Hillary Clinton’s first introduction to the Middle East was in January 20, 1993 as first lady of the most influential country in the region The United States of America. A strong entrance which sparks instant interest in people’s minds; yet, her rise as an inspirational figure was accomplished by her active advocacy for women’s rights, composed diplomacy and courageous calls for action towards old and new problems in this conflicting region.
No wonder when she came back to the region as a Secretary of State, she was greeted as an old friend who knew all the problems and had the strength and will to help solve them. Her credibility and logos were cornerstones she could rely on while reinforcing American Foreign Affairs in the region during her Secretary of State period from January 21, 2009 – February 1, 2013. According to Carly Florina in What is Hillary’s Greatest Accomplishment?
“As Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton was not only inspirational figure for billions of women around the globe, she also did much to restore the shattered credibility of the United States, which had lost so much influence following the failed foreign policies of the previous administration. She negotiated the cease-fire in Gaza and Israel. She helped secure the START treaty’s ratification, and has advanced women’s rights in countries around the globe.”
This seemingly easy task for a person with strong ties with leaders of the region turned to be a great challenge. As Oren Dorell points out in his article on the Arab Spring .All conflicting parties involved in this Arab Spring were anticipating how America will react. Moreover, the implications of the Arab Spring on U.S. interest were to be widely discussed.
The two sides of America’s foreign policy were in an immediate trial; the strong ties with the long ruling dictators for more than 25 years versus the American values of people’s innate right to aspire towards freedom and democracy. The challenge was portrayed through the difference in opinions between President Obama and Hillary Clinton at that time. It was the secretary of State who brought about a more diplomatic approach to the American stance. Her own words were quoted by the Wall Street Journal:
“Like many other young people around the world, some of President Obama’s aides in the White House were swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment as they watched the pictures from Tahrir Square on television. I shared the feeling. It was a thrilling moment. But along with Vice President Biden, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, I was concerned that we not be seen as pushing a longtime partner out the door, leaving Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the region to an uncertain, dangerous future.”
However hard choices Secretary of State had to face, she was the one with the courage to state an opposing view to the main stream, the one to remind the administration not to linger on the epideictic rhetoric and overlook the importance of the forensic and deliberative rhetoric which America is expected to exemplify. Hillary Clinton was the advocate for ‘smart power’ in the region.
True, she had this peaceful diplomatic stance in Egypt, but later Hillary seemed to be swayed with the flow of violence in the Arab Spring at other countries as Libya. It was to be considered one of her greatest ‘bad choices’. According to many foreign affairs reporters , Hillary Clinton..
“As secretary of state pushed for U.S. intervention in Libya and lobbied President Obama to take military action against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”
Now, with her nomination for presidency, speculations arise on how much her foreign policy as president will be shadowed by her former policy as a Secretary of State. Can Hillary Clinton, if elected president, address the Middle East with a fresh perspective? Will she favor a new Presidential objectivity over former Secretary of State somewhat subjectivity in the region?
Such questions and speculations were discussed by many writers in the Middle East and the answer for these defining questions determines the success of President Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy in this conflicting area of the world.
I choose to ponder here upon the views of two well-rounded young Middle Eastern writers who express different perspectives towards this subject. Both Amir Handjani in his Commentary: Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Problem and Joyce Karam in her What a Hillary Clinton nomination means for the Middle East voice their concerns and hopes as well as the region’s expectation towards President Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. Although in both articles there is reference to Clinton being labeled ‘hawkish’ and ‘military driven’ in the Middle East after voting for the Iraqi war as a senator and pushing for U.S. intervention in Libya and lately lobbying President Obama to take military action in Syria; however, each writer has a different view concerning her future approach to different existing problems.
While Joyce Karam refutes the accusations and mentions:
“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 as a hawk or as a militaristic figure in approaching the Middle East.”
We find Amir Handjani accepting the accusations based on Clinton’s previous record for voting ‘for’ military action. He further refers to her own announced stance in this presidential election concerning Syria. He states:
“Clinton signaled in a major foreign policy address last week that she would be doubling down on the conflict in Syria by imposing a non-fly zone-something the Obama administration has ruled out for fear of deepening America’s involvement in the Syrian civil war & risking escalation with Russia and Iran, the Assad government’s main patrons.”
Consequently to refuting and accepting these ‘hawkish’ accusations, two expectations equally arise with the nomination of Hillary Clinton for presidency. One prediction is, as Joyce Karam expresses, “Clinton will likely pursue a centrist approach…a more hands on and people-to-people relations” .She further gives reasons for her prediction based on “ Clinton’s visit to Egypt’s 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.” Karam also dreams of her playing an active role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Given Clinton’s relations, it won’t come as a surprise if she revisits the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks while possibly involving her husband and resurrecting the Arab Peace initiative.”
On the other hand, Amir Handjani views the future of the Middle East from a different perspective. He compares her to Bernie Sanders, who surprisingly for a Jewish politician , recognizes as Amir states “the tremendous toll the occupation & continued expansion of Israeli settlements on American security interests in the Middle East and on the Palestinian society. Sanders’ supporters as well as Obama would like to see the U.S. play a more evenhanded role.” Amir’s predictions at the end of his article goes to the extreme opposite of Karam’s dreams .He justifies his stance by saying “So far, Clinton has not shown any willingness to confront more hard-line Israeli policies that make peace harder to achieve.”
However, the main problem faced by President Hillary Clinton in the region will be to take the “Hard Choice”, a title she herself chose for her book. The choice to show that she is equally comfortable exercising restraint as she was while enforcing change, the choice to acknowledge the limits of U.S. power as well as its effectiveness-an understanding that forms the bedrock of a balanced world view.
Contrary to the majority in the Middle East, I look forward to Hillary Clinton’s even-handed objective foreign policy. My optimism doesn’t stem from a Utopian idealistic stance, but it is in fact based on looking upon Hillary Clinton as a true ‘global inspiration’. Her resilient qualities in different situations and under extreme pressure prove her to be a warrior who never surrenders, a successful advocate for human rights, women rights, civil rights and a pursuer of unity and common grounds rather than division, separation and hiding behind walls. All in all, no one can compete with Michelle Obama ’s rhetorical skills in well presenting this inspiration:
“I’m inspired by her persistence, her heart and her guts… and I’m inspired by her lifelong record public service. No one in our life time has ever had as much experience and exposure to the presidency…and Yes, she happens to be a woman!”