While Bill Clinton has promised to refocus the government’s attention on domestic priorities, the Arkansas governor who was elected president Tuesday has made it clear he intends to lead an administration that is deeply engaged in global affairs and actively committed to democratic allies, such as Israel.
In recent months, he has sought to reassure American Jews and Israeli officials that U.S. support for Israel will remain steadfast at a time when the Middle East peace process poses particularly difficult challenges for the Jewish state.
In several key foreign policy speeches, Clinton has outlined the three principles that will guide his administration: to work with allies to encourage and defend democracy and human rights; to develop a readiness to respond to new global threats with a restructured military; and to re-establish America’s economic strength, elevating economic security to the level of national security.
At the same time, he has emphatically rejected what he calls a “divorce” by the Bush administration of foreign policy and moral principles. He has derided the strategic relations Bush forged with despotic regimes in Panama, Iran and Iraq.
He has also criticized President Bush’s “hesitation when democratic forces needed our support in challenging the status quo,” recalling popular uprisings in China, in the Baltic states and among the Kurds in Iraq.
The president-elect has credited Bush for bringing the Arabs and Israelis to the negotiating table. And he has vowed to assign a high priority to continuing the U.S. brokerage of the peace talks without interruption.
But he has signaled a shift in ideology that has not been lost on the Arabs, many of whom had hoped for a Bush victory at the polls this week.
In a speech last month in Milwaukee, Clinton chastised the administration for treating the Arab-Israeli conflict “as just another quarrel between religions and nations, rather than one in which the survival of a democratic ally, Israel, has been at stake.”
But insiders say that will not translate into a policy change.
“Clinton’s basic point is the United States has an essential mediating role to play, but the parties have to negotiate their own futures,” said Peter Edelman, chairman of Americans for Peace Now and a longtime friend of the Clintons.
“George Bush did some specific things that were unfortunate,” said Edelman, “but he effectively promoted the peace process.”
Analyst believe Clinton’s Middle East policy will be tested early in his presidency and that he will respond with a demonstration of strength.
Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy believes Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could present the first challenge and that Clinton will be prepared.
“Saddam is in for quite a surprise if he thinks Clinton is more liable to shrink from confrontation” than his predecessor, Satloff said.
“All signs point to his doing what is necessary to seek full enforcement of U.N. resolutions,” he said. “Clinton will seek to send a message of firmness.”
Satloff and others predict another test will come from the peace talks, where the Palestinians are expected to seize the election as an opportunity to try to renegotiate the ground rules. Again, they say, Clinton will hold firm.
“There is no sign there will be a re-examination or a reassessment,” said Satloff. He said Clinton would have a “strong resistance” to changing the framework painstakingly worked out at the start of the peace talks in Madrid a year ago.
But some caution that it is difficult to predict an incoming administration’s foreign policy on the basis of election-year rhetoric.
They say that far more telling about Clinton’s priorities and ideological propensities in foreign affairs will be the players he names in the coming weeks to execute his foreign policy agenda.
Throughout the campaign in Little Rock, Clinton has been surrounded at the highest levels by Jews and pro-Israel internationalists who are familiar to and trusted by the pro-Israel community.
But some Jewish leaders have privately expressed concern about isolationist tendencies among some of those surrounding Clinton and about a few Carter-era holdovers who may be picked to fill key posts in the new administration.
Many Jews remain bitter over concessions demanded from Israel by Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance during their brokerage of the Camp David accords. They also remember Carter’s personal crusade for Palestinian human rights.
Clinton’s foreign policy crew is mixed, made up of both pro-defense centrists, such as Vice President-Elect Al Gore, and former non-interventionists, who have argued to limit U.S. involvement in crises abroad.
But the watchword is consensus, now that the end of the Cold War has virtually eliminated the old schism between hawks and doves. The election of a Labor government in Israel has also eased long-running tensions between hawks and doves in Middle East policy.
Front and center among Clinton’s foreign policy advisers is Samuel (Sandy) Berger, a former Yale Law School classmate of the president-elect who is now an attorney in Washington. Berger, who is Jewish, served on the policy-planning staff of the Carter administration’s State Department.
