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. MH 0f OK


    January 1, 2009 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  2. Proud American

    Mark, B'ham., Al. I blame Bush for every ill throughout the world, and your parents for giving birth to a Idiot.

    January 1, 2009 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  3. Jones

    It is time that Israel recognizes the elected government of the Palestinians and it is time for Hamas to recognize Israel. It is time to talk about how to get along and bring peace. Nothing is solved by killing and in the end governments will have to sit at a table and give and take.
    Launching rockets, and dropping bombs is not going to solve the problem. It is more than time to set the weapons down and to talk.

    January 1, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  4. doolster

    Wow – only one person noticed the typo...

    January 1, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  5. GZ

    There are three sides and not two – Israel, Palestinians and Islamists. Clinton, Israel and the Palestinians remember they were about 6 weeks away from a deal before the political clock ran out and Bush took office. The Isamists need to be eliminated and there's a deal already waiting. Hamas knows it too as do their paymasters the Iranians. But wait, there's more. If Israel throws Fatah under the bus and gives the entire enchilada to Hamas, Syria will sign on as well. Cynics may think otherwise but as bad as things look, they aren't really that bad. Stay tuned

    January 1, 2009 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  6. perla

    Hillary is a tough cookie. I know she can handle it.

    January 1, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  7. Myrna Ulrich


    January 1, 2009 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  8. Laverne

    Hillary is always up for a challenge, she will do great!

    January 1, 2009 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  9. John G

    "Clinton inherits from the Bush administration a dangerous and unpredictable world in which the violence in Gaza and southern Israel is just one reminder."

    Way to be fair and unbiased on this one CNN. I get that some of the problems in the world can be directly attributed to the Bush administration but to imply that violence in Israel is the fault of one single administration is irresponsible news reporting. I genuinely wish there was a news organization that was capable of reporting the news without slanting it one way or another. Just give us the facts please and let us make up our own minds.

    January 1, 2009 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  10. David

    Thank goodness the adults are about to take over in Washington DC. After 8 long years of neanderthals ruining the planet it will be refreshing to watch grown ups at work.

    January 1, 2009 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  11. c.allen

    well well, the Queen of the Known Universe now has a mess upcoming on her watch; problematically, she is doctrinaire pro-Israel, and, who knows, what problems her increasingly strange husband can and willl cause. I would like to see Obama start w/ a more rational attitude toward the Palestinians, CUT OFF some money and armaments that the American taxpayer CONTINUES to provide Israel---we have enough to pay for in our own backyard--– but he will have to stand up to her Queenship to do it. The good news is, maybe he can (or will) just kick her fanny off the job--she may muddle as much or more than Rice.

    January 1, 2009 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  12. Godluvr

    Mr. Keyes, I think SOSTB Clinton will do just fine. Sec. of State Rice survived the challenge. I don't expect our new SOS to do any less. I think she will do an even better job.

    January 1, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  13. Kevin Wires

    This will be a long and hard problem. Exacerbated by the fact that the United States gave up the even handed role and chose to take the easier route and just give the Israeli government Carte Blanche. Israel has made some half choices. Telling the world they want a two state solution while working to build new settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. They kept up the blockade and state of seige around Gaza the entire time of the cease fire. They have been saying that part of what is different between this and Lebanon last year is that they have spent the last six months planning this engagement. That means that they were planning the attack and invasion the entire time they had a cease fire.

    There are violations and bad faith that can be pointed to on both sides. Israel needs to make a decision. Do you really work for a two state solution or do you push for complete removal of the Palestinians. Many will say,"wait Hamas has said they want the end of Israel and they want to push us in the sea, etc., etc. The West Bank does not have the Hamas situation. Abbas has pretty much been a Tony Blair poodle for Olmert. Checkpoint interference is still intense. Settlements are still being built.

    January 1, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  14. Kenneth M. of Flushing Queens

    The truth is the truth John G. W stunk up the place and someone has to clean it up. What we see now is the result of W wondering around the mid east the way McCain was wondering around on the stage at the debate.

    January 1, 2009 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  15. jamomano

    I think Hillary Clinton can handle the Sec. of State job better than Condi Rice. Hillary is pro-Israel and Rice was too much for the PLO. And I look for Obama to be pro-Israel also-HE BETTER BE! If not he will probably be in one term, IT'S HISTORY. I think Carter was against Israel-he lasted one term. Reagan's adminastration sold AWACS planes to Israel's enemies, -he was getting about anything he wanted but when he sold AWACS things went in reverse for him. George Bush Sr. told Israel, when their country was being hit by Iraqi SCUD Missles-"DON'T YOU STRIKE BACK"-AND HE WAS IN ONLY ONE TERM.

    January 1, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  16. progressives are buffoons

    Hillary just needs to tell the truth that in the history of civilization there has never been a legitimate country know as palestine. Period!

    January 1, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  17. Marc

    To Mark, B'ham., Al. – January 1st, 2009 6:25 pm ET
    In very remotely possibility that either Canadians or Mexicans launches rockets against US soil, then what's the president needs to do is get back at the guys who did it, no matter where they hide. Not shoot randomly without regards for anyone that lives nearby them.
    The Hamas needs to accept the existence of Israel as much as Israel needs to accept that the Hamas is still the democratic elected government of the Palestinians. It won't work in only one way!

    January 1, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  18. No Hillary = No Obama

    As usual, it will be a woman doing the heavy lifting and in this case it will be Hillary who is no stranger to conflict and going into the fire. Does Obama look like someone who can do any heavy lifting at all? No, I think he likes to shoot hoopes and focus on his body for recreational purposes. Hillary will be the power behind the Obama throne.

    January 1, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  19. j

    Editors, please!
    Let's try and spell words (such as "likely) correctly.
    Is this too much to ask?

    January 1, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  20. petena

    So? If anyone can handle it, its Hillary. She will be admired by everyone around the world. Barack knows darn well who he has picked for this job. You go girl!

    January 1, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  21. progressives are buffoons

    I am an American and I find your support for cowards who would target you and your children w/o any remorse for their agenda foolish and niave.

    January 1, 2009 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  22. P. D.

    Hillary has proven herself as strong, smart and tough. After the last 8 years of disasterous policies the Bush Administation had foisted on us, we need a new direction. Hillary will certainly lead with a cool head and sound judgement.

    January 1, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  23. Elsee

    If anyone can handle it, Hillary can. It'll take an experienced woman to help undo the mess made by so many men in charge.

    January 1, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  24. Sara from Arizona

    And her experience for the positon as SOS is????????????? I voted for Obama because I did not want Clinton in the White House. So disappointed.

    January 1, 2009 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  25. HeavyHitter

    Hillary will bang some heads together and take charge.

    January 1, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
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