Hillary Clinton Seeks To Stake Out Subtle Distance From White House on Israel

Draws Cheers From AJC With Vow for Closer Ties

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By Ron Kampeas

Published May 22, 2014.
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(JTA) — A month before her foreign policy autobiography, “Hard Choices,” hits the bookstores, Hillary Rodham Clinton made an easy choice: She pitched her diplomatic credentials to a friendly Jewish audience.

Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee on May 14 was meant to send a signal to the pro-Israel community, insiders say, that a Clinton presidency would smooth over tensions ruffled by the Obama White House. So while she broadly defended Obama administration policies, she also suggested areas where she had differences with the president, such as on Iran.

“President Obama has said that the odds of reaching a comprehensive agreement are no more than 50-50,” Clinton said, referring to the U.S.-led talks between the major powers and Iran on the latter’s nuclear program.

“I personally am skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver. I’ve seen many false hopes dashed over the years,” she said. “We will have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away and increase the pressure if need be.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Clinton told the non-partisan group, which does not endorse candidates. “From my perspective, we cannot and should not accept any agreement that endangers Israel or our own national security.”

Robert Wexler, the former Democratic congressman from Florida who was the first major Jewish politician to join the Obama campaign, in early 2007, said the differences Clinton is emphasizing reflected not just her worldview, but also the changed foreign policy reality she heads into should she announce for the presidency.

“President Obama, in terms of foreign policy, was elected to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that was his primary charge,” said Wexler, who now heads the Center for Middle East Peace. “The expectations the American people would have for a President Hillary Clinton would be different. The calling may be to reassert to a degree of American leadership, which is entirely consistent with Secretary Clinton’s worldview.”

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator under a succession of Republicans and Democrats, including Bill Clinton, said Hillary Clinton was a good soldier for Obama’s bid to transform the world, but also demonstrated understanding that her boss may have overreached.

“She understood the world was not a transformative place, it was transactional,” said Miller, now vice president at the Wilson Center, a foreign policy think tank. “In that respect she was much more hawkish on Syria,” where Clinton joined calls for a U.S. strike on the Assad regime to contain the bloody civil war. Obama opted to seek authorization for a strike from Congress, and then abandoned the option when it was clear he lacked support.

“On Israel-Palestinians she knew it was not going anywhere,” Miller said. “If the president wanted her to focus on it, she did it in a rhetorical way, but she had no interest in being a linchpin.”


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