What a Hil­lary Clin­ton nom­i­na­tion means for the Mid­dle East

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - [Joyce Karam is the Wash­ing­ton Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat news­pa­per, an In­ter­na­tional Ara­bic Daily based in Lon­don. She has cov­ered Amer­i­can pol­i­tics ex­ten­sively since 2004 with fo­cus on US pol­icy to­wards the Mid­dle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Jou

WJOYCE KARAM ITH the an­nounce­ment of for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton as the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee for the Demo­cratic Party af­ter scor­ing the 2383 magic num­ber, her for­eign pol­icy record will be at the core of the gen­eral elec­tions de­bate be­tween now and Novem­ber 8th.

Hil­lary Clin­ton has been la­beled as “hawk­ish” and mil­i­tary-driven in the Mid­dle East, but in reality she is nei­ther and will likely pur­sue a cen­trist ap­proach closer to Pres­i­dents Ge­orge H. Bush, Bill Clin­ton, Richard Nixon and to some as­pects of the Barack Obama doc­trine.

As Sec­re­tary of State from 2009-2013, Clin­ton signed on to the with­drawal from Iraq in 2011, opened the door to talks with the Tal­iban, started se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran, helped bro­ker a cease­fire be­tween Ha­mas and Is­rael, drove the NATO air in­ter­ven­tion in Libya, and led peo­ple-to-peo­ple ini­tia­tives across the re­gion.

Th­ese po­si­tions, es­pe­cially the mil­i­tary dis­en­tan­gle­ment from Iraq, op­po­si­tion to ground troops in Syria or Libya, and readi­ness to talk with the Tal­iban and ne­go­ti­ate with Iran, dis­man­tle the nar­ra­tive of la­bel­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton a hawk or as a mil­i­taris­tic fig­ure in ap­proach­ing the Mid­dle East.

Not a hawk: Po­lit­i­cal la­bels have un­fortu- nately come to de­fine and frame the pol­icy de­bate around the 2016 can­di­dates, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied with slo­gans, in­ac­cu­rate char­ac­ter­i­za­tions that have be­come a sub­sti­tute for a real con­ver­sa­tion.

Th­ese la­bels were flawed in por­tray­ing Obama as an anti-war can­di­date in 2008, as his legacy will be as­so­ci­ated with the high­est use of drone at­tacks, an in­ter­ven­tion in Libya, and an ex­ten­sion of the war in Afghanistan. The busi­ness of la­bel­ing is also off the mark in view­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton as a hawk and in­ter­pret­ing her po­si­tions in bi­nary terms on the Mid­dle East.

Those hop­ing for a re­turn of the Ge­orge W. Bush neo­con­ser­va­tive wing in a Hil­lary Clin­ton Pres­i­dency or for a ver­ba­tim con­tin­u­a­tion of the Barack Obama pol­icy, will likely be dis­ap­pointed

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s record from vot­ing for the war on Iraq to sup­port­ing the in­ter­ven­tion in Libya is al­most iden­ti­cal to her suc­ces­sor Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, who spon­sored as Se­na­tor a res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing the Libyan war and along with Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph Bi­den voted the Iraq war. Yet, only one of them is re­garded as a “hawk”, and viewed in mil­i­taris­tic terms on for­eign pol­icy.

Clin­ton’s close re­la­tion with the US mil­i­tary and for­mer Sec­re­taries of De­fense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, should not be equiv­a­lent to a mil­i­taris­tic pol­icy ap­proach in the Mid­dle East. Her ob­jec­tion to send­ing troops to Iraq, Syria and Libya, and strong em­brace of the Iran nu­clear deal, puts her at a sim­i­lar foot­ing as Obama.

While she holds a more ag­gres­sive stance in con­fronting Rus­sia’s and Iran’s be­hav­ior in Syria, Iraq and Eastern Europe, Clin­ton is nowhere close to the neo­con­ser­va­tive school of think­ing that re­jects both the Iran nu­clear deal and the START treaty with Rus­sia.

