some moderate Arab governments back in the pro-Hamas camp.

Hisham Melhem, prominent Lebanese journalist and correspondent in Washington for Al-Arabiya television, says the Israeli attacks on Gaza - which he labels "the Israeli rampage" - have rattled moderate Arab governments that might dislike both Hamas and Israel.

"The problem is the Arab moderates and their policies; and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank - part of their weakness - is that their ally, the United States, is essentially supporting the Israeli onslaught on Gaza," Melhem said in a CNN interview.

"So what you have is an Arab estrangement from Hamas, particularly the Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian (governments) at the same time they are outraged at the Israeli attack and the high toll in civilian casualties."

And Melhem says the new U.S. administration must look at how the Israeli war against the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 actually ended up strengthening Israel's foes.

"We will probably end up in a way similar to '06, in the sense Hamas will be emboldened and Israeli will be criticized by the international community and it will not solve the problem of Hamas," Melhem said.

"I don't think the Israelis have learned the lesson of '06, and maybe the Bush administration did not learn also the lessons (from) '06 when they initially gave that kind of support to the Israelis."

And the next secretary of state must remember, says Melhem, that as U.S. clout in the whole region has declined, Iran is standing taller.

"The U.S. cannot be oblivious to Iran's expanding influence, and what that is doing to its friends and to its own stature and its own interests in the region. By supporting Israel in an unqualified way (the U.S. is) emboldening not only Iran but Iran's supporters and friends in the Arab world like Hezbollah and Hamas," Melhem said.

Clinton has personal, political experience in just how easy it is to get burned by the complexities of Mideast policy.

She stepped too far in front of U.S. policy in 1998 when she talked about how creating a Palestinian state was important for peace in the Middle East. She was first lady then, and her own husband's administration had to walk that back.

The so-called "two-state solution" is now cemented in U.S. policy by Bush and others.

In another incident, in 1999 Mrs. Clinton almost de-railed her own bid to become a U.S. senator when she kept quiet as Suha Arafat, the wife of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, launched a verbal attack on Israel, accusing it of using poison gas against Palestinians and poisoning the water supply.

Clinton later managed to squelch the controversy and save her own political career by calling the charges "excessive rhetoric."

On the positive side, current Secretary of State Rice and Bush did launch the latest rounds of talks between the U.S. and the Palestinians. And Israel has been reaching out separately to other neighbors, including Syria.

"A sleeper issue of 2009 is to what extent the United States reaches out to explore prospects for a breakthrough between Syria and Israel," said

Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

So when the Gaza file officially thuds down on her State Department desk following expected Senate approval of her nomination, Clinton will confront many of the same issues that have stymied her predecessors, and ones they and she couldn't predict. Among her first decisions will be whether to jet off to the region herself, something the New York Times and others have urged on Rice in her final days.

"Going to the region would not substantially advance the chances for peace as long as Hamas continues to be wedded to its terrorism policies," warns Phillips of the Heritage Foundation.

"What is needed is for Western and Middle Eastern countries to put more pressure on Hamas to observe the cease-fire."

Filed under: Extra • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. eddy

    Work at problems at home and the hell with the messes others cause themselves.Stop sticking your nose in others affairs.If they can't handle their problems so be it.

    January 1, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  2. j

    Hillary Clinton can not put herself out as an honest broker of anything in the Middle East.

    She will fail in the Middle East, and miserably so.

    This appointment is one of the largest mistakes PE Obama has made so far.

    January 1, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  3. Perusing-Through


    The "Clinton-Obama-Biden" trio will have the best success at helping to bring peace between the Palestinians and Israel; very much like Carter's role in helping to bring to peace between Egypt and Israel.

    January 1, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  4. Kay MA

    I don't doubt for a minute that Clinton will do a good job. I'd rather have her here than as president right now, to tell you the truth. If she decides to run after a stint as SoS than I think she may have a better chance of getting into the White House. Especially if Palin runs against her.. heh.

    January 1, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  5. Vietnam Vet

    We can solve this confict quickly, provide Hamas and the Palestinians with billions of dollars in free aide, American made F-16 jets, Ammunition, bombs and the appropirate training and may the best person win, but that is too much like right, we need to keep the american supported bully in the area.

    January 1, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  6. Briana the college student

    Lady Clinton will do well

    January 1, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  7. ahmed

    Too much support for israel. Usa must be an honest peace broker

    January 1, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  8. Ia Guy

    Is it just me, or is the rest of the world insane? I read these stories out of the middle east and can't even believe these are human beings - either side.

    Religious fanatics...world would be better without religion.

    January 1, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  9. Terry

    We all have our civic duty to do.

