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. Don B

    One useless, ignorant appointee replacing another useless, ignorant appointee, with another appointee, (Kennedy) waiting in the wings to be appointed. Heaven help our country!

    January 1, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  2. Debbie

    Mrs. Clinton does work well under pressure, and will of course hit the ground running.
    The United States cannot, and should not, turn its back on Israel. Israel is the only true friend we have in the Middle East, and is our ally. If we don't back up our friends, we certainly will discover that we will no longer have any.
    In the world we live in now, we have enough enemies, we don't need to add a nuclear power with an amazing air force to our list of enemies.

    January 1, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  3. Griff

    I give up Lady,,, Lou Dobb's.... George Bush Jnr... Don't blame him... Your "boader and it's area ". is you. Why do I keep saying?America will be invaded..... IN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Vaded.... You are saturated will Religion.... Black Religion.. Mumbo, Jumbo... You have the Reigns???? Or do you??? No Kings in this World.... Just Dictators

    January 1, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  4. Sylvia

    to Mark, B'ham, Al. I am Canadian, and I found your post to be rather distasteful.

    January 1, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  5. ben


    January 1, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  6. The Artful Dodger

    I only hope that if Hillary does visit the Middle East, she brings some of her PUMA supporters and leaves them there.

    January 1, 2009 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  7. Beverly in NC

    The Obama admininstration will be able to handle any foreign crisis far better than the Bush one did. Bush hid from every issue and even removed himself from all information coming in on what a disaster Iraq had become. He was an incompetenet fool who thought he could bully the world and ignore nations who did not agree with us.

    All nations of the world are welcoming the new Obama regime and the fact he understands what the word "diplomacy" means. He will not bully and threaten everyone. He will sit down and have strong and intelligent conversations with all nations. We will have real opportunities to build or rebuild alliances. We will all be safer and the world more likely to be a peaceful place for everyone.

    Thank God the war hawks and criminals of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld will soon be gone forever. The world will cheer their disgraceful leaving of Washington.

    Obama has a huge list of Bush messes to clean up but I have every confidence he will work hard to solve as many as he can as fast as he can.

    Jan 20th cannot get here fast enough.

    January 1, 2009 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  8. Don B

    One useless, ignorant appointee replacing another useless, ignorant appointee, with another appointee, (Kennedy) waiting in the wings to be appointed. Heaven help our country! What war will Hillery contribute to with off-the-wall recommendations as Rice did? Does anyone remember the gaffs of Hillery when her husband, Willie was president? There were numerous asinine remarks on foreign policy she directed to the conflict of the miuddle east. And when husband Willie, became president. Hillery plegded to straighten out the countrys medical policy problem and she did nothing of the sort. And what will Kennedy contribute to the US policies with her most recent demonsration of ignorance. In a recent interview, she used a two lettter expletive over 200 times in expressing her shortsightenedness in public speaking on knowledgeability on country policy.

    January 1, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  9. LM75

    Bush has left a real mess. The world is a much more dangerous place than it was in 2000 thanks to his ridicules foreign policy.

    January 1, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  10. Perusing-Through


    [1.] – Former Arkansas First Lady, former U.S. First Lady, and current New York Senator Hillary fought for 15-months and came within a hair of Democratic nominee for POTUS with 18-million votes,

    [2.] – Sarah Palin was plucked from Alaska to be Republican VP-nominee, only to begin her 2-month "skunk-spitting lying" campaign claiming she would complete the job Hillary failed to do.

    [3.] – Now Hillary is the next U.S. Secretary of State with a heavy task to carry. Hillary is also one the most inspirational women in the nation, leaving her Senatorial seat serving 20-million in New York, to claim her seat on the world stage. And on New Years Eve night, Hillary and her husband received the honors of bringing in the New Years at New York's Time Square with a million celebrants; while Grandma Sarah Palin gets a congratulation card from "Focus on the Family" for her new grandson "Tripp". (P.S. – – – Did "Focus on the Family" celebrate Jamie Lynn Spears’ unwed, teenage child birth?).

    January 1, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  11. Griff

    It"s about little One's. Lady. Lou Dobbs.... You can talk all you wan't....
    George Bush...... Barack Obama: """""""""""""""""""Lied"""""""""""""""""
    All he promised Bl;ack America. Change you can believe in,,, Come on CNN,You condemed George Bush Jnr,,,, But you glorify... A Nothing,.......

    January 1, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  12. happy new year

    i'm glad we have hillary for this time in our world.

    January 1, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  13. John Temms, Johnstown, NY

    Perhaps in the interests of PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISM and PROFESSIONALISM overall, CNN staff could actually run SPELL CHECK and GRAMMAR CHECK.....so we don't see inexcusable errors like

    LIKLEY (as it is in the header of this article)


    Likely (which is the way it is actually spelled...)

    What does it take to run those functions in your Word Processing application...about 10 seconds??

    January 1, 2009 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  14. arc, Lugano CH

    Mark, B'ham., Al. January 1st, 2009 6:44 pm ET
    Hamas needs to be destroyed like Al-Queda! They both are as fanatical.as the Daily-Kos and Move-On.org organizers.
    'Country First Hero' Mark:
    It's obvious that you didn't care about Israel until a 'Black Man' became the President -Elect. And you probably hate all Arabs, yet don't even know how to spell Al-Qaeda.
    And what is that asinine reference to Mexico and Canada attacking American cities?
    Mon Dieu, You’re a silly goose.