Dur­ing Obama’s first term, Clin­ton was branded as the “des­ig­nated yeller” at Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, and some­one who con­fronted his for­eign min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man in call­ing pub­licly for set­tle­ment freeze. While her cam­paign rhetoric is strongly pro-Is­rael, her po­si­tions on re­ject­ing set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion and op­pos­ing mov­ing the US em­bassy to Jerusalem make her more of a tra­di­tion­al­ist than a hawk on this is­sue.

Clin­ton’s ap­proach of “smart power” in con­duct­ing for­eign pol­icy pre­dicts a cen­trist and prag­matic strat­egy abroad if she were to be elected Pres­i­dent in Novem­ber. Her long list of ad­vis­ers, which in­cludes top ne­go­tia­tor with Iran, Wendy Sher­man, for­mer Un­der­sec­re­tary at State, Ni­cholas Burns, her close aide Jake Sul­li­van and for­mer State De­part­ment of­fi­cial and vo­cal voice on civil so­ci­ety and hu­man rights in the re­gion, Ta­mara Wittes, sug­gest a mid­dle of the road ap­proach that pri­or­i­tizes en­gage­ment and vis­i­ble US diplo­matic pres­ence.

What to ex­pect: Those hop­ing for a re­turn of the Ge­orge W. Bush neo­con­ser­va­tive wing in a Hil­lary Clin­ton Pres­i­dency or for a ver­ba­tim con­tin­u­a­tion of the Barack Obama pol­icy, will likely be dis­ap­pointed. Clin­ton’s ap­proach to the Mid­dle East will not bear re­sem­blance to Bush’s free­dom and democ­racy agenda, but will bring a more hands on and peo­ple-to-peo­ple re­la­tions than that of Obama.

Clin­ton’s visit to Tahrir square in 2011, and town hall meet­ings across the Mid­dle East, prom­ise a re­turn for peo­ple to peo­ple ini­tia­tives in the Mid­dle East. The for­mer Sec­re­tary of State, if elected, will also pay more em­pha­sis to is­sues re­lated to hu­man rights and press free­doms in the re­gion, than the Obama or even Bill Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tions.

While she is known for her good re­la­tions and per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions with re­gional lead­ers in meet­ings that would span over four or seven hours with GCC lead­ers and Ne­tanyahu, Clin­ton will likely be more vo­cal about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. Nev­er­the­less, a Clin­ton Pres­i­dency will bring more em­pha­sis on per­sonal re­la­tions in driv­ing the re­gional agenda, some­thing that has largely gone miss­ing with the more aloof and dry style of Obama.

To­day, there isn’t one Mid­dle Eastern leader that has a close re­la­tion­ship with the White House. Even Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah, a fre­quent guest of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, has crit­i­cized the Pres­i­dent.

On pol­icy, Clin­ton is likely to ad­here to Obama’s strate­gic goals (fight­ing ter­ror­ism, com­bat­ting nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, se­cur­ing Is­rael and strength­en­ing al­lies) but with a larger um­brella, and with dif­fer­ent em­pha­sis on re­gional priorities. Reach­ing out to Iran will un­likely be high on Clin­ton’s list while im­ple­ment­ing the nu­clear agree­ment will be.

Coun­ter­ing Rus­sia’s and Iran’s roles will, on the other hand, be more ag­gres­sive than Obama’s. Given Clin­ton’s re­la­tions, it won’t come as a sur­prise if she re­vis­its the Is­raeliPales­tinian peace talks while pos­si­bly in­volv­ing her hus­band and res­ur­rect­ing the Arab Peace ini­tia­tive.

All in all, a Hil­lary Clin­ton Pres­i­dency, if ma­te­ri­al­ized, will bring forth a more ro­bust, vis­i­ble and com­plex cen­trist ap­proach for the US lead­er­ship in the Mid­dle East. It would em­ploy more tools, in­clud­ing diplo­matic and mil­i­tary pres­sure, than Obama, with­out go­ing back to the Ge­orge W. Bush tem­plate of high rhetoric and risky mil­i­tary projects. —Cour­tesy: AA

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