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Hillary's pick a cause for concern.

Byline: Arab News

(Category: Opinion)

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as the new US Secretary of State must give cause for concern in the Arab world. A New York senator with often-expressed Zionist sympathies, Clinton may not be the person to head up the renewed drive for a Palestinian settlement. But then perhaps she is a fair reflection of her future master's voice. Obama has moved from thoughtful early support of Palestinian aspirations toward the traditional US Middle East base line of backing Israel, because as he has said, of its democratic principles and the rule of law. In May he fired a Middle East adviser who had met with Hamas officials. In so doing Obama toed the Bush line that Hamas is a terrorist organization with which Washington should have no dealings.

For us in the Middle East, this does not look much like change, but rather more of the same. It is perhaps worth focusing on one line in Hillary Clinton's brief acceptance speech after Obama announced her nomination: "By electing Barack Obama our next president, the American people have demanded not just a new direction at home but a new effort to renew America's standing in the world as a force for positive change."

The new direction, note is only at home. For foreign policy, her bailiwick, it is just a "new effort" and that to try and undo the damage caused by Bush. She will measure the success of that work by how well Washington can thereafter drive "positive change" -- though what changes and for whom they will be positive has yet to be revealed.

In his campaign for the White House Obama generally impressed non-Americans with the broad worldview that has been singularly lacking in Washington these last eight years. Hillary Clinton may know many heads of state but this stubborn and often strident woman does not immediately impress as either flexible or a good listener. If the new president's foreign policy outlook really is so different from that of the blinkered administration he is replacing, can Clinton be trusted to execute it? In short who will actually be running US foreign policy?

The only upside to Clinton's new job is her ex-president husband. Though his time in office ended in disgrace following the sordid Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bill had a distinctive foreign policy vision. His 2000 Camp David summit with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat arguably came the closest to success of any US Middle East peace initiative. Barak, politically weakened in Israel, negotiated stupidly and Arafat too often ignored the advice of his team.

Nevertheless that 14-day marathon came tantalizingly close to a "final status settlement." In large part this was ascribed to Clinton's patience and indeed charm. Neither quality is notably present in his wife, but if Bill is permitted to play an effective advisory role in Hillary's term of office, Obama will have written himself a stronger foreign policy ticket, in which his totemic "change" from a failed past, is still just conceivably possible.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Dec 3, 2008
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