    Sec. Clinton's duty will be to skillfully apply President Obama's foreign policy principles and pursue his foreign policy goals. It would be contrary to her duty to conduct herself so as to be a strong presidential candidate in 4 or 8 years.

    It is the civic duty of all citizens to hope for the success of their newly elected leadership. Those Conservatives who want Obama to fail, thus enhancing their chances in the next election, are being disloyal to the nation. Those Democrats who have bet their fortunes on an Obama Presidency must be willing to acknowledge the inevitable failures as well as the brilliant successes that we all hope for.

    January 1, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  10. Messiah watch

    Mrs. Bill Clinton doesn't know her rump from a hole in the ground. What the hell did she do as senator ? God help us all.

    January 1, 2009 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  11. Bill Charlotte,NC

    Proof readers taking a vacation or on a bumpy ride?

    January 1, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  12. Messiah watch

    Yes, Hamas must be destroyed, and now. I know it will reduce the cash flow into the pockets of the Democrat Party but, hey, we all have to make sacrifices in this new era of hopey and changey. Enshala.

    January 1, 2009 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  13. Bush Haters have yet begun to give him his due

    he has been so bad for this country, I can only image that you unlike the rest of us must have profited from his presidency, the rest of us are in foreclosure

    Jail for Bush and his comtempories

    January 1, 2009 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  14. Messiah watch

    Do you think if Bill lets the wife of Dinner Jacket blow him peace will descend on the world ? I am just saying. We have tried everything.

    January 1, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  15. Stanley in NJ

    That photo looks like she is attacking someone. Scary!

    January 1, 2009 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Hamas started this situation by sending their rockets to Isreal. They can end it by simply stop sending rockets to Israel. Protestors in London keep saying free Palenstein. They are free!!! They were given that territory and when the Isrealies had it it was productve now it is junked up. They can import supplies on the other side by sea. They do not have to have anything to do with Isreal. They do not like anyone in the world. They bomb in London, Spain. They hate everyone in the world. In fact they hate this world. Any time anything is good they want to destroy it. I do not know why they are so upset because they have been bombed. The mothers send their own children to blow things up. If they were truly peaceful wonderful people many people would give them money for all kinds of things. Schools, shopping centers except they do not want that they want to live in the dirt. They want the world reduced to dirt.

    January 1, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  17. Bryan

    I love Hillary. She is the best person for the job. I voted for her in the primary and I would vote for her today. Obama made a great decision. I think America often forgets how great our country was when Bill was in office. I am sure Obama will be a great president and I look forward to voting for him again in 4 years. I also look forward to voting for Hillary in 2016

    January 1, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  18. S. Burns

    I think we need a much more even-handed approach toward the Mid-east. Our present policies have allowed Israel to do whatever they wanted. If we put some teeth into our arms shipments to Israel like threatening to cut off our armaments until they work out a peace settlement with the Palestinians, I have a feeling the Palestinians would have an acceptable homeland rather quickly. I think our pro-Israel stance has done much to prolong the conflict there. I am not pro-Palestinian, but we did take land away from them to create the state of Israel, and I don't think they've ever been justly compensated. Having all of those people living in camps year after year is a disgrace!
    Also whether we like it or not, Hamas is the duly elected government of the Palestinians. Why is it that if any nation elects a government that we don't like, they are immediately labeled as being terrorist?
    It's obvious our present policies aren't working, so yes, I think President Obama needs to try talking to Hamas. It can't make the situation any worse, and just might lead to some progress.

    January 1, 2009 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  19. Susan from Scotts Valley, CA

    If any one has a chance to solve this, I'd say Clinton and Obama do. President Bush undid so much of what President Clinton had accomplished. The question is...can it be solved? The Palestinians and the Muslim world must be ready to accept a solution that includes the existence of Israel.

    January 1, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  20. Tracy

    She was the only candidate capable to handle the current crisis. I doubt she would have rented a posh home in Hawaii and golfed her days away as the economic crisis deepened. Obama's arrogance will be his ultimate undoing.

    January 1, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  21. arc, Lugano CH

    carol – brilliant. spot on.

    January 1, 2009 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  22. Apples for sale

    Hillary will do just as good a job as George "the vietnam coward" ever did.

    January 1, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  23. Sandy

    What does "likley" mean?

    Since nobody can spel or punc'tu'a-ate anymo're, I figured this was my error. CNN can't afford to test its employees. By the way, "its" and "it's" are so poorly handled all the time, no wonder immigrants suffer. We suck and we teach this crap to them. Good going.

    January 1, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  24. AJ

    Hillary's just the person for the job

    January 1, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  25. frenchie

    PE Obama and Sen. Clinton are pro-Israel but, if I'm not mistaken, they also agree in the creation of a Palestinian state. This will not solve all of the answers, but a free Palestine is long over due.

    January 1, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
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