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. Texas Teacher

    Clinton will be following Obama's stance on all these issues just as Rice has been following the stance of the Bush administration. I do believe that Hillary is a LOT more qualified than Condeleeza Rice was. Rice had to learn ON THE JOB. And she surely screwed things up that first your as she primped and simpered in the National Attention instead of doing her job. Clinton will go into this job with the knowledge of exactly what she faces as well as the people she will be dealing with! BIG DIFFERENCE!

    So let's not be SO quick to write Hillary Clinton off. She is a tough knowledgeable lady...and she proved that in the campaign she almost won. I think the Obama/Biden... Clinton combo will do just fine.... thank you very much! 🙂

    January 1, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  2. Jan Illinois

    SHE will do great. When will they learn that war is not the answer to anything, never has been and never will be. History is the proof, yet all countries seem to think it's the only way to accomplish a goal. War belongs to men, Men of greed and no conscience.

    January 1, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  3. John G

    Kenneth M. That's funny, I thought the problems in Israel were the result of moving the bulk of the Jewish population of post WWII Europe into a country that someone else was already living in...

    Thank you for pointing out that the age old problems between Israeli's and Palestinians are actually the fault of the current President and did not exist before 8 years ago

    January 1, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  4. Texas Teacher

    Proud American.... I gotch your back on that one! I suspect there are a lot of other Americans who feel the exact same way! 🙂

    January 1, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  5. Jerry Eckert

    The U. S. policy of not seeing Israel's treatment of Palestinians as a form of occupation and apartheit, and one should say, "state-sponsored terrorism," led to 9/11 and the growth of Al-qaida. Israel is so confident of our support that they have done terrible things to their Arab neighbors. I hope the new Administration will be willing to stand up not only to cruel Israeli policies but to AIPAC who has also got a blind spot to Israel's violations of U. N. resolutions and of their failure to honor agreements made with the Palestinians. Continuing uncritical support of Israel is going to make the MIddle East and Arab relations worse so I pray that the Obama pragmatism and consultative style will bring reality to his response so that his Secretary of State can actually accomplish something in the Middle East.

    January 1, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |

    After 1500 years of fighting between these two factions, there is nothing that can be done by one person or one country to "solve" this issue. It is time to let these two come to some type of agreement on their own. Hamas is a democratic society and was voted in, Isarel is within it's rights to prevent the attacks. The resolution will not be peaceful or neat, it will be bloody and very ugly, but they are the two that have to deal with the issues.

    To expect otherwise is very naive.

    January 1, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  7. Dave, Illinois

    Well, now the Dems will actually have to perform instead of just talk and point their fingers at those who do real work.

    January 1, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  8. David Minneapolis

    Hillary Clinton will do as she is told. To all of you 'hillary will be the brains behind the presidency to do all the heavy lifting'...take a look at her run for president. She's not smart enough or strategic enough to match Obama and his inner circle, she will have to pull of some stellar diplomacy to be taken seriously, you know, she brought peace to Ireland and survived sniper fire in Bosina, so she should do just great in Gaza.

    January 1, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  9. earle,florida

    I'll start by saying that I have a great deal of empathy for Bill Clinton. I'm not at all impressed by his wife ,"Hillary",whom I consider a hapless feminist, with a egomaniac temperament incapable of being anyone's subordinate! These are harsh words towards our SoS,but I'll explain. Mr. Clinton by far was a great president,#1) he didn't create wars, but negotiated peace#2) his administration under SoT Robert Rubin actually lowered our Nat'l Debt ,by having a surplus GNP,versus negative GDP/GNP of past and present administration.That said ,it was all Bill Clinton,period! Now to P-E Obama. Mr. Obama's,"Two-fer"(Bill&Hillary) could be his undoing,if my calculus is correct? Bill will be coaching Hillary behind the lines to get her thru all the heavy-lifting when it comes to the, "Real World"! He will shamelessly be watching her like a "Queen's" devoted eunuch. He will superciliously instruct her on the worlds stage;how to deal with it's charred nefarious characters,with all the ugliness dialed, "full throttled ahead" ! The "Iron Maiden" (a fitting name I've chosen for Mrs. Clinton) will strut about getting all the credit ,but as I said in the very beginning,Hillary in of herself,is a shrewd wife,with great ambition,which no man will harness,... PS. Happy New Years CNN

    January 1, 2009 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  10. TrueIndependent

    Interesting, the Republicans have always said America stands behind Israel. Yet, Bush has achieved NOTHING, ZERO, ZILCH, toward helping bring peace to the Middle East; 8 long and wasted years indeed!

    January 1, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  11. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Hillary isn't afraid of a bumpy ride, she's had her share and through it all she's still standing tall. I can't name one person who is better qualified other than Bill Clinton himself.

