(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."
To Mark from Alabama,
My God, what a complete idiot you are!!! You are the perfect example for everything that is wrong with the US!
That's all I have to say!
I hope that for once my comment will be posted...
Clinton's bias is shared by most of our govt. who think (or want us to think) that Hamas started this. They fired rockets to annoy Israel since no one was getting killed (anyone notice that?!) and then started shooting them at populated areas AFTER Israel killed hundreds in this latest crisis. This was all in response to Israel's unwillingness to talk to Hamas after it was elected (not vice versa) democratically, although it has become totalitarian and they're religious kooks no doubt about it. But Israel's occupation and blockade are the root cause as even Olmert admitted a few months ago. Unfortunately, Israelis seem okay with this imperialist land grab since they know that our politicians are paralyzed by the pro-Israel lobby which dictates the terms or our Mideast policy and thus we are hated in the world as the hypocrites we are.
Just one more comment as I read other people's posts: Please look beyond CNN and other American networks to get your news on this conflict as Palestine is certainly not free as some seem to suggest and Israel is not the "poor suffering nation" that is shown on the news.
Speak with people from these regions and they will give you the other side of the story. It's never as simple as "they are right and the others are wrong", this is Bush's way of thinking...
Get over it Lynn of NM
FACT: There was a war in Bosnia when the former First Lady landed there.
Her aircraft was warned of the possibility of hostile fire, as there would be a concern in any war-torn nation.
IMPRESSION: From the video footage, she handled the threat rather confidently, as I recall.
She will make a FABULOUS Secretary of State!
To Shiva-The native Jews were a small minority. The bulk of the Zionists came from Russia and Poland and other parts of Europe and planned to displace the native population. The Palestinians are themselves a combination of various natives (including Jews) and invaders who were 'arabized' by centuries of Muslim Arab imperial rule. They ARE the real natives along with the small Jewish minority that is NOT from Europe.
Yes, in 1948, the Arabs didn't agree to the great powers decision to give Palestinian territory to a bunch of European colonists. Big surprise. Here's what else that is surprising: the state of israel still had upwards of 49%-50% Palestinian (non-Jewish) people with zero representation AND Israel moved into Palestine designated areas to expand BEFORE the Arab armies declared war. Israel was not outnumbered (population does not equal army size or military strength, just ask China when Japan conquered them in WW2), but had at the end of the conflict a 50,000 strong veteran force that had fought in WW2. It has been fighting to expand its borders AND has ostensibly rejected 2 peace offers from the Arab League that would give them peace with the region if they withdraw to the 1967 borders. Americans, unfortunately, are amongst the least educated on world history and affairs and thus are alone in their high opinion of Israel.
Hamas must stop firing rockets and must recognize Israel. Being religious lunatics as they are, supported and paid by Iran, it is unlikely they'd do that. Which makes inevitable that Israel will remove them by force.
Don't think I am a blind supporter of militarism: I was against invasion into Iraq, I do believe Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney must be in prison.... but in this case I support Israel and I think blame for violence is far more on Hamas (and Hesbollah).
I am happy Dr. Mimi is now confident in Hill's abilities.
She was not so sure during the Dem primaries...
clinton was not my pick for sos. I have confidence in Obama, & he will be making any decisions, also Jones, & others more than just clinton , she will be calling Obama's shots, not hers. She lied and fabricated her foreign policy experience during the campaign because she didn't have any, unless you count the fantasy story about Bosnia.
Forget Hillary, she answers to Obama. I hope these hardcore, slightly retarted Hillary supporters will get that! (I'm so glad Hillary lost btw)Let's see what he will do. Then again, probably nothing until January 20th.
To... Charlie in Maine....
Your post pretty well defined the current crop of liberals in the US. Always too worried about offending someone which keeps just about anything from getting done.
As I read some of the post it amazes me how some of you people like Dan from Texas will justify Israel's one sided war. Now Bush (your friend from Texas) wanted a democratic Middle East and Hamas won. Bush was very short sighted in hos quest for a democratic Middle East. You would think as a conservative he would have allowed individual countries to choose their own destiny but he got his wish. Now Israel needs to stand down because all this does is cause yet another increase in terrorism or freedom fighting (just depends on who you ask.) Now Hamas by no means is innocent in all this but the United States needs to start threatening Israel with cutting them off with military aid if this continues. The Arab leaders need to start being more proactive. PE Obama and Clinton have to start making overtures to Iran and we have to get out of Iraq. All of this connected and it is the their (the terrorist/freedom fighters) calling card for recruitment. America has to be fair and just (something that has eluded the Bush Administration. The United States foreign policy has to look beyond race because honestly if you look at the Israeli's and the Palestinians there is a difference especially with the Israeli's of European descent.
