Thursday, December 4, 2008

How It's Playing Thus Far

From the New York Times:

President-elect Barack Obama’s aides say he is considering making a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.

Still, Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian ambassador, e-mailed me a statement. “Needless to say, the President of the United States is always welcome in Egypt,” it said. “Delivering such a speech from Cairo would no doubt reinforce the intended message. Cairo has long been a center of Islamic learning and scholarship, in line with Egypt’s central role in the Middle East.”

During the the 2008 Democratic primary debate in Philadelphia Hillary Rodham Clinton made a remarkable but curiously unexamined appeal for the creation of a Middle Eastern security pact fashioned after NATO.

"And I think that this is an opportunity, with skillful diplomacy, for the United States to go to the region and enlist the region in a security agreement vis-a-vis Iran. It would give us three tools we don't now have.

Number one, we've got to begin diplomatic engagement with Iran, and we want the region and the world to understand how serious we are about it. And I would begin those discussions at a low level. I certainly would not meet with Ahmadinejad, because even again today he made light of 9/11 and said he's not even sure it happened and that people actually died. He's not someone who would have an opportunity to meet with me in the White House. But I would have a diplomatic process that would engage him.

And secondly, we've got to deter other countries from feeling that they have to acquire nuclear weapons. You can't go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran and say: Well, don't acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you're also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup and we will let the Iranians know that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under this security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions.

And finally we cannot permit Iran to become a nuclear weapons power. And this administration has failed in our efforts to convince the rest of the world that that is a danger, not only to us and not just to Israel but to the region and beyond.

Therefore we have got to have this process that reaches out, beyond even who we would put under the security umbrella, to get the rest of the world on our side to try to impose the kind of sanctions and diplomatic efforts that might prevent this from occurring."

Through her husband, Mrs. Clinton has a privileged view of sensitive and high level negotiations involving the Palestinians and Israelis. Near the very end of his precarious tenure, Bill Clinton brokered a peace agreement that fractured at the very last minute. It's not unreasonable to think that there are lessons from these failed negotiations that could be of value going forward.

Holding in abeyance the substance of foreign relations, the appointment of Mrs. Clinton to the Department of State liberates Mr. Obama considerably on the domestic front. Health care, which is the New York senator's bailiwick, was sure to be a contentious issue going forward had Mrs. Clinton remained in the Senate.

Equally important is the need to restrain Bill Clinton. The former president, as satirized by Chris Rock, never wholly submitted to the pride of Carthage. History tells us that former presidents can make trouble for the incumbent. The Bay of Pigs assault, an albatross for John F. Kennedy, was the creation of Dwight Eisenhower. Even a dotardly Herbert Hoover caused Harry Truman some discomfort as the US was steered into an internationalist course.

While the mist of disenchantment descends on the Obama administration and the nation, it is a good time to leave behind the retail aspect of politics.

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