Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fearful of Hillary Clinton?

Some in the Arab world are reportedly fearful of having Hillary Clinton as our next secretary of state. There is concern that the New York senator is hawkish, and that her pro-Israeli posturing underlies a deeper bias which will, in the end, prevail.

As has been suggested, Senator Clinton, at one time, fully supported the notion of an independent Palestinian state and at a time when that position was controversial. (WaPo) There is every reason to think that she will do so again. After all, many in Israel now support an independent Palestinian state.

Besides, since when does the secretary of state set the foreign policy agenda? Condoleezza Rice surely doesn't, and neither did Colin Powell. It's the president who charts the course we take, and my sense is that Obama may well be the first president, in more than a generation, who is open to critical thinking, and reviewing past policy, where the Middle East is concerned.

There are some who point to the President-elect's appearance before AIPAC, and pledge of support for Israel, as a cause for concern. Candidates often have to say and do things, during their candidacy, which they know will be amended once they're elected. Remember George H.W. Bush's pledge: "Read my lips; no new taxes." Rest assured that Bush pere knew he was going to have to recant that one.

Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding secretary of state, and not for all the cynical reasons that many suggest like, for instance, that she might be a strong contender against Obama in 2012. Clinton will be great at the helm of the State Department because she's a great schmoozer, and because she has the right balance of firmness and finesse.

Anyone who expresses concern that she is more of a hawk than the incoming commander-in-chief hasn't read the fine print. Obama has been transparent, from the beginning, that just because he opposed the Iraq war doesn't mean he opposes war. He's been clear about redeploying troops, not withdrawing them, and has made Afghanistan and Pakistan his target. He even said, recently, that he plans to hunt down and kill bin Laden. If that isn't hawkish rhetoric, what is?

If there is any good news to be found in recent economic events, it is that the crisis in the financial markets will, by necessity, force a seismic shift in focus from foreign to domestic policy.

Having said that, importantly, any difference between Obama and Bush, or McCain, when it comes to foreign policy resides in that Obama is not an ideologue; he's a pragmatist. Moreover, for Obama, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas for the last eight years, there's only been no light, and more tunnel.

That said, while there may be a light at the end of it, we're still in the tunnel. And, if nothing else, the past few months have shown us we have nothing to fear except greed itself.

Regardless of who his secretary of state is, it is essentially Obama who will steer us for at least the next four years. It is up to those of us who voted for him to keep him on task to end not just the war in Iraq, but to put an expiration date on the so-called "war on terror," so we can finally get our economy, and country, back on track again.

Hillary may be on the steering committee, but Obama will be at the wheel.