    January 1, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  15. Bill

    Thinking this one over an going back an watching Brzezinski's take down of "Joe". I feel for Hillary But im sure she can pull it off .Bubba (her old man),almost had it he had them shaking hands so 2 speak . Now here we are 8 yrs latter with the Bush-mans failure It is going kinda back to the starting point. Humm!!! all things go full circle i reckon. A Bush broke it now a Clinton will fix it.. Of this i am sure.

    January 1, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  16. Steve

    She made the decision to stay with her lying cheating husband, although she did that to further her career. So I have no doubt she will make intelligent choices, as long as that decision beneifts her career.

    January 1, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  17. al

    These complicated foreign problems have been around of years. I personally think she is the best person and an able secretary of state to deal with these problems.

    January 1, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  18. dr.mimi de la cuz







    January 1, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  19. Los

    "Hamas needs to be destroyed like Al-Queda! They both are as fanatical.as the Daily-Kos and Move-On.org organizers."

    This trenchant insight offers proof that conservatives have a genuine interest in advancing our political discourse both at home and abroad.

    January 1, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  20. Karen, New York

    I wish her luck. She's gonna need it. She'll have some support from Obama's total difference from Bush but that isn't going to help all that much when she has to tackle people whose heads she may need to knock together. She's qa stronger person than Rice, which is in her favor.

    January 1, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  21. Michael Blayney

    It is too late for the United States to have any effectiveness and credibility as a peace broker in the Middle East. I cannot see the new administration changing the deeply entrenched policy of supporting Israel unwaveringly in every crisis,despite U.N. condemnations in the past. Bush Senior tried to stop and/or reverse the ceaseless building of illegal settlements in the West Bank,only to have the Israeli government thumb its nose at the U.S. The long term goal of Israel is to stealthily create a Greater Israel,while successfully branding the brutalized Palestinian population collectively as "terrorists". This gains credence in the U.S. after the events of 9/11. I see little prospect of a review of American policy which will make the United States an impartial broker. It is American weapons which provide the overwhelming firepower in the unfair David and Goliath struggle. Why cannot the Americans and the Israelis grasp the fact that it is years of occupation,deprivation and humiliation which fuel Hamas's rocket attacks. Furthermore,the State Department must begin to practise realpolitik by talking to its enemies,rather than pretending that they do not exist.

    January 1, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  22. Jeff From Jersey

    George "WORST" didn't start this war but as with so many things that have gone so terribly wrong in the world and especially in this country,he has done absolutely nothing!He is completely guilty of the act of not really trying to do anything.An occaisional meeting with a couple of photo ops DOES NOT make it an effort to TRY!The only thing he ever did was dive headfirst into the quicksand of Iraq.

    Bin Laden is still alive and well,there are still thousands of homeless victims of Katrina,illegal aliens still cross our borders easier than we can get through airports,the mortgage crisis deepens,healthcare is a joke,unemployment grows worse every day and now more fire and flames in errupt in the Middle East.Quite an impressive resume for our hapless,hopeless leader.

    President-Elect Obama can't do anything until he's actually the President and he finds out what other dirty little secrets are hiding in the whitehouse closet for him and his cabinet.I'm sure that the news is even worse than even the most cynical think it is.

    Yeah Mark B"ham ,your boy George Worst is such a great leader isn't he.He's only destroyed just about everything there is.It's a good thing there are term limits or God only knows if there'd even be a planet left,let alone a country if he got 4 more years.You'd better PRAY that Obama and Clinton can help resolve these issues,including a middle-East peace of some sort or there won't be much of anything left for anyone!

    January 1, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  23. E. R G.

    Hillary Clinton will do the best job possible, certainly far superior to what we have had. How fortunate our country is she is willing to serve in this difficult leadership position. Her intelligence, strength and wisdom is awesome. If it can be done, she will certainly get it done.

    January 1, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  24. Carole

    Good luck tp Madame Secretary Clinton!!!!! I am sure we all feel she will be able to do your job as the President wishes.

    I am so hopeful that Madame Secretary Clinton will be similar to Madame Secretary Albright that President Clinton appointed. Wise choice.

    I think we all need to turn a page and be hopeful with the mess this administration is being left to clean up.

    January 1, 2009 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  25. Jasmine in Germany

    I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton as a public servant or politician, I was disappointed with her being selected as Secretary of State; there were more qualified choices. Lots of you readers are going to "boo-hoo" me. I actually support Israel for their self-defensive attitude. There comes a point where patience no longer plays a role. Israel can not afford to not defend herself against terrorists (Hamas). Of course, she (Israel) played into the hands of the enemies and the media and most of the world is unaware of the history or full story. I can understand that Israel is tired of playing the game and is seeking closure. I support the decisions of Israel and hope that they have enough support to finally extinguish their local terrorist group. I am a peace loving person, but this situation can not go on and if terrorists can not make their demands known through the pen, then it must be through the sword. Sorry and sad, the human being has not yet learned I support Israel 90%!

    January 1, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7