Known as a liberal but pragmatic internationalist, Berger was responsible for building the Clinton foreign policy coalition during the campaign. He succeeded in bring in neoconservatives like Richard Schifter, a pro-Israel hawk who served as assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Berger, who is likely to occupy a high-level appointment in the new administration, brought into the campaign’s circle his former boss at the state Department, Anthony Lake, now a professor at Mount Holyoke College.
Insiders tout Lake as a possible national security adviser.
It is an appointment that would give pause to some pro-Israel observers, primarily because of Lake’s association with the Vance Middle East strategy.
Lake also is remembered for writing a book in which he criticized the pro- Israel lobby for distorting U.S. foreign policy during the 1981 controversy over the sale of AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia.
But others say Lake has made a concerted effort to meet with pro-Israel leaders and has convinced them he is solidly pro-Israel. They say he believes the Bush administration has been too hard on America’s only democratic ally in the middle East.
There is more concern about another of Lake’s ex-colleagues, Warren Christopher, who has been rumored as a possible pick for secretary of state.
Christopher, who was deputy secretary of state under Vance and an enthusiastic proponent of his policy approach, reportedly has made no move to ease any lingering tension between him and the Jewish community.
“The Carter policy created a lot of anxiety in the Jewish community and no one wants to see it return,” said one pro-Israel analyst. Christopher, he said, is “the precise embodiment of the policy Bill Clinton is disavowing.” His appointment “would send the wrong message.”
But lake and Christopher have their defenders, who say that while they may have an emotional distance from Israel, the dangers they pose have been exaggerated.
“With Lake, there are some tensions,” said a Jewish leader who asked not to be named, “but he is not an enemy. He is more complicated and can’t be pigeonholed.”
Christopher is also the kind of official who would reflect and execute Clinton’s policies, observed this source. “He is a consummate bureaucratic professional who doesn’t make waves or rock the boat. If there is a directive from the top, he will follow it.”
Christopher is known to have won Clinton’s respect as the head of the vice presidential search process, which yielded Israel’s most trusted ally in the new administration.
“Gore is the best anchor we have,” said another prominent Jewish leader, who added that there is otherwise “nothing to celebrate” with a Clinton win when it comes to Israel. “The domestic side is something else,” he said.
Another possible pick for secretary of state that displeases the pro- Israel mainstream is Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), who is now slated to take over the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Hamilton has a solid pro-Israel record when it comes to foreign aid and arms sales. But the community has noted his strong opposition to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-administered territories, as well as the pro- Palestinian sympathies of his longtime foreign affairs aide, Michael Van Dusen.
Undoubtedly more important for Clinton and in Hamilton’s disfavor was the congressman’s high-profile opposition to the Persian Gulf War.
“It was a highly symbolic vote and conflicts with Bill Clinton’s effort to say, ‘I’m a different kind of Democrat, ‘” said the pro-Israel analyst.
Asad Abukhalil, a scholar with the Middle East Institute, said that Arabs, worried about a pro-Israel tilt in Clinton’s inner circle, are heartened when they hear the names of Christopher and Hamilton bandied about, because they signal evenhandedness.
“The total picture will be clear with the appointment of the secretary of state and assistant secretary for the Near East,” he said.
Another key member of the Berger clan is Michael Mandelbaum, a Johns Hopkins University scholar of the former Soviet Union who is Jewish and strongly supports a highly engaged pro-Israel policy. He is likely to be named to a senior advisory post.
Other Jewish advisers on the Middle East who are close to Clinton include Martin Indyk, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former policy analyst with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Steven Spiegel, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who is respected and trusted by the pro-Israel community.
Mandelbaum, Indyk and Spiegel were among several authors of a recent bipartisan report, sponsored by the Washington Institute, on a long-term U.S. strategy for the Arab-Israeli peace process, meant to be a blueprint for the next administration.
It calls on the United States to maintain its “special relationship” with Israel and to resist post-Cold War pressures to loosen the ties. And it urges the United States to stay engaged in the Middle East and to give Israel the reassurance it needs to make concessions at the negotiating table.
Also likely to be offered roles in the new administration are Nancy Soderberg, a key foreign affairs aide to the campaign from the staff of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.); Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, possibly as assistant secretary of state for human rights; Madeleine Albright, president of the Center for National Policy and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University; and ardently pro-Israel Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), who was defeated in his primary run for reelection this fall.