The news conference that President Obama held last Tuesday, where he led with the difficulty of the options in Syria, would have had a crisis of even far greater dimensions if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had not taken major steps toward Middle East peace before she left office.
President Obama and new Secretaries of State John Kerry and Chuck Hagel at Defense recently made trips to the Middle East. Obama visited Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in March, while Kerry visited Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. Hagel visited Israel just days ago. None of these trips would have been possible without a little-noticed set of urgent shuttle diplomacy by Clinton.
The media regularly says President Obama has failed to bring peace to the Middle East. But “peace” there is even more of a misnomer than peace with the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. The U.S. and many countries ultimately realized that “peaceful coexistence” was a more realistic term and objective.
Last November, rockets were flying over Israel after the targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. The threat to world peace with outright war was far more real than the braggadocio verbiage from North Korea now which all seem to be taking as a real threat. In Israel, the bombs and missiles were coming in daily. Nearly 300 Israelis were injured or killed. Israel had to fight back and did, firing the defensive iron shield system and attacking militant cells and rocket launchers in Gaza. This was real war if ever there was one.
Hillary risked her safety and life to go into the fray. She went to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Cairo on Nov. 20-21 and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and other military and civilian leaders. In typical Hillary fashion, she determinedly flew back and forth and back and forth between the locations, and included U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in the discussions.
She told the Middle East leaders to stop the missiles and the bombs. She told them to negotiate. And she probably told them, secretly, that if they did, President Obama, and then the new Secretary of State to follow her, would visit, give them US prestige and credibility, and generate an ongoing relationship including continuing our financial and technological support. She probably also told them that if they kept sending missiles at each other, there was no way on earth that the US would send top officials there, they would all look like pariahs, and US financial and military aid from Congress would be threatened.
She brokered a cease-fire, sponsored by Egypt. In the Middle East, if you’re not at war, you’re at peace.
Syria—at Israel’s northeast border—is a world boiling point right now. The President is able to isolate the problem and our options just to that nation because of former Secretary Clinton’s intervention. At least some of the region is not a powder keg.
Hillary had a lot of accomplishments in her tenure – getting Burma to allow elections with the opposition including National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, placing a value on women’s dignity and rights throughout the world, garnering more support in a Latin American trip than any top US visitor since JFK until Obama’s current trip. In addition, her presidential campaign (the past one—a current one has not been decided) laid out a better foundation for health care—a cross between single payer and public option. Hillary’s plan would have been far more in step with the rest of the world. Other countries pay about half the price for a longer life span and lower infant mortality than we provide citizens in the U.S.
But when Hillary became Obama’s partner in the administration – a brilliant step by President Obama to bring in his strongest primary opponent – one of her biggest accomplishments was the Middle East peace process. Even though it may have had far reaching positive world impact, it was also her least noticed achievement.
Robert Weiner is a former White House spokesman in the Clinton administration and former chief of staff for Cong. Claude Pepper(D-FL),spokesman for the House Government Operations Committee, and senior staff for Cong. John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Ed Koch (D-NY), and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). He wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson’s groundbreaking book, Obama and Christian Loyalty. Richard Mann is senior policy analyst for Solutions for Change.