President Obama led off his recent news conference with a discussion of the difficulty of US options vis a vis the war in Syria. That difficulty would be far greater still if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had not taken major steps toward Middle East peace before she left office.
President Obama and new Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have all recently made trips to the Middle East. Obama visited Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in March, while Kerry visited Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. Hagel visited Israel. None of these trips would have been possible without a little-noticed effort of urgent shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The media regularly says President Obama has failed to bring peace to the Middle East. But "peace" there is even more of a misnomer than peace with the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. The U.S. and many countries ultimately realized that "peaceful coexistence" was a more realistic term and objective.
Last November, rockets were flying over Israel after the targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. The threat to world peace and of outright war was far more real then than it was with the more recent braggadocio from North Korea--which everyone took to be a real threat. In Israel, the bombs and missiles were coming in daily. Nearly 300 Israelis were injured or killed. Israel had to fight back and did, firing the defensive iron shield system and attacking militant cells and rocket launchers in Gaza. This was real war, if ever there was one.
Hillary risked her safety and life to go into the fray. She went to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Cairo on Nov. 20-21 and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and other military and civilian leaders. In typical Hillary fashion, she determinedly flew back and forth and back and forth between the locations, and included U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in the discussions.
She told the Middle East leaders to stop the missiles and the bombs. She urged them to negotiate. And she probably told them, secretly, that if they did, President Obama, and then the new Secretary of State to follow her, would visit and afford them the prestige and credibility of an ongoing relationship with the US, including continuing financial and technological support. She probably also told them that if they kept sending missiles at each other, there was no way on earth that the US would send top officials there, since they would all look like pariahs and the chances of obtaining approval from Congress for continuing US financial and military aid would be threatened. On that basis, Hillary managed to broker a cease-fire, sponsored by Egypt. In the Middle East, a cease-fire is the closest thing to peace. If you're not at war, you're at peace.
Right now, Syria--at Israel's northeast border--is the world's boiling point Because of the intervention of former Secretary Clinton, at least some of the Middle East region is not a powder keg. That allows the President to focus American attention and foreign policy options on Syria specifically.
Clinton had many accomplishments during her tenure as Secretary of State. She persuaded Burma to allow
elections with the opposition, including National League for Democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She raised awareness throughout the world of the value of upholding women's dignity and rights. And until President Obama's recent trip to Latin America, she garnered more support in visiting that region than any top US visitor since JFK.
Hillary also displayed good policy judgment in her presidential campaign (the past one in 2008; a 2016 run has not been decided). In that campaign, she laid out a better foundation for health care than her major opponent--a cross between single-payer and public option. Such a plan would have been far more in step with the rest of the world. And that is a good thing, when you consider that other countries pay about half the price we do for health care and get from it a longer average life span and lower infant mortality.
But when President Obama made Hillary his partner in the administration (thus taking the brilliant step of bringing in his strongest primary opponent), one of her most important successes was advancing the cause of Middle East peace. Strangely, even though that achievement may have had far-reaching positive impact on the world, it was also among her least noticed.Robert Weiner is a former White House spokesman in the Clinton administration and former chief of staff for Cong. Claude Pepper(D-FL), spokesman for the House Government Operations Committee, and senior staff for Cong. John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Ed Koch (D-NY), and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). He wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson's groundbreaking book, Obama and Christian Loyalty. The co-author of this article, Richard Mann, is senior policy analyst for Solutions for Change.