After George Mitchell’s appointment as Israeli-Arab peace envoy was announced January 22, I noted (also here) that the way it had happened indicated he would be reporting to both the president and the secretary of state.
When Mitchell returned from his first “listening visit” to the region, he made his report-back primarily to the prez.
Early this morning, Laura Rozen had a blog post in which she demonstrated the degree to which the Obama White House is continuing to keep its hands firmly on the conduct of Israeli-Arab diplomacy.
She writes this, about the meeting Israeli prez Shimon Peres had at the White House yesterday:
- Clinton was not at the meeting, though as noted earlier she met with Peres separately at his hotel.
“The White House won’t let her on TV on the Sunday morning talk shows,” a plugged-in Washington Middle East hand observed. “Who is talking about foreign policy on those shows? Axelrod. Who is showing up at the meeting with Obama-Peres? Axelrod. They are controlling the message.” [Btw, this anonymous source is most likely the same Steve Cohen who is liberally quoted by name elsewhere in the post, but here speaking off the record.]
“They’ve never even had her even on Charlie Rose,” he added. “You have not really seen the secretary of state in the U.S. media; you’ve seen her in the international media. Who is their main messenger on foreign policy?”
(An aide confirmed Clinton hadn’t been on the Sunday talk shows since the campaign.)
The plugged in Washington Middle East observer noted that Clinton was not sent by the administration to address the AIPAC conference, either. Instead, Vice President Joseph Biden was dispatched, where he called for Israel to stop its settlement expansion.
“Biden is the person who is perceived as a very experienced foreign-policy hand who has a very solid relationship with Israel, but that relationship is solidly based on American strategic analysis,” Cohen said. “And not affected so much by the Clinton experience of being a [former] New York senator.”
Higher up in her post, Rozen had zeroed in on the fact that, though Clinton was not at the White House meeting, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and political adviser, David Axelrod, were.
She writes this– again, liberally quoting Steve Cohen, largely as a kind of inside-the-shtetl story:
- Emanuel and Axelrod are two high-level Jewish members of Obama’s administration; they have been increasingly enlisted in recent weeks to build support within the Jewish-American community for a two-state solution in the face of resistance from the new Netanyahu government…
I don’t see it exactly the same way. Yes, there is clearly an inside-the-shtetl aspect to it. But the importance of these two men– Emanuel and Axelrod– is far greater than just their Jewish credentials. They are the president’s two leading political advisers and operatives. If he is gearing up for a Bush(1)/Baker style of confrontation with a Likud government in Israel, he will need to be planning a strategy that covers all the domestic political bases, not just the Jewish one. (And at this point, probably a larger proportion of evangelical Christians would be prepared to fight hard for this government of Israel than the proportion of Jewish Americans who would be so inclined.)
So from this perspective, it is probably a good thing that these two very savvy (and perhaps only coincidentally Jewish) political operatives were in the room. Especially at the exact same time that AIPAC has been flooding the offices of members of congress with citizen-lobbyists arguing that the US must let Israel completely dictate the pace of any moves towards peace.
Because of the extreme permeability of the US political system– especially at the level of members of the House of Representatives– to the influence of pro-Israelis (whether Jewish or not), any US policy that affects Israel is never simply a matter of “foreign” policy. For the president to succeed, he has to be able to use his own immense powers of persuasion not just on the foreign leaders and publics concerned– but also on his own public and congress.
Over the next couple of weeks, Obama will be receiving Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s Mubarak, and Ramallastan’s Abbas in the White House. Sometime soon after that, he is expected to come out with some more definitive policy initiatives. That is when we need to see Obama using his “bully pulpit” of presidential influence– and using it domestically, as well as internationally.