Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Secretary Clinton Visits Israel

by Elliott Abrams
July 16, 2012

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem July 16, 2012 (Courtesy REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem July 16, 2012 (Courtesy REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool).


Secretary of State Clinton is in Israel today, which is a surprising fact. According to several news sites, she has not visited there in two years.

Secretary Condoleezza Rice visited there about 20 times, by my rough count. What accounts for this difference? Given the importance the United States usually places on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how is it that a secretary of state could be absent for two entire years?

There are two reasons, I would judge. First, President Obama has always turned to others–initially his special envoy George Mitchell, appointed on Mr. Obama’s second day in office, and later Dennis Ross–to do the diplomacy that was needed (or not needed, but that’s another story). He has never viewed Clinton as his top diplomat when it came to the Middle East.

Second, Clinton must have made a judgment a couple of years ago that visiting Israel and the West Bank was a losing proposition. After all, two years ago (in September, 2010) the White House staged an extravaganza to launch peace talks, inviting President Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The talks broke down within weeks, and George Mitchell’s last trip to the region came in December 2010. It appears that Clinton looked at the wreckage and decided she had better ways to spend her time.

Is this theory contradicted by her presence in Israel today? Not really, because she was visiting Egypt’s new president and its military leadership, and because there are other hot subjects to discuss now, such as the war in Syria. And given the presence on her delegation of the administration’s Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman, her main topics with the Israelis are likely to be Iran, Syria, and Egypt, with a discussion of Palestinian matters thrown in at the end to be sure they could all say “sure, yes, absolutely, that was discussed in depth!” But the Secretary’s attention is elsewhere, on some dangerous crises, and it is very difficult to say that her absence from Israel for two years was a mistaken decision.


Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Mike

    Who cares ? How is Israel important to the US ? We cant use it to attack other nations. We dont have any military bases there besides a radar station. It is worthless to US.

  • Posted by Otto Beckman

    Just consider Israel a reliable ally, whose public is sympathetic to the US. In a real middle east emergency the Sinai dessert can be used as a forward operating base. In addition the country has intelligence assets that are now used by the Defense Department,

    In addition Israeli military capability, in conjunction with our own forces pack a significant punch.

  • Posted by David Most

    Mike shows his ignorance of the real US/Middle East situation. There is only ONE country in the entire region on whom the USA can count as a true friend. There is only one country in the region that shares a common Judeo/Christian heritage. There is only one Military in the region that has already demonstrated its capacity to deal with radical Islamism, and there is only ONE country that is a REAL Democracy: ISRAEL!

    Mike should study the history of the Middle East over the last 100 years to gain a deeper understanding of the US/Israel bond.

  • Posted by Dick Advokaat

    Surely we can have an open and thoughtful debate about our foreign policy without the ad hominems and hysteria, lest you betray the type of extremism that violent Islam seems destined to combat.

    Mike’s comment was refreshing in the context of this blog, in which a ‘hard-core neo-con’ and, presumably, IR ‘realist’ (whom I greatly appreciate for his expertise), depicts a vision of American foreign policy that seems to bear the strain of sentimentality, rather than the strictly strategic tack Mike espoused and which one would typically associate with the realist school.

    So let’s fill the gap, and I would say up-front that I am 100% in favor of the ‘occupation’ and of conditional American investment in Israel.


    1. Israel’s strategic importance in the Middle East:

    It’s a military force and an anchor to our regionwide energy interests, in addition to the American presence in Saudi Arabia, the GCC, and Turkey, a NATO member.

    But would Israeli forces really intervene if an Egypt-type revolution were to take place in Saudi Arabia? Of course not. If anything, Israel in light of Iran is a liability to our energy security.

    2. Israel as a democracy.

    Spreading democracy as a pillar of American foreign policy is a relatively new one, but it’s good business. Still, Israel, in spite of its ‘economic miracle,’ is a very small country and a small economy, about the size of Missouri in terms of GDP.

    3. Our common heritage.

    Again with the sentimentality, not to mention the dubious intermingling of Church and State. But it may be all that we have left to feel for and the only hope for this American enterprise going forward, so let’s tackle it.

    Israel is a pioneer state, just like we were. Just like the first American settlers, it has enjoyed a fair amount of protection and resources from a distant power. But our pilgrim ancestors understood that the enmity around them and the hostility they encountered were self-made, a consequence of their own iniquity and usurpation of prime real estate (see Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick, for an insightful read). Israel, thus far, with Tel Aviv as the recently-appointed ‘Gay Tourism Capital of the World,’ seems unwilling or unable to make that connection. No self-respecting Judeo-Christian can tolerate that unrepentant abhorrence.


    1. Israel is a magnet for terrorism, and supporting it has very real consequences for the United States.

    2. Israel, at least under every administration that refers to Judea and Samaria as such, has not really been a democracy since 1967. Avigdor Lieberman may live in the Territories, among other MKs, but he is no democrat there.

    Again, I support the occupation and American investment in Israel, but let’s get past the emotional attachment and the mania and get real. It still works, but the question is- for how long? The more we help the Israelis realign their priorities with a sustainable long-term plan, the more our interests will be served by a stable and permanent partner worthy of our sacrifice.

  • Posted by Dick Advokaat

    I’d like to correct myself on the assertion that the Pilgrims had any cognizance of their habitation of Native American land (native as in having crossed the Bering Land Bridge instead of the Atlantic Ocean), most of which had been recently depopulated by disease (it is not relevant to me that the Europeans introduced remnants of the Plague; it would have happened eventually, and the Native population was hit as Europe had been centuries before).
    The Pilgrims operated with a sense of God-given purpose to secure a place where they could safely practice their particular brand of Protestantism. It is this drive which I hope Israel will seek to replicate, and the only way I see the Jewish people surviving in the Land in a way that is compatible with history, the present regionwide environment, and the World to Come.

  • Posted by tracey

    Israel has oil and natural gas off of their coast which USA is currently vested in. Israel, the Holy Land.
    Facts: Persia Iran has a history of how old?
    Israel dates back over 4000 years. The Hebrews arrived in Canaan about 2500 years ago, ruled by Kings such as Saul, David and Solomon yet divided into Judah. Constant wars fought. Both territories conquered by Assyrians who we know today as? Then they were dominated by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and lastly good ole Brits. This whole Arab, Israeli, Palestine Jew mess can and could be fixed in a few different ways. Yet we do nothing. Why the ignorance on our part.
    Fact: We know by history who the land belongs too. We have a map that sits in Jordan that dates 5 or 6th Century showing the boarders of land and the 12 tribes rather 12 stones. Both fight over the Temple Mound, yet how Ironic they are virtually the same family, the same ethnic back ground stemming from the same lineage? Diplomacy and even war will not solve the problem because as long as the Dome of the Rock is in existence the fight will exist. Money, sanctions and or a war will not end the fight, or the struggle between the two groups. Why not take away the issue at hand Or put our foot down and disclare who is rightful owner, proof is there. I see two choice neither of which include diplomacy nor war. People just need to wake up, quit trying to be the hero and see what lies between the lines.

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