Clinton speaks softly, carries no stick

Hillary Clinton made a speech to the Council on Foreign relations today (the full text is here).

I really got a kick out of this paragraph. It is one of the best combinations of vacuous buzzwords stitched together seamlessly to say absolutely nothing that I have ever squandered eye-movements on reading. But I didn’t quote it for exercise — at the end of this post you’ll see that there really is something we can learn from it.

President Obama has led us to think outside the usual boundaries. He has launched a new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect. Going forward, capitalizing on America’s unique strengths, we must advance those interests through partnership, and promote universal values through the power of our example and the empowerment of people. In this way, we can forge the global consensus required to defeat the threats, manage the dangers, and seize the opportunities of the 21st century. America will always be a world leader as long as we remain true to our ideals and embrace strategies that match the times. So we will exercise American leadership to build partnerships and solve problems that no nation can solve on its own, and we will pursue policies to mobilize more partners and deliver results.

Moving on to something very slightly more substantial, here is what she said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Now I’m well aware that time alone does not heal all wounds; consider the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That’s why we wasted no time in starting an intensive effort on day one to realize the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security in two states, which is in America’s interests and the world’s. We’ve been working with the Israelis to deal with the issue of settlements, to ease the living conditions of Palestinians, and create circumstances that can lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. For the last few decades, American administrations have held consistent positions on the settlement issue. And while we expect action from Israel, we recognize that these decisions are politically challenging.

Here Clinton referred to some of the concrete concessions that Israel has been asked — ordered — to make: the settlement freeze, removal of checkpoints and roadblocks, etc. She also implies, somewhat disingenuously, that the Obama position on settlements — that is, that there must be no building activity of any kind in the areas occupied by Jordan from 1948-67 — was shared by prior administrations. She continued,

And we know that progress toward peace cannot be the responsibility of the United States – or Israel – alone. Ending the conflict requires action on all sides. The Palestinians have the responsibility to improve and extend the positive actions already taken on security; to act forcefully against incitement; and to refrain from any action that would make meaningful negotiations less likely.

At last an admission from the administration that Palestinians need to make concessions, too. But “act forcefully against incitement”? This seems to imply that someone other than the Palestinian Authority is doing the incitement, and the PA should ‘act’ against it. But in fact, even today the official Palestinian media regularly presents vicious antisemitic material.

Contrast this with the painful actions being demanded of Israel. Better than a vague statement about acting forcefully, the PA should simply be told to stop the incitement, now. After all, the US is paying its bills.

Next she asks the Arab nations to take part of the burden. Will she be tougher on them?

And Arab states have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority with words and deeds, to take steps to improve relations with Israel, and to prepare their publics to embrace peace and accept Israel’s place in the region.

The Saudi peace proposal, supported by more than twenty nations, was a positive step. But we believe that more is needed. So we are asking those who embrace the proposal to take meaningful steps now. Anwar Sadat and King Hussein crossed important thresholds, and their boldness and vision mobilized peace constituencies in Israel and paved the way for lasting agreements. By providing support to the Palestinians and offering an opening, however modest, to the Israelis, the Arab states could have the same impact. So I say to all sides: Sending messages of peace is not enough. You must also act against the cultures of hate, intolerance and disrespect that perpetuate conflict.

Clinton begins with the obligatory praise for the Saudi Initiative, which I’ve argued was not positive at all, indeed just another Arab demand for Israel to commit suicide.  But then she mentions Anwar Sadat, the guy that practically defines ‘breakthrough’, and one expects that she will ask them to take real, dangerous but significant steps in the direction of peace.

Imagine the effect — on Israel, the Arabs, and the world –  if she had called for the Arab nations to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Instead, having her ducks in a row she fails to pull the trigger, falling back on another lukewarm demand for the perpetrators to “act” against the crime, when instead they should be told to stop committing it.

Another issue of great interest to me, of course, was Iran. She said,

We watched the energy of Iran’s election with great admiration, only to be appalled by the manner in which the government used violence to quell the voices of the Iranian people, and then tried to hide its actions by arresting foreign journalists and nationals, and expelling them, and cutting off access to technology. As we and our G-8 partners have made clear, these actions are deplorable and unacceptable.

But there were no consequences, were there?  One imagines Ahmadinejad asking how many divisions the G-8 has!

We know very well what we inherited with Iran, because we deal with that inheritance every day. We know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded in altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian support for terror, or improving Iran’s treatment of its citizens.

Neither the President nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success of any kind, and the prospects have certainly shifted in the weeks following the election. But we also understand the importance of offering to engage Iran and giving its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation.

Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice. That is why we offered Iran’s leaders an unmistakable opportunity: Iran does not have a right to nuclear military capacity, and we’re determined to prevent that. But it does have a right to civil nuclear power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes.

It seems to me that they already have been given options, by the UN, and they decided that they would rather continue with their nuclear program and let the UN do its worst. But the UN’s worst wasn’t very bad, and its offer of economic incentives wasn’t very good, so Iran decided that they would rather make enriched uranium, thank you.  What, exactly, will Obama do differently?

Iran can become a constructive actor in the region if it stops threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism. It can assume a responsible position in the international community if it fulfills its obligations on human rights. The choice is clear. We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.

But why would Iran want to do these things when it is gaining control and influence in the region through its support of Hezbollah and subversion of Iraq, which will become an Iranian satellite as soon as US troops are gone? Why would it want to stop its nuclear program when possession of a bomb would give it even more power, plus the ability to become the great hero of the Muslim world by finally defeating Israel? What inducement can Obama offer it when it can achieve all of its goals by staying on the path it has chosen?

About Afghanistan:

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies, and to prevent their return to either country. Yet Americans often ask, why do we ask our young men and women to risk their lives in Afghanistan when al-Qaida’s leadership is in neighboring Pakistan? And that question deserves a good answer: We and our allies fight in Afghanistan because the Taliban protects al-Qaida and depends on it for support, sometimes coordinating activities. In other words, to eliminate al-Qaida, we must also fight the Taliban.

I think the question is, “why don’t we go after al-Qaeda wherever they are, including Pakistan?”

Now, we understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support al-Qaida, or believe in the extremist policies the Taliban pursued when in power. And today we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces al-Qaida, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.

So actually, we are not against the Taliban, as long as they are pacifist, feminist Taliban who go over to our side. It’s really hard to understand why she needed to say this.

Now here is why I quoted that first, apparently meaningless paragraph. It illustrates what I believe is a fundamental problem with this administration:

Mr. Obama, arguably the best American political speaker since JFK and MLK, managed to talk himself into the Presidency. He, Mrs. Clinton and others are therefore dazzled by the power of talk and seem to think that any problem is amenable to it. Of course this is not the case, especially in the Middle East.

Talk and fuzzy platitudes about cooperation, partnerships, empowerment, etc. are cheap and in plentiful supply.

Moral strength and fact-based policies apparently aren’t.

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