Conventional Washington Obama?

Barack Obama just officially announced his choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. At one point during the press conference, Obama was asked to comment on some of his quotes during the campaign undermining Clinton’s credentials on foreign policy, including the statement that her world travel amounted to “having teas” with foreign leaders. Obama said that he understood that the press would be having fun “stirring up” quotes from the heated campaign, when in reality he’s always admired and respected Clinton. However, I think by focusing on some of the choice quotes, the media is understating the differences between the two on foreign policy during the primaries. Obama’s argument against Clinton during was not rooted in the idea that she was exaggerating her accomplishments — that was just one of many side arguments. The central critique Obama offered was that America needed to fundamentally change the direction of its foreign policy, not just change the party in power. Obama spoke of moving beyond “conventional Washington thinking” — personified by Hillary Clinton and her support for the Iraq War. So one of two things happened. Either Clinton has embraced Obama’s vision for fundamental change, or Obama has succumbed to “conventional Washington thinking.”

The Blame Israel First Crowd

Roger Cohen urges presumed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to show “tough love” toward Israel in his latest column. His argument rests on the premise that if only Israel compromises more –withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem — there can be peace. The article is based around some comments made by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose administration was an abject failure and whose approval ratings were in the single digits even before it was rocked by scandal that will likely lead to his indictment. If making peace were as simple as this, then we would have had it 40 years ago, but the problem has always been that a large enough segment of the Palestinian people do not want to accept any Israeli state at all. As I wrote a few weeks ago, no matter how earnest you assume that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in his desire for peace, as long as he exerts no influence over Hamas in Gaza, there can be no security for Israelis, and thus, no peace. Cohen does not even bother mentioning Hamas.

Throughout his column, Cohen repeats several times that Israelis have to be willing to give up parts of Jerusalem, as if this were a bold new suggestion. But we’ve already been down this road before. The 2000 peace offer made by Ehud Barak divided Jerusalem, giving the Palestinians the eastern part of the city, and the Palestinians rejected it. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as merely dividing up Jerusalem. The most contentious area comes when you get to the holy sites, and when you visit the city and see how the competing holy sites are physically on top of and intertwined with each other, you get a good sense of why peace has been so elusive.

Let me be clear about something: I’m not one of those dead-enders who believes that Israel should never give up an inch of land. I think a two-state solution with Palestinians in control of the West Bank and Gaza is the best of many imperfect alternatives. But I also recognize that getting there is a lot easier said than done. And I have little patience when writers such as Cohen completely oversimplify everything, especially by arguing that peace would be at hand if only Israel does exactly what it tried to do eight years ago.