Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy address yesterday that has some great strengths. I disagree with her take on Cuba and find it unfortunate that she can’t move to roughly the same position of managed cooperation and conflict with Cuba that she advocates with China.
But then I looked for references to Israel and Palestine — particularly given my presence this week in In the region and my upcoming meetings with lots of Israeli and Palestinian political and thought leaders about the state of the Annapolis Summit process. Condoleezza Rice, in fact, will be here on Monday doing the same.
But Hillary doesn’t say the words “Israel” or “Palestine” in the entire speech. I think that Hillary Clinton gets a lot right in her foreign policy commentary — particularly the sense she conveys that this is a “discontinuous” or “different” time in American history that requires a changed approach.
I very much liked most of her opening:
We are here at such an extraordinary moment in American history. The stakes have rarely been higher. I’ve had numerous historians tell me that America’s point in our arch of destiny, today is perhaps most similar to the situation confronting President Truman when he became our president and commander in chief.
Dramatic events during this past week have reminded us how volatile our world has become and how essential it is that we have sound strategy and strong leadership. From Kosovo to Cuba, from Iraq to Pakistan, to our embassy being burned in Belgrade, these are some of the most challenging spots on our global map. The world is being transformed with enormous risks and possibilities that we must meet with confidence, optimism, resolution and success.
The next president will inherit all of these global challenges and more from a president who failed to handle them well. A war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq. America’s reputation at an all-time low. Countries rushing to acquire nuclear weapons. Crushing poverty that stymies economic and political progress in too many regions of the world. Global warming and global health pandemics. Genocide in Darfur. A rise of borderless, stateless criminal cartels. And the continuing real threat of terrorism here at home and abroad.
But while these stark realities carry dangers, they also bring unprecedented opportunities if we act wisely, if we have the right kind of leadership. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that we will not only navigate through these uncharted difficult waters but emerge stronger than ever, reasserting both our leadership and our moral authority.
I part company with Senator Clinton on the importance of “reasserting” leadership and moral authority. I think leadership in the years ahead will be earned and negotiated — leadership will be more done through seduction than assertion. And our moral authority will rise when we get back to getting the innards of our democratic practices back into shape — and stop engaging in very heavy-handed, neo-imperialist wars and occupations abroad.
I think that there are two places in the world in which America can “signal” a very quick sea change in the terms of its engagement in global affairs. One of these is ripping away the cocoon protecting the US-Cuba relationship from any change from the Cold War anachronism that it has become. And secondly, definitely laying out the comprehensive process for resolving Israel-Palestine peace. Cuba is easy. Israel/Palestine is tougher — but it’s still one of the most easy dilemmas to logistically solve — even if a political equilibrium seems very often to exist only in fantasy.
Here are comments of my own that were reported in the Financial Times today:
Steven Clemons, a foreign policy expert at the Washington-based New America Foundation, says loosening trade and travel restrictions with Cuba would be the most effective and low-cost means for the next US president to signal a new way of engaging with the world. He expects little resistance to a policy change among the broader US population as fear of communism fades. “The contradiction between trading with China and Vietnam on the one hand and maintaining the embargo with Cuba on the other is becoming more difficult to sustain,” he says.
But with all due respect to Senator Clinton — who does call for the establishment of serious priorities in her impressive remarks yesterday — I can’t quite believe that she left Israel/Palestine off of the roster.
I have friends in both the Obama and Clinton camps. Those on the Obama side could learn quite a bit from some of the issues Hillary Clinton stresses in this speech. Those in the Clinton camp could learn from Obama’s forthrightness in indicating a difference between being pro-Israel and pro-Likud.
I don’t believe that the Hillary Clinton camp is purposely ducking Israel-Palestine, at least I hope not — and I have reason to believe that she might even be a “Nixon Goes to China” type on finally resolving this epic dispute. I know I will hear protests about this, but I’ve talked about this issue with Bill Clinton at some length and more briefly Hillary Clinton and have been told that getting a real deal done quickly would be a high priority after election. I actually do believe this to be the case.
But still — was it an oversight not to even mention Israel/Palestine? Or on purpose?
— Steve Clemons