Don B. I'm sorry to burst your bubble but Democrats has more experience in World diplomacy . REMEMBER THE CUBAN MISSILE ?
JFK did not bluff the Russian that we have a star wars military capability, like the Raygun does. JFK was more pragmatic and factual. That's why the world respect America for that because democrats never insulted the intelligent of other world leaders Can anyone imagine if the Yeltsin calls in Raygun's Bluff the America as we know it will be gone by now. Raygun got lucky and we can't always hang the faith of American people in luck , alone. Would we?
Hillary would do fine. Wether you like it or not America got it right this time
they voted for the right leader.
Why a bumpy road?
Secretary Rice armed with the Bush "Road Map" is working out just fine.
Why are you folks GOP haters?
The plan is working, can't you see.
I have GREAT confidence in SOS Hillary and PE Obama to face this huge challenge head on. It won't be easy, but these are the two people I would most want leading our country at this crucial time.
For the Bush supporters who are hating on Hillary/Obama, shut up! Your BELOVED leader left this country in the biggest mess (foreign and domestic) in history....now you have the nerve to speak ill of the dems who must clean it up. Your voice is irrelevant.
Finally Hillary gets to run from the airplane across the runway with bullets over head!
Run Hillary Run!
I have the greatest confidence in PE Barak Obama; VPE Joe Biden; SOSE Hillary Clinton, and the Obama-Biden Administration. My support is 100% behind them.
"Dodging and ducking the sniper bullets in Bosnia".
Does everyone have amnesia or do you remember that incredibly stupid story she often told. Now this lamebrain is Secretary of State.
What country is going to take her seriously? Whatever credibilty remains will be lost before she steps down, which won't be long.
I thought Joe Biden, with his extensive experience in foreign relations (including visiting and developing respect of numerous countries and their leaders) would have made the best choice for SOS, but I feel fortunate having Mr. Biden as Veep. Hillary Clinton will do well, I have confidence in her and Obama's choice. She is smart and has a brilliant administration of great depth behind her. Good luck to all in 2009...this is a challenging beginning.
I wish Hillary Clinton (and the entire new administration) the best. She (and they) will be dealing with an over-full plate.
Wow! The repub moderator must be on or a smart person showing how ridiculous some of these whackjobs are.
What country have they been in for the last horrible, no horrendous, eight years? How they can put Condi who was a puppet, and Hillary in the same mindset boggles my mind.
I believe this is like the stock market that Bush Administration messed up....it can only go up and better from here.
What a mess Dubya has made this time! Kind of like him messing up the Texas Rangers team. He just goes around making messes all his life!
The first Clinton almost had it signed between the two parties in January of 2001, but then the shrub took over and never reconvened the summit between Arafat and Barack, and then in February of 2001, Barack called his folks back home.
If we start at the beginning of adminstration instead of the end and have Clinton involved, then there will be no shrub to take office and dismiss all the work accomplished before he took office.
If she can strike fear in the leaders of the world like she has in Bill. I feel safer already
Wow, what can I say...... you lib's are an intelligent bunch (roll on floor laughing!!)
And what scares me is that BO garnered most of his support from folks like this.
I am 53 years old; and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on longer than I have been on this planet. It is not a case of right and wrong anymore; it is a question of pure hate. While I hesitate to take sides, no human being could stand by and tolerate having rockets fired at them day after day. Perhaps Israel has over reacted; but I have come to the sad conclussion that even giving Palestinians their own homeland would not stop the violence. Until the Arab world gives up it`s mad dream to "Drive the Jews into the sea;" there will never be peace in the Middle East. I truely feel there must be justice for a Palestinian homeland; but Hamas is evil and must be destroyed. I feel the Bush years were wasted in terms of the peace process.
I have every confidence in Hillary as SOS. She has more intelligence, genius and capability in her little finger than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had as a threesome!