Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Explaining Hillary Clinton

Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told AIPAC’s annual conference that American support of Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever.” What can explain this astonishing statement? Three possibilities suggest themselves:

First, Clinton is an utter fool. She doesn’t understand that she has just signaled the Israeli government that no matter what it does, no matter how morally disgraceful its behavior towards the Palestinians, no matter how much that behavior endangers Israel’s own longrun security, and no matter how much it undermines America’s own national interests, it has nothing to fear from the American government—least of all that it might start making American aid conditional upon changes in Israeli policy. Trivial minor flaps, like the “timing” of Israeli announcements of new or expanded Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, need not concern the Netanyahu government. Yes, the administration might whine and wring its hands, but the matter will blow over in a few days, and everything will be back to normal. Which they are.

Second, Clinton is a complete cynic. She fully understands that she has just sent the Israeli government an unmistakable message that it can do anything it wants--including disregarding the unserious hurt pride of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton after a particularly egregious Israeli insult to the United States—for there will be no real consequences from the Obama administration, let alone, it goes without saying, from Congress. The only thing that counts for this administration is the politics of the matter, meaning the appeasement of the Israel lobby in general and AIPAC in particular.

Third, she is lying. She is telling AIPAC what it wants to hear, but in fact the administration understands how disastrous Israel’s course is—to itself, to the Palestinians, and to the United States—and real pressures will soon be brought to bear on Israel.

If only the third explanation were the correct one. Not a chance, I fear. My guess is that the right explanation combines the first two: of course Clinton is a cynic who will say anything for political gain, but in a larger sense she is also a fool, for only a fool would be so heedless of the consequences of allowing cynical calculations of immediate political gain to prevail over the national interests of both Israel and the United States.

7 comments:

Omar said...

Alas, there isn't much more to say.

Juan said...

I have a somewhat different take on this issue. First, Clinton as you know says nothing on her own, but only as a representative of the current administration. Second, I suspect the government is well aware that the current situation in Palestine is hazardous to both Israel and the US. Third, the qustion then becomes, how to proceed from here.

Suppose Clinton/Obama decided to tell the truth tonight to the American people--that the situation is a complete moral outrage and a serious threat to Americans everywhere, and must be corrected forthwith. (This is the alternative you seem to prefer, Prof. Slater.) Not only would this be politically very dangerous, I don't think it would work. Why? Because it is too big a policy change for many of us and would be strongly opposed by one of the most organized subsets of the American people (The Lobby and its sympathizers.) We need time to allow the rest of the American people to catch up to us, so that we hopefully will have their support.

My take is that a process has already been set in motion which will ultimately result in a sea change in American public opinion. But it will take some time to achieve this. Petraeus's comments about dangers to our servicemen and women are a recent example of this process. (His comments on this have been widely publicized and everyone I have talked with agrees with him.) So are Clinton's and Biden's comments on the same topic. Another example is the recent CNN op-ed by Ali Abunimah at this link:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/17/abunimah.settlements.israel/index.html

(I think you will agree that Abunimah's article would NEVER even in the recent past have been published by the MSM!)

I think that the horrible truth about the middle eastern situation and our role in it are starting to emerge, and there is nothing that the Israeli government or the Lobby will be able to do to prevent this. It would be nice if recognition of the moral turpitude of the Israeli and US governments would be the prime engine of policy change (righteous indignation is one of my favorite emotions). But righteousness probably will take a back seat to hard-nosed calculations of national interest, if John Mearsheimer and other political "realists" are correct.

The foreign policy math is now beginning to tip irrevocably against the hard-line Zionist position. We must be patient, courageous, and support those who advocate for honesty, fairness, and social justice in this region.

Jerome Slater said...

Juan: I certainly hope you're right. And, pessimistic as I am that there will be any real change in U.S. policy so long as it is the "pro-Israel" position that is rewarded in our domestic politics, I don't see any other choice but to keep trying, just as you suggest.

Jim Donnellan said...

I'm more inclined to trust Obama's sense than not. After his first speech at AIPAC drew a chilly response and his second speech was more favorably received, I thought he had caved and that would be the end of it. His speech in Cairo was a total shock to me; I did not expect that kind of courage. He has moderated his stance since then, but after seeing his resolve re: the health care bill, I'm waiting eagerly for the next round with Israel. I also feel that the mood is changing dramatically and rapidly in this country. Israel's skeletons are not the secrets they once were. Ultimately Israel will have to face the underlying moral issues it has so carefully tried to conceal. That day is not far away, and this is an administration that will not, I suspect, shy from its responsibilities. Even the fact that there was flack on this issue amazes me. I didn't expect it and am absolutely delighted it has gotten so much attention.

Juan said...

I think Prof. Slater is right about the need to change the reward status of the pro-Israel position in US politics. I don't think the Obama administration will be able to effect important change without substantial congressional support. (It is not at all clear to me that Obama actually is prepared to take on The Lobby and its Israeli allies.)

Still, it seems the case that Israel is very much on the defensive now. This housing in Jerusalem deal is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Goldstone Report has been a major blow. (It is available online; I wish more people would actually read it! If you do, you'll soon see why the Israeli government keeps denouncing it.) There is a strong tendency among Americans to sympathize with the underdog, which the Palestinians obviously are. Many diasporan as well as Israeli Jews are appalled at the human rights abuses and flagrant violations of international law that have been and continue to be ignored.

This is going to be a long and difficult fight. It is only round 1 right now. We should perhaps consider this, so that temporary setbacks will not weaken our resolve.

Charlton Price said...

Believing that Israel is now on the defensive is dangerous (to us) wishful thinking. Further: in an "unshakeable" US-Israel alliance, it should be possible to say out loud, and, one hopes, has been said in private, that Israel damages both themselves and us by persisting in toying with "two-state" solutions and versions of Zionism that Israel thinks are to its short-term political advantage.

Virginia Tilley said...

I think we're missing something here. Clinton is not precisely part of a cohesive policy bloc, although she's Secretary of State. She has several times publicly propounded much more gooey sentiments about Israel than the rest of the Obama administration and has even subtly undercut the administration's attempt to present a more 'neutral' or principled face regarding Israel-Palestine. On Netanyahu's recent visit, reporters noticed a sharp contrast between the warm and jovial tone of his meeting with Clinton and his theatrically chilly reception by Obama hours later in the West Wing. This warmth may or may not be sincere on Clinton's part, although all indications are that she is indeed a sincere Zionist. But we must certainly see it as attached to her upcoming presidential run. She courted the 'Jewish vote' so extravagently and shamelessly during her NY senatorial campaign that even Jewish late-night comedians were poking sardonic fun at her for it. She appears to be still setting herself up as the presidential candidate of choice for the Zionist lobby in 2016, if not 2012, as she doubtless sees that support as the key to victory. Unfortunately, she's probably right.