    January 1, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  12. Texas Teacher

    J : January 1st, 2009 7:00 pm ET

    "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."

    J, there is absolutely NOTHING that Clinton could do that is even close to the havoc of the Bush Administration all over the world! Seriously.... 🙂

    January 1, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  13. Charlie in Maine

    Godspeed Madame Secretary. I hope I don't offend any ahteists by saying so but by getting Barack Obama as Pesident and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the rest of the team Obama is putting together "God surely has shed his grace on us" as the song goes.... from sea to shining sea.

    Happy New Year

    18 days 14 hours 54 minutes and 3 seconds to go( but who's counting)

    January 1, 2009 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  14. Texas Teacher

    Might as well hang it up now.... 🙂 Lou Dobbs show is on... no UNBIASED here..... There is nothing independent about this program.... why don't they just come out and admit... like the bozos here who try to fool someone into believing they are really disgruntled Democrats who are sorry they supported Obama... that they are unbiased... I mean PaLease... this is a right wing program...or a Repub wolf wearing Dem sheep's cloths! 🙂 Good night, CNN!

    January 1, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  15. Free America

    Do you think some of the dangerous world that Bush left behind might be the result of Islamic fanatics? Last time I noticed the bad guys were Al Quaeda, Taliban, Pakistan, Palestine and other Muslim terrorists. Point the finger where it belongs – towards the radical Muslim, Islamic facsist terrorists. Bush was put in the unfortunate position having to defend America – he did not go looking for these fights.

    January 1, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  16. Anna, ATL

    That ole broad has the courage, determination and stamina of an entire army brigade!

    She is up to the challenge and GODSPEED, SOS nominee Clinton!

    January 1, 2009 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  17. Anna, ATL

    Hillary is 110% pro-Israel, but she is not unsympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians and also is respectful of the Arab world.

    Palestine deserves a Country to call it's own.
    Cheney even said so earlier this year.

    May they find it under the new Administration.

    January 1, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  18. Dan, TX

    Israel recognized Hamas as the elected representatives of the people of Gaza. Hamas has as its main goal to "kill as many Israelis as possible and take the land for the Palestinian peoples".

    Recognizing Hamas leads Israel to simply say, it is us or them. They have no choice but to kill every member of Hamas and, unfortunately, any Palestinian who is in the way.

    If Hamas says, we want peace, we accept Israel's right to exist. We deserve money, aid, and help, as reimbursement for our land that was stolen from us. We demand representation in the control of the Holy sites and Holy land. We demand payments from the Israeli government so we can buy land and housing within Israel. We demand a vote in Israeli elections to determine who is in the Israeli government. That is a step in negotiating peace.

    Hamas asks Israelis to leave Palestine and simply go away. That will happen when the US government cedes the US territory to the Native American tribes in North America and US citizens leave North America.

    January 1, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  19. Shiva

    There were plenty of Jews living in Palestine before 1948. They were known as Palestinians. After they fought off 5 Arab armies in 1948, these Palestinians changed the name of their country to Israel. Not that their enemies have ever given up. But the world is beginning to realize that making war on Israel is NOT the way to get the global economy up and running. Even the Palestinian Authority is fed up with Hamas.

    January 1, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  20. Larry Saltzman

    As long as the pro-Israel lobby which represents the most rightwing elements is Israeli society dictates American foreign policy, there will be no peace in the Middle East. We will continue to share the blame for supporting Israeli war crimes.

    January 1, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  21. Nora L in CA

    Hillary 4-EVER!!! If anyone can do it – it's MY GIRL.....Go get 'em Hillary!!!

    January 1, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  22. Dayahka

    The hardest part of Clinton's work is to pretend that the Obama administration can do things differently from what has been done in the past while at the same time maintaining the status quo, which is to continue to deny the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to re-claim the land stolen from them by Israelis using the pretext of a fictitious document and a fictitious god who supposedly granted them the right to that land. In short, it's all more of the same colonialist attitude from America to support illegitimate Israeli actions. Israel and America are the invaders and occupiers, violators of human rights, but as we know, might makes right.

    January 1, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  23. sarah patterson

    Perhaps the rockets wouldn't be fired from Gaza if the people there weren't imprisoned by Israel.

    January 1, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  24. 3strikes

    more "dodging" of sniper fire is what america is goin to see

    January 1, 2009 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  25. Lori

    While I don't blame Bush for the crisis in Israel and Palestine, I do blame him for being unsuccessful in bringing peace in the region and making America and its allies LESS safe around the world.

    But I do have faith that PE Obama and Mrs. Clinton may make some inroads in that region and in other parts of the world. I wish them all the best. The future of our country depends on it.

    January 